Services aimed at helping vulnerable women, including refuges and rape crisis centres, are facing "disastrous" million-pound cuts as local authorities slash their budgets, The Huffington Post UK can reveal.
A Freedom of Information request to the 152 top-tier councils in England has found that each council had cut spending by an average of £44,914 each when compared to budgets since 2009.
In London alone refuges and domestic violence services have been cut by £1.9m overall when comparing 2009/10 and 2012/13 spending.
Karen Ingala Smith, the chief executive of domestic violence charity Nia, told The Huffington Post UK vulnerable women could be left with "with nowhere to go" after cuts, and there was "concern" some could even be killed by violent partners.
The cuts will affect women services, rape crisis centres, refuge centres, domestic violence outreach, services for ethnic minority women, trafficked women and women in prostitution. They come at a time when domestic violent incidents against women appear to be on the increase, which some experts blame on tough economic times.
A report last year found incidents of domestic violence had gone up by 17% over the recession.
Women's Aid says 230 women a day are turned away from domestic violence refuges.
Of the 101 councils that answered questions about spending across the last four financial years, a comparison of spending between 2009/10 and 2012/13 reveals £5.6m of cuts to services including refuges for abused women, domestic violence advocates, victim support centres and centres for women who have been raped or sexually assaulted.
In response to the research, Labour shadow home office minister Stella Creasy told The Huffington Post UK government cuts were "feeding through at a local level too."
"It's very clear that the government's cuts are impacting on women's economic positions, now they're impacting on their personal safety too. Unless you make this a priority these services get cut.
"This is why we need a step change on how we treat violence against women."
Domestic violence is the biggest cause of death in women aged 18-44 across the world and it is thought up to two women a week are killed by their partner in Britain. One in four women will be victims of domestic violence in their lifetime.
Women's Aid estimated in 2008 that 11,310 women in England use domestic violence services.
The Huffington Post's FOI request found:
- Haringey council reported a £15,000 shortfall in the 2012/13 budget for North London rape crisis from the Mayor of London's office
- The withdrawal of government funding for Greenwich’s Domestic Violence Unit in 2012/13
- A £426,928 cut in services for refuges in Torbay
- A £30,000 decline in the womens Aid Grant in Trafford
The true extent of cuts is thought to be even deeper, with many in domestic violence services warning cuts to housing benefit and reforms to universal benefit means some women cannot afford to leave violent partners.
Sarah Green, Campaigns Manager for the End Violence Against Women Coalition told The Huffington Post UK the cuts could have a "potentially disastrous impact" on real women's lives.
"If refuges close or sexual violence helplines go under, women and their children can be left in need when they are already at their most vulnerable."
Mary Mason, CEO of Solace Women’s Aid, said cutting domestic violence services may just increase the £5bn cost of the crime in England alone. "We know that early intervention and support works – for every £1 spent we save £8 to statutory services.
"Yet all our services are full, all have waiting lists and all services are forced to restrict time spent on supporting women and children," she told The Huffington Post UK.
"The human misery and long term impact on children who are continuing to be negatively impacted at crucial stages in their development is profound."
Vivienne Hayes, chief executive of the Women's Resource Centre told The Huffington Post UK that the women's sector was in "the worst crisis it has ever been" due to cutbacks.
"So many service providers have been forced to shut down, are not able to provide the services to fit the demand, or are having to turn women away. It makes little sense for a government obsessed with austerity, since the women’s sector presents significant savings to the state by filling gaps in statutory provision.
"This failure to address the causes and consequences of women’s inequality and ignorance of the life saving and the cost saving services the women’s sector provides, is indicative of this governments’ attitude towards women," she said.
Barnet Council's Labour group deputy leader Barry Rawlings explained to The Huffington Post UK cuts to other benefits could mean women face a choice between leaving an abusive partner or remaining homeless forever.
"On top of cuts to domestic violence services, which will not only increase costs later on but also increase human misery, we have the spectre of housing benefit changes," he said.
"Refuges are vital for the safety of women and children and rely on housing benefit to make them viable. The concern is the payment will be direct to the claimant who may well have moved on from the refuge by the time the payments come through and the refuge will never get the payment.
"We are in danger of seeing the closure of some refuges and yet again the victims of government policies are overwhelmingly women, and with domestic violence they are doubly victimised."