Last month the journalist Owen Jones wrote a piece in the Guardian where he argued that: "Britain is going backwards on violence against women" *. While I know Owen Jones is not to everyone's taste or politics, he makes a very important point.
He argues that the 'safety net' that has been a feature of our welfare system since the 1940s is being quietly dismantled with virtually no public debate because many of those that need this safety net most - like women affected by domestic violence - are almost entirely absent from any discussion in the media; an astonishing omission given that figures from Women's Aid suggest one in four women will suffer it in their lifetime.
While not all these women rely on the benefit system, the circumstances of many mean they do - for example, those that flee at short notice with only a suitcase of clothes; those that are the victims of financial as well as physical abuse, where debts have been run up in the victim's name or where they have been forced to leave the world of work - either directly by the partner; or through the shattering of confidence and self esteem that goes with abuse. These women and their situations are not being aired in the debate on welfare reform. Instead the focus is revolving around the more popular image of those who are on benefits being feckless and workshy.
But if there is little wider public debate on the issue of domestic violence, then the impact on the children in those families is one not even the social care sector has done much to address. Domestic violence projects have traditionally, and understandably, focused on the direct recipient of the abuse. However, living with and witnessing abuse is harmful to children and they therefore have their own support needs, separate from those of their parent.
A 2002 amendment to the Children Act which says that witnessing domestic abuse can now be considered "significant harm" for the purposes of children's services, suggests that services are moving in this direction. However, recent investigations by both Lord Laming and Eileen Munro into child protection have found that children living with domestic violence are still not given the priority they need.
Most recently City Bridge Trust's research, in partnership with NSPCC and Refuge, found that professionals are often inclined to assume that children's needs can be met by addressing the mother's needs and that not enough attention is given to addressing children's needs in their own right. **
Recent research commissioned by Scottish Women's Aid has found that suddenly and/or frequently moving home has a dramatic impact on children. They have high levels of anxiety; trouble sustaining friendships that were previously a significant source of support; have missed long periods of school; and worry about leaving behind personal belongings and all that was familiar to them.
For many years the issue of domestic abuse has been the one which Buttle UK sees the most in the 15,000 applications we receive each year for our Small Grants programme. Here we provide items such as cookers, fridges, washing machines, children's beds and bedding for women and their families who have been affected by violent and abusive relationships. So we are acutely aware of how important financial support is at a crucial point in a family's recovery, and how it is a key part of the holistic package of support needed to enable families to recover from the trauma they have experienced. But as Owen Jones points out, this support - as far as it comes from statutory sources - is under threat.
Against this backdrop, I am absolutely delighted that Buttle UK has just launched a new partnership with the City of London Corporation's charity, City Bridge Trust.
The funding will allow us to provide financial support across Greater London, over the next three years, directly to these families.
The aim of the partnership is to provide children of affected families with financial support to recover from the trauma and upheaval they have experienced caused by domestic abuse, and at the point where a family is making the difficult transition to independent accommodation for the first time. We know this is a point at which families are particularly vulnerable to returning to an abusive partner.
There is much we hope to learn and share as a result of this exciting project, which we hope will be a definite step forwards for both women and children affected by domestic abuse.
** Radford, Lorraine, Ruth Aitken, Pam Miller, Jane Ellis, Jill Roberts, and Ana Firkic. Meeting the Needs of Children Living with Domestic Violence in London. Refuge / NSPCC, November 2011. http://refuge.org.uk/files/onlineDVLondon1.pdf
Gerri McAndrew, Chief Executive of Buttle UK, the leading children's grant giving charity, has formed a partnership with City Bridge Trust, the City of London Corporation's charity, to support children of families affected by domestic abuse in Greater London. Domestic violence accounts for 29 per cent of violent crime in the capital. The first tranche of £470,000 towards the three year project has just been awarded.