Families fleeing domestic abuse are being turned away from struggling refuges as they try to balance the effects of seven years of funding cuts - with Blackpool among the worst hit places.
Experts fear lives are being put at risk by a combination of savage cuts affecting domestic violence services and welfare cuts hitting vulnerable families.
Figures compiled by the Bureau of Investigatative Journalism show that across the UK, funding for refuges has been cut 22 per cent since 2010, leading to hundreds of bed spaces being lost and vulnerable women turned away.
Ninety five per cent of refuge managers in England and Wales say they have been forced to turn away women are fleeing for their lives, as they simply have no space.
The data has also revealed that Blackpool is among the worst hit areas in the country, with one refuge losing 40 per cent of its funding since 2010.
Over the last seven years, Blackpool Council has cut its funding for domestic violence provision by 28 per cent - a loss of £26,049.
Rachel Horman, head of domestic abuse, stalking and forced marriage, at Watson Ramsbottom solicitors, said: “Most services across Lancashire have been hit by cuts and some have even had to close.
“There aren’t enough refuge spaces for victims across Lancashire and refuges regularly turn women and children away, putting them at risk of homicide.
“Separation is when victims are at the greatest risk of being murdered by their ex partners.”
Fylde Women’s Aid has reported a 40 per cent cut in their funding.
Separation is when victims are at the greatest risk of being murdered by their ex partners.
It has recently started funding a Health Independent Domestic Violence Advisor (IDVA) permanently based at Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.
The Health IDVA offers immediate support when victims of abuse attend hospital with injuries, and helps staff at the hospital to recognise the signs of abuse.
The cash was also used to support more specialist services. The organisation did not respond to requests for a comment.
There are thought to be around 80 units in the county open to female victims of domestic abuse within its network of refuges and safe houses.
But in the first two months of 2016 alone, 879 men and 3,089 women reported they were victims to Lancashire Police.
From 2016 to 2017 charity Safenet, which operates a string of refuges and safehouses in the county, lost a specialist community drop-in and outreach service in Burnley, some Independent Domestic Violence Advocates (IDVAs), who support victims at risk of serious injury, and the Domestic Abuse Early Support Service for children in Burnley and Lancaster - resulting in nine people losing their jobs.
Though part of the IDVA services were saved by funding from the Police Crime Commissioner, there are limitations on what they are able to provide.
Safenet recently launched Jane’s Place - named after Jane Clough, the Blackpool nurse killed by her ex. It’s a recovery refuge, offering safe accommodation for women and children at risk of domestic abuse, who have additional needs involving their mental or physical health, drug or alcohol use, self-harming, offending behaviour, sex working, grooming, trafficking, or a combination.
Women with complex needs from around the county are often unable to stay at communal refuges as it can impact on other families there.
Eighty-four women were referred but only 29 were able to be housed in its 15 units.
Business development manager Andrya Prescott says: “We’ve had to take action and restructure our services to make sure we didn’t lose services before the cuts were made. Across the country the money’s gone, but LCC throughout has made efforts to sustain the funding through working closely with us to make bids for grants. We are much better of than other parts of the UK. If we had been in another borough we may not be here.
“We’re a larger organisation and cam cope with change to some extent but smaller services have closed and we can’t predict what will happen in future.”
In May, a lifeline was given to male victims of domestic abuse as the county’s first refuge places for men was officially launched by charity Safenet.
The safe house, which is open to men from all over Lancashire, has been full since it was first made available as a pilot scheme. It has had more than 10 referrals, and housed five men in its three units - one of the few facilities for men in the UK.
Mark Brooks, of male charity Mankind, said: “The problem with cuts is both the impact on existing services but also it hampers the creation of new services for under represented groups such as male victims.
“That is one of the legacies of a decade of cuts”
Childhood sweethearts’ romance turned sour when man’s fiancée launched abuse campaign
A romance between childhood sweethearts turned into a nightmare for Martyn Brown, as his fiancée subjected him to a campaign of abuse, ending with her stabbing him and puncturing his lung.
After knifing him repeatedly and leaving him bleeding and terrified at their Cleveleys flat, Harriet Sharp called an ambulance for herself because she had stomach pains.
He had suffered a punctured lung, but her only concern was keeping him quiet. But paramedics realised he was badly injured and took him to their ambulance.
It wasn’t the first time she had attacked him - but Martyn was too afraid of what she may do if he confided in his family and friends.
The dad-of-two was working in the resort as a bar man and was introduced to his former school friend by his pal in 2016. The pair started texting regularly.
He believed their blossoming relationship was wonderful. They were together for five months before he moved into her one-bedroomed flat on Beach Road in Cleveleys, where her mother was also staying.
But he quickly found he was “living on a knife edge”.
Martyn said: “The abuse really started six months into the relationship. She started getting very angry, mostly about losing her grandad.
“She would argue and attack her mum, and I would intervene then she’d start on me. I was scared of her.
“She started controlling me. When I went to see my dad, she’d be texting me within half an hour asking where I was.
“When I was in the pub with my friends her mum would come in and say she was hurt, so I’d run back to the flat and find she wasn’t. She told me I was not allowed to go out - I’m 29 years old.
“I started to lose friends. I only found out from them later that she had texted them behind my back, saying I didn’t want anything to do with them anymore.
“She wanted to get married. I felt pushed into it as it was very soon. We booked the ceremony and had saved up for it.
“Harriet didn’t have a lot of friends. She also started telling terrible lies.
“She announced in the pub that she was pregnant. She wasn’t but I felt I had to go along with it because I didn’t want to trigger anything, or make her unhappy.
“On New Year’s Eve, she then lied she had lost the baby, it’s pretty sick.”
Martyn has been stabbed, bitten, scratched, sliced, slapped and kicked. The impact on his life has been profound.
As well as coping with his physical injuries, ongoing pain and shocking scarring, Martyn is suffering mental health issues which he has bravely opened up about today.
He admits trying twice to take his own life in the devastating aftermath of the attacks, and has been treated at The Harbour hospital in Blackpool having suffered hallucinations, post traumatic stress disorder, anxiety attacks and suicidal feelings.
Sharp was given an 11-year jail sentence with a four year extended licence after a judge found her to be a “very dangerous woman”.
Services the council can offer to victims
Blackpool Council - like all local councils - has suffered severe cuts to its own funding, and has cut funding for domestic violence victims by 28 per cent since 2010.
But there are still plenty of services the council does offer.
A council spokesman said: “Blackpool currently has a domestic abuse support service for adult victims of high risk and children and young people experiencing domestic abuse.
“In addition we have refuge provision with the aim to provide specialist short term accommodation and support to prevent victims of domestic abuse from rough sleeping and experiencing homelessness, ensure and promote safety; and to promote independence and move people into independent accommodation.
“We contribute towards standard risk support which aims to prevent and reduce risk for victims, increase the safety and wellbeing of victims and their children; and help to reduce the harm caused to prevent further abuse.
“Blackpool, in partnership with Fylde and Wyre, are delivering a 12-month complex need victims’ pilot, which commenced July 31, 2017, to provide both support and accommodation for complex need victims across the footprint, offering a flexible and timely response at a time of crisis for victims. The overall model will provide a co-ordinated response to victims of domestic abuse with complex needs, ensuring their safety, removal of barriers to specialist services and support to help live independently. By working with key services this will encourage behaviour change and work towards breaking the cycle of domestic abuse.
“Linked to the national VAWG strategy ‘Ending Violence against Women and Girls’ for service transformation a range of targeted activity shall be delivered during the next three financial years until March 2020; and work is now progressing towards the development and implementation of this. This will including support for young people contributing towards breaking the cycle of domestic abuse and building resilience, work with perpetrators in respect of behaviour change; and working with adults, children and families in respect of behaviour change adopting a whole family approach.
“We then have a number of programmes which include:-
• The ‘Inner Strength Perpetrator Programme’ which is delivered in partnership with the Police aims to change behaviour for perpetrators and reduce risk to victims. The programme is an evidence based programme designed to raise self-awareness, resilience and provide alternative coping strategies to ultimately reduce frequency of domestic abuse incidents.
• Blackpool Better Start, a partnership working to transform services in Blackpool for 0-4 children and their families, is launching a programme called Steps to Safety in summer 2018. The Steps to Safety programme will work with families who wish to remain together in domestic abuse situations, and will work towards supporting the children to remain with their families safely.
• ‘Step Up’ which is a Partnership between Blackpool Council, Blackpool Better Start and UCLAN. This aims to improve the Early Help response for children living with domestic abuse by offering appropriate support adopting a whole family approach, applying a continuous assessment process tailored to the individual child’s and family’s needs; and to provide support to help reduce individual, family and environmental stresses and vulnerabilities thought to be associated with higher rates of domestic abuse and poorer child outcomes in Blackpool.
• As part of the ‘Local Family Offer’ a tool has been developed for frontline practitioners to support routine questioning around inter parental relationships to increase staff skills and confidence to support interactions with parents.
• The Tavistock Foundations ‘Parents as Partners Programme’ aims to improve parent’s relationship and communication, strengthen family relationships, support parents to manage the challenges of family life and reduce relationship conflict.