The short-term fund for refuges, just announced by the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) and won from the government after Women's Aid 'Give Me Shelter' campaign with The Sun, is wonderful news. It demonstrates a greater engagement from the government with refuges, and with the service they provide. 'Give Me Shelter' clearly had impact, as did our 'SOS' campaign last year, which also resulted in a short-term fund for refuges. Ministers have listened to us, and have twice taken the issue seriously in a very short space of time - and for this, we are grateful.
It shows that, finally, some progress is being made in ensuring that the vital role that refuges play in helping women and children overcome domestic violence is acknowledged by government.
I have said this before, but I will keep banging this drum until it is fully understood: domestic violence refuges are specialist services that provide specialist support. Of course, services for survivors are not solely about refuges; for some women, going into refuge is not necessary.
But, for those for whom it is, going into a refuge can be literally the difference between life and death. The point at which a woman attempts to leave an abusive relationship is often the point at which her life is most at risk - so, having a totally safe, secure and supportive place to escape to is vital. This is why generic bed and breakfast accommodation, or a hostel, will not do. It's like going to the dentist when you need an eye-test - simply put, it's the wrong place to go.
Why? Because hostels and bed and breakfasts are not completely secure - remember, the women going into them have fled from extremely dangerous perpetrators, who are likely to come looking for them. Refuges are hidden; they are secure. Additionally, hostels and bed and breakfasts do not have the same support structures and professionals in place to help a woman and her children come to terms with what has happened - to help them overcome the dark and terrible legacy of domestic violence, and no longer be victims but survivors.
It is a constant battle to impress the importance of refuges onto those who do not understand, or who wilfully ignore it. This ignorance has led to poor commissioning practices by local authorities. Of course, part of this is due to the pressures imposed by dwindling budgets, so costs have been prioritised over effectiveness. But these cost-cutting exercises ultimately cost women's lives. An average of two women a week are killed at the hands of a partner or ex-partner in England and Wales. Refuges SAVE lives. Why is this so hard for people to understand? And yes - it is more expensive to run a refuge than a generic hostel. Ultimately though, the support and self-esteem that a refuge gives a women means she is far more likely to live independently when she leaves, able to draw upon her own resources and not be dependent on the state. Therefore, refuges make excellent financial sense too.
And now, these refuges that do such extraordinary work, piecing back together women and families that have been shattered beyond recognition, have been thrown a bone. The funds won from SOS and Give Me Shelter will relieve some of the immense pressure that they are under, and allow them to continue delivering their lifesaving services - for a short while, at least.
We are grateful for the short-term funds, make no mistake - but when they dry up, then what? So now we must work towards a long-term funding solution to protect the national network of refuges. We cannot be back in crisis before we know it. Women's Aid will keep battling on to make sure this happens.
If it was possible, I would suggest that everyone goes to a refuge to see what they do - brilliant, brave work. But it isn't possible, so instead you should watch this two-minute film of incredible survivors talking about their experiences of refuges, and how refuges saved their lives. I urge you to do so, and join us as we fight for long-term funding. Your support will be most welcome.Suggest a correction