Women’s refuges have faced drastic funding cuts in some areas of West Yorkshire despite a stark rise in domestic abuse, new figures reveal.
Statistics obtained from West Yorkshire Police show that the number of reported domestic violence crimes in the last five years has nearly doubled from 10,945 in 2011 to 19,601 this year.
But spending specifically allocated to refuges across Leeds, Wakefield and Bradford has fallen in the same time, according to new research from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and local partners.
The authorities responsible for each city have said that they are committed to tackling the issue and invest towards domestic abuse services despite government funding cuts to their budgets.
Katie Ghose, chief executive of Women’s Aid, said: “For survivors of domestic abuse being able to flee to a refuge is often a matter of life or death. On average, two women a week are killed by a partner or ex-partner in England and Wales.
“Yet for many women and their children trying to escape abusive homes, they are unable to access the safety of a refuge due to the chronic underfunding of these lifesaving services which means there are not enough spaces.
"On just one day in 2016, 78 women and 78 children trying to escape abuse were turned away from a refuge. This can leave them forced to return to their abuser or face becoming homeless – some stay with family or friends where they are at risk of being hunted down by the perpetrator, others end up sleeping on the streets.”
Leeds City Council’s spending on refuges has reduced by nearly half from £462,879 in 2011/12 to £234,351 in 2016/17.
This is despite the number of domestic abuse cases being deemed as high risk by the city’s Multi Agency Risk Assessment Conference - daily meetings aimed at increasing the safety of victims at risk of serious current or future harm in Leeds – more than tripling from 633 in 2011/12 to 2,248 in 2016/17.
A Leeds City Council spokesperson said:“Leeds City Council is totally committed to supporting individuals and families who face domestic violence and our ongoing work on the issue demonstrates this.
“We have changed the way support services are commissioned and renegotiated key contracts for support services and this has allowed Leeds City Council, in the face of significant reductions in central government funding, to maintain our investment in services and ensure there is help and support available
“We will continue to work in partnership to tackle the issue of domestic violence, to encourage those suffering to speak out, to enable the friends, family and colleagues of victims to spot the signs of abuse and to provide help to those who perpetrate domestic abuse.”
Bradford Council’s refuge funding was cut from £820,974 in 2011/12 to just £350,074 now.
A spokesman said the authority "is committed to doing all it can to tackle and prevent domestic violence.
“Our budget for domestic violence services have been prioritised and largely protected despite the pressures on funding the council faces.
“From 2010/11 to 2016/17 it has decreased from £1,390, 000 to £1,099, 447 and these savings have been made through streamlining of services and back office functions rather than cutting frontline services.
“The number of people that receive support from us has not reduced.
“The council has taken a more pro-active approach than in the past; offering more than one option for women and families.
"This includes accommodation based services like refuges but also floating support and crisis support.
"When women flee a situation we have a statutory and moral obligation to house them and their families in temporary accommodation. This is not necessarily communal refuge accommodation but can be an independent flat or house.
"On top of this we do prevention and outreach support. We offer services which can make their homes more secure; installing new locks and early warning systems. Everything we do is geared up to break the cycle of domestic abuse.
“Bradford Council is to be accredited as a White Ribbon Local Authority in recognition of our commitment to this issue having committed to a wide-ranging two year action plan. We already have 10 White Ribbon Ambassadors drawn from council officers and elected members are actively raising awareness of domestic violence- and men’s necessary role in stopping it – internally and externally.
"This positive work is not temporary, but represents a permanent commitment to educating and engaging men and boys with the aim of reducing violence against women and girls in the district
“The council has also been recognised for the strength of its work in responding to children living with domestic abuse.
A joint targeted area inspection by Ofsted praised the council and found that children and parents who experience domestic abuse have access to a wide range of services to meet their needs and that across agencies in Bradford there is a shared commitment to improving the work we do for the people who need our support.”
In Wakefield, expenditure on women’s refuges has dropped from £169,200 in 2010/11 to £98,800 in 2016/17, but its spending on domestic violence services as a whole has risen from £293,218 to £622,037 during the same time period.
Andrew Balchin, Corporate Director for Adults, Health and Communities at Wakefield Council, said: “Domestic abuse will not be tolerated in this district.
“Since 2011/12 although there has been a change in the way services are commissioned, support has been maintained for the women’s refuge service together with a range of other support services which are being provided by the Council’s domestic abuse team.
“We also work closely with community and voluntary services to provide support to victims of domestic abuse, and to raise awareness and encourage people to report it.
“In recognition of the commitment to addressing domestic abuse, the district was awarded ‘White Ribbon status in 2015.”