The complex reality behind local refuge cuts

By Poppy Noor and Ellie Fry

When we decided to investigate local domestic violence cuts, we wanted answers. In an ideal world news delivers concrete, indisputable facts. In reality, each time we got an answer we found many, many more unanswered questions.

Take the Freedom of Information requests made by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and Eastlondonlines, trying to ascertain the level of cuts. Here’s the picture we got.

Graph: Camille Mijola

Simple enough, right? Not really. These numbers gave us the bare bones of our investigation. But it also introduced some grey areas. We now know, for example, that the boroughs have reduced domestic violence budgets by over a fifth on average. But some boroughs have much larger domestic violence budgets – Hackney has the highest domestic violence budget (£1.6m) of all the boroughs, but it reduced its budget by 24%. That’s considerably higher than Lewisham, who only reduced their budget by 1% – but their budget is still half the size of Hackney’s (£600,00). Similarly, Tower Hamlets reduced its domestic violence budget by 37% since 2010, a lot more than Croydon (19%) – but then Croydon’s budget is the lowest of all the boroughs, at £200,000.

In any case, what would these reductions mean to a person fleeing domestic violence tomorrow? We looked at that too. Additional Freedom of Information requests, responded to by only 3 of the 4 councils (Croydon didn’t get back to us), showed that Hackney Council accepted 75% fewer survivors for temporary accommodation last year than in 2010. It’s worth noting that based on the data we got back, the number of survivors housed in 2010 was significantly higher than in any other subsequent year. We haven’t see data from years before, so we can’t tell whether this was a year where Hackney simply housed a lot more women, or whether 2010 was the cut-off point for people receiving such bountiful services. Tower Hamlets accepted 38% fewer survivors last year than in 2010, too. Lewisham Council failed to provide any data on how many women they place in temporary accommodation.

Okay, so these councils are doing a worse job than they used to? It’s not as simple as that. A council accepting fewer domestic violence survivors today than in 2010 isn’t necessarily a bad thing. They may, for example, still house a number of those survivors, meaning that new space hasn’t become available.

Furthermore, as Councillor Rebecca Rennison, Hackney’s Cabinet Member for Finance and Housing Needs puts it: “[Hackney Council] funds the third highest number of refuge spaces in London. The issue around beds is that you aren’t funding beds for local women, you are funding women from other areas. By and large, we will refer someone in Hackney outside the borough to keep them safe away from their violent partner. But, there is no process to determine how many beds local authorities commission. Without that joined up approach, how can we ensure there’s a bed on the night that someone needs it?”

News organisations face the challenge of turning complicated real-life scenarios into stories that can answer questions and hold people in power to account. Portraying this accurately is not easy, and the story is not always clear-cut.

What we can tell you, is that we have looked at the numbers, and we know the picture is bleak. But we’ve gone to the people on the frontlines to give you the picture of what that really means.

FOIs won’t tell you what the impacts of the reduced budgets are, but Ngozi from the self-funded charity Sistah Space will.

Knowing how many domestic violence survivors were housed this year only tells you part of the story, but if you want to see the impact of these decisions on the ground, look at our investigation into the closure of Hopetown hostel on day three of our series.

Finally, local authority documentation may detail fears about proposed refuge funding changing, but it can’t bring home the reality of how devastating hostel closures will be. For that, you need Kio Sapeye’s perspective, a woman who moved between 11 refuges in 9 months.

This series goes beyond the numbers, to find the reality of domestic violence cuts for the people on the frontlines: those working in domestic violence services, and those benefitting from them.

Follow our Right To Refuge series this week to find out more about the domestic violence crisis in our boroughs. #RightToRefuge

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