THE BLOG

Give Me Shelter: Save Refuges, Save Lives

21/05/2015 09:59 BST | Updated 20/05/2016 10:59 BST

Refuges save lives. It's that simple.

You will probably have seen the Women's Aid campaign with The Sun this week, 'Give Me Shelter', supporting Women's Aid's call to protect the national network of specialist domestic violence refuges. Our own campaign, SOS - 'Save Our Services' - was launched last June, informed by survivors of domestic violence and local Women's Aid Federation organisations.

One of SOS's main achievements was a £10million fund from the government for refuges. 148 councils boosted their funding for domestic violence services with it; it saved some refuges from closure. In turn, this saved the lives of women and children fleeing domestic violence.

But £10million is not enough. Before 2010, there was a £100 million safety net for refuges that has since been unpicked by local councils, piece by piece. In 2010, there were 187 specialist domestic violence refuges. Since then, 32 have closed, and women's lives are at risk as a result.

Women who have lost their lives smile out of the pages of Monday's Sun and on the webpage of the petition - a staggering array of women, of all ages, professions and backgrounds, murdered by the person they should have trusted most. Some of the two women a week who are killed each week in England and Wales, on average, by a partner or former partner. Perhaps you know one of them. Perhaps you have a loved one who is trapped in the prison of domestic violence. Perhaps you are yourself.

We have a new government, and we need this to be a priority, cutting through the rhetoric of austerity: we need the government to understand that leaving refuges to local decision-making is failing. That a relatively modest investment will save lives. That, quite apart from the human cost, the cost of domestic violence to public services and the economy should make investing in refuges an easy decision. That as ministers' debate on how to make an impact in their first 100 days, they need look no further.

We secured a route to government and to the public. A way to get people to realise that they live in a society where, on just one typical day in 2014, 112 women and 84 children were turned away from refuge, and to get them to say loud and clear that it isn't good enough. We are asking the government for more, when they have already given extra funding. We chose to do it in a way that can't be ignored. We have also been able to bust the myths surrounding refuges. There is a real lack of understanding about what they provide, not least among some of the local authorities who make funding decisions.

A refuge is not just a bed for a night. A generic hostel for homeless people will not do. A refuge is a specialist service that gives women and children the safety and security they need to rebuild their lives, with support, advice and counselling from professionals. It is not just focused on managing risk; it nurtures and builds on women's own strengths and resources, and identifies and provides what they need to sustain lasting independence. Refuges are just one part of the strength-based, needs-led approach to domestic violence that Women's Aid advocates - but they are a vital part. A council replacing a refuge with bed and breakfast accommodation is not good enough. Cheaper, certainly - but a cost-cutting exercise that ultimately costs lives. We will not stand for this.

So far, the campaign has had huge impact, an amazing response - and we must now harness that to save women's lives. As our patron Julie Walters said: "Refuges...can be the difference between life and death. This is why I am supporting this campaign." Please join us. Save refuges, save lives.

Sign the 'Give Me Shelter' petition here