Refuge crisis puts ‘lives at risk’

Women's refuges are a lifeline to victims of domestic violence
Women's refuges are a lifeline to victims of domestic violence
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Lives could be put at risk if two Fylde coast women’s refuges are forced to close due to a funding crisis, campaigners warned today.

Safe havens in Wyre and Fylde are among nine under threat throughout Lancashire when the county council withdraws £900,000 of funding for the service as part of its budget cuts.

Tina Hibbard, service manager of Fylde Coast Women’s Aid, says the move will leave vulnerable women and children with nowhere to turn to.

Campaigners including John and Penny Clough whose daughter Jane, a Blackpool nurse, was murdered by her abusive ex-boyfriend, are calling for a rethink.

The funding is due to be axed in March next year for the service whose Fylde and Wyre refuges took in 52 families in the last year who were fleeing from violence.

It will be replaced by a new wider-ranging £3m funding pot, but there are fears this will not pay for the refuges.

Ms Hibbard said: “Women come to us when they have no alternative. They are at very high risk and the majority of our referrals are from the police.

“If the option of coming to a refuge is denied, will women and children be forced to stay in an abusive relationship?

“Our concern is they will be left at risk with nowhere to go. There are hostels and B&Bs, but that is not safe accommodation.

“We have traumatised, possibly injured women and when they come here we give them a whole package of support and they can come here 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

“We never turn anyone away. It is a very complex issue and we are devastated this is not recognised by the local authority.”

Mr Clough said: “We don’t think there is any justification for taking away these lifeline centres for victims of domestic abuse.

“They are already underfunded, and the pressure to find alternative funding will be intense. Refuges need stable, core funding because ultimately lives are at risk.”

The issue was raised at Prime Minister’s Question Time this week.

In reply to a question by Pendle MP Andrew Stephenson, David Cameron said the Government had committed £80m of extra funding to tackle violence against women and girls.

He said: “This does include funding and securing the future for refuges and other accommodation-based services but it obviously helps if local councils make the right decisions as well.”

Lancashire County Council blamed the move on the need to save £262m over the next five years.

A spokesman said: “Despite the planned changes, the council recognises the need to make urgent support available to individuals and families when they need it the most, which is why a £3m annual Prevention and Early Help Fund is being established.

“Although details of the support this funding will provide have not yet been finalised, victims of domestic violence have been identified as a priority group and some of the funding will be invested in supporting them.

“These discussions are ongoing and the final decision will not be made until further work has been completed.”

The Blackpool refuge, which is funded by Blackpool Council, is not affected.

A petition calling for LCC to retain its funding is available at www.change.org/p/lancashire-county-council-stop-funding-cuts-to-lancashire-refuges