Britain is going backwards on violence against women

The Guardian, 30 March 2014

Victims of domestic abuse face devastating funding cuts, while their plight is ignored by our media and political elite

When Margaret Thatcher’s government took on the miners 30 years ago, she confronted an enemy that was organised: they had collective strength and a voice. The sides were not equal, but the miners’ strike could nonetheless be described as a “war” of sorts. Many of the targets of this government, on the other hand, are deeply fragmented, rarely seen or heard and often airbrushed out of existence by our media and political elite. Women who face domestic violence and abuse are just one chilling example.

To understand the attack on some of Britain’s most vulnerable women, let’s take East Sussex as an example. A year ago, the discretionary social fund – which provided crisis loans to cover living expenses for people in desperate circumstances as well as community care grants – was scrapped across Britain. It was replaced by a local welfare assistance fund that was devolved to local authorities, but with around £150m less cash. It was up to councils to set up their own initiatives, and Conservative-run East Sussex county council set up a support scheme that could help, among many others, women fleeing abusive partners.

Because there is less money to go around, the terms for getting help are stringent indeed, underlining just how desperate recipients are. An applicant has to prove that they cannot have their need met any other way – for example, through relatives or friends – and that there is a “significant risk” to their health and safety. A woman fleeing a partner can get in touch and, by the next day, Hastings Furniture Service – a local charity that helps crisis-hit households – will deliver the necessary goods.

“Women who have been abused, who have lived in a refuge, often have to leave with nothing,” says the charity’s chief executive Naomi Ridley. They are already demoralised and lack self-esteem; their abusive partner may tell them they will have no financial security if they leave. Women who have children particularly fear walking out and ending up in a home with no amenities. On average, it takes seven attempts for a woman to leave an abusive relationship, and financial worry is one reason it can be so difficult. But, through the support scheme, Ridley’s charity can give women independence. One woman with two children fled an abusive relationship and, after getting in touch, was given bedding, a cooker and a fridge so that she could provide meals for her family.

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