by Alice Grice
I have read worrying reports in a number of Nottinghamshire news publications that in the four years since the formation of the police force’s Public Protection Unit, the number of domestic violence cases reported has increased across the county. Whilst some optimistically point to an increase in reported incidents as a positive sign that victims are more willing to come forward, there is as yet no statistical evidence to prove this to be the case. Regardless of what has caused the increase, a single report of an incident of domestic violence is one too many and certainly not something to welcome.
A report by Prof. Sylvia Walby of UNESCO and Jude Towers of Lancaster University into the impact that cuts are having on services to prevent violence against women and girls, showed that nationally 9% of women are being turned away from refuges due to lack of places. In Nottingham a specialist service helping women and children from South Asian backgrounds to flee domestic violence, Roshni, has closed it’s doors after 26 years due to lack of funding and women’s services across the whole county are seeing cuts to their budgets.
On top of these cuts to local services, the impact of changes to the legal aid system are making it more difficult for women to leave an abusive environment. Last year the government made several changes to the eligibility for legal aid. As part of these changes they added an exclusion clause to say that women suffering domestic violence would still be able to get legal advice on issues such as housing and benefits. However, the government also narrowed the definition of domestic violence to mean physical violence which has been reported to statutory authorities, showing an alarming lack of understanding of the complex issues surrounding domestic abuse. After passing back and forth between the Lords and the Commons, further concessions were made including a revised definition of domestic violence however there are still gaps in the system including a time limit on reporting the incident and limits on the routes of reporting that mean that some women will still slip through the net.
Cuts to benefits such as working and child tax credit have also been shown to have more impact on single parent families making life for women escaping violence even more daunting. I write this on a day when the coalition have voted to cap an increase on benefits to 1% which in real terms is yet another cut. Various figures are circulating in the media as to just how much of a cut this adds up to for lone parent families but all agree that it is this group of society who are set to suffer the most from this bill.
In light of this constant erosion of benefits and services for women fleeing abusive relationships, it will not be surprising to see these figures continue to rise. There are organisations in the county and the city doing excellent work to protect and support women in abusive relationships despite having their funding cut but until this government stop their attacks on the rights and benefits of women, many will be too scared of what a future as a lone parent holds for them to seek help.