All the main political parties are chasing women's votes. A report by Mumsnet and Ipsos MORI earlier this year found that women are far more likely to be undecided than men, with 60% not yet fixed on how they will vote next May. At Women's Aid we decided, with the help of YouGov, to find out what might help women make up their minds.
The results, published this week, are clear. Of a range of issues affecting women, the one political parties should act upon if they want to show they care about women's interests is domestic violence, and particularly the provision of services for women escaping it. So even if the obvious moral case for preserving specialist domestic violence services doesn't sway the politicians, pure self-interest should.
The Conservatives in particular have a gap to make up in terms of women's support: according to the same Mumsnet/Ipsos MORI poll they are trailing the Labour Party by 9% among women voters. And more than three quarters of Conservative voters will be swayed by a commitment to protecting survivors of domestic violence. Add this to the massive 84% of Liberal Democrat voters who feel the same, and you have a pressing case for both coalition parties.
Women's Aid is calling on all the main political parties to commit to preserving the national network of specialist domestic violence refuges and to exploring a new model of funding and commissioning for refuges which supports a sustainable service and high quality care. Since 2010, 17% of specialist refuges have been lost across the country, with further closures expected due to drastic funding cuts and poor commissioning decisions. The Labour party has already pledged support for the SOS campaign, and committed to creating a fund to reverse recent funding cuts. Women's Aid is committed to working with all main political parties, both to avert a crisis now, and even more importantly to find a long term sustainable funding model for the national network of specialist refuges.
More voters believe protecting survivors of domestic violence means a party really cares about women than say the same about affordable child care - so often cited by the media as an archetypal "women's issue".
This poll indicates that the more than 35,000 people who have signed Women's Aid's Save Refuges Save Lives petition are just the tip of the iceberg. The public don't want the continued decimation of specialist domestic violence services through a combination of funding cuts and bad decisions by funders at local level. They are saying, very clearly, that a government's response to domestic violence is a standard against which its attitudes to women will be measured.
Domestic violence has long been a hidden issue, not central to political debate, muddled by misplaced shame and a response by the media and even frontline services which far too often disbelieves and blames the victim. The public are now realising we can't go on tolerating a situation in which an average of two women a week are killed by their current or former partner, while the services which exist to protect them melt away. This debate is coming out of the shadows, and with a general election around the corner in which women's votes will be decisive, politicians have every reason to take action.
The SOS Save Refuges Save Lives petition is being delivered to Downing Street on 20 November - in one week. Sign now!
Find the petition here
Find the Mumsnet/Ipsos MORI poll here
Find the Women's Aid/YouGov results here (Data was from research carried out on behalf of Women's Aid by YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2,041 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 5th - 6th November 2014. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+))