In his 2021 budget, Chancellor Rishi Sunak reiterated his promise from a year ago to do “whatever it takes” to support people and businesses through the pandemic and in doing so reflect the Government’s easing of restrictions. We welcome measures in the Budget to extend the furlough scheme until September and to maintain the uplift to Universal Credit for a further six months. We know that an economic downturn and rising unemployment rates create a conducive context for an increase in violence against women so measures to protect people’s livelihoods are crucial.
However, in light of the spike in domestic abuse and other forms of violence against women that relate directly to the restrictions that have been in place for nearly a year, we were disappointed that domestic abuse was mentioned only once by the Chancellor in his budget speech, allocating £19 million for what he called a “hidden tragedy”, and which details of the budget reveal are largely for perpetrator programmes (£15 million) and only allocated for 2021-22.
While we welcome funding to tackle perpetrators, the budget should address the inequalities and abuse exposed and exacerbated by the pandemic. The Government’s previously announced allocation for domestic abuse is far lower than the estimated need calculated by Women’s Aid Federation of England, and was calculated pre-pandemic. Calls to our Advice Line increased by 50% last year, and we saw spikes in demand when restrictions lifted and when schools re-opened, which we anticipate will happen again this year. Furthermore, funding is only confirmed for 2021-22, meanwhile services and service users face a funding cliff-edge from April 2022. Survivors need sustainable specialist services for their support & recovery. Specialist VAWG services run by and for women need a multi-year budget, with ring-fenced funds for the services run by and for Black and minoritised women, Deaf and disabled women and LGBT+ survivors.
The remaining £4 million announced in the budget is for ‘Respite Rooms’ for homeless women facing severe disadvantage between 2021-22 and 2022-23. We welcome funding being allocated specifically for this vulnerable group of women for whom mainstream homelessness and VAWG services are often unsuitable, but the Government must publish more details on how the trial will work and how it will be tailored to meet the needs of this group of women, among whom experience of male violence is near universal. Any respite scheme should include referral to ongoing specialist support, and must respect survivors’ agency. Lessons from established services with proven impacts such as Housing First for women in Islington and Westminster should be incorporated into the trials.
From our own experience of developing specialist support for survivors of VAWG who have experienced multiple forms of disadvantage, these women need flexible, stable and responsive services. A trial that ends after two years without follow on plans could undermine the effectiveness of any potential benefit for survivors.
For all survivors to be able to move on from crisis and recover from the abuse and control they have been subjected to, they need specialist trauma-informed support and a financial safety net from which to rebuild their own economic independence. But instead of doing “whatever it takes” to support them out of crisis, the current welfare system is punitive and combined with an unforgiving housing crisis magnified in London, serves to prevent rather than enable them from thriving. A temporary uplift in Universal Credit should be made permanent; the up-front loan for the first five weeks for claimants should be replaced by a grant; and the 2-child limit & benefit cap should be immediately and permanently removed.