CHARITIES supporting Asian domestic abuse survivors are in a funding crisis with a lack of space in refuges and a shortage of trained frontline workers, experts have cautioned.
They said further services are at risk of shrinking or closing due to a dearth of financial support.
Research by the Refuge charity found that 85 per cent of frontline workers believe their community-based service is being impacted by insufficient funding. And 76 per cent of workers in the sector said their caseload had increased in the past 12 months.
In 2022-23, the number of new clients supported by Refuge’s community-based services increased by 10 per cent from the previous year.
Sundari Anitha, professor of gender, violence and work at the University of Lincoln, said since 2010 there has been a “huge reduction” on spending on domestic violence services across the board.
She told Eastern Eye: “Services have been shut down. But not everyone is equally disadvantaged in funding cuts.
“There has been a greater degree of cuts in services for BAME women in the past 13 years. These services were not enough as it was; they were overstretched.
“In BAME refuges there are high occupancy rates of 95-96 per cent, so women have to wait longer.
“These organisations are smaller; funding sources are more irregular and not all are supported by local authorities. They are very precarious and they have staff on short-term contracts which affects the staff you can attract.”
A coalition of 11 women’s sector organisations sent a petition to justice secretary Alex Chalk in late June stating at least £238 million a year is needed for such services through the Victims and Prisoners Bill.
Anitha added: “It is not a postcode lottery. Those who are disadvantaged already are more disadvantaged. There is a correlation between poverty and domestic violence – if you don’t have secure immigration status, it is harder to access services or you live in overcrowded housing, are trapped with an abusive husband and in-laws.
“We also need to ringfence ‘for and by’ services like for south Asian women.”
A report by Women’s Aid said an annual investment of £427m is required to fund community-based and refuge services “to the level needed to support women and children who need to access them” with the latter requiring a minimum of £189m.
The charity said research estimated the economic and social costs of domestic abuse in England in 2022 were just under £78 billion and argued an effective intervention could save up to £23bn a year.
Aneeta Prem MBE, founder of the Freedom charity, which supports domestic abuse survivors, said her organisation is facing a challenge of insufficient funding. She told Eastern Eye: “This issue not only impacts Freedom’s capacity, but also hampers its ability to deliver essential services.
“I speak to frontline workers who support south Asian survivors on a daily basis and they all express concern over the lack of funding.
“In reality, this translates to even greater vulnerability for survivors from south Asian communities. “There is a shortage of available space in refuge centres and a lack of properly trained frontline professionals. Consequently, there’s a genuine risk that these individuals may not receive the necessary help when escaping from violence. By providing adequate training and funding, we can make a tangible difference.”
Tina*, a survivor of domestic abuse who accessed community-based services through Refuge, believes her Independent Domestic Violence Advisor (IDVA) was “the reason I was able to access support to deal with the impacts of my ex’s abuse”.
“While I was entangled with the criminal justice system my support network was cut off from me for two years, which left me feeling so alone.
“My IDVA was able to get me the emotional, medical, economic and physical support I needed after leaving my abuser.
“It was thanks to community-based services that I got the debt my ex accrued in my name cleared, had someone with me to help process information in court, and had emotional support to cope with my PTSD, anxiety and depression.”
Prem added much of Freedom Charity’s work with young people in schools, colleges, universities is undertaken voluntarily, because neither professional bodies nor educational institutions have sufficient funding as a charity.
The former police officer said: “For example, looking at recent statistics on forced marriage, it is disheartening to note a decline in reported cases. “Instead of celebrating this decrease, I would argue that it highlights the lack of awareness among many frontline professionals regarding the complexity of this issue. Both the survivors and the professionals assisting them have not received the necessary support and assistance.
“This is primarily due to insufficient funding, but also because the staff has not received adequate training, especially in light of the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic.” Recent research by the University of Lincoln and the University of Bristol found that queries to the government’s forced marriage unit declined from 1,507 in 2018 to 337 in 2021 which has been linked to the pandemic.
Separate data from Karma Nirvana, which supports forced marriage victims, showed its helpline dealt with 42 per cent more cases between April 2022 and March 2023 than they did in the same period two years before.
Amjad Malik, a solicitor in Greater Manchester, said: “I think due to negative publicity about asylum claimants, boats coming to the UK, especially those who come to our shores via Europe, is impacting funding decisions on merit.
“Funding must be increased and those vulnerable benefit from such services. Charities are doing a greater job under the circumstances.”
Polly Harrar, founder of The Sharan Project charity, said a lack of sustainable funding presents an immediate threat to “by and for” charities that work within south Asian communities and could lead to the closure of specialist services.
She added: “Due to the cost of living crisis, we have seen an increase in calls to our service, particularly where survivors are struggling to escape domestic abuse or to financially cope when they do leave, however we have not seen funding to address these needs.
“We have always known there is a disparity in how charitable funding is allocated, but the scale of the issue truly is staggering so while we welcome calls to increase funding for community led services, we need action and we need it now.”
A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “This government is committed to ensuring that victims of domestic abuse can receive the support they need, whenever they need it.
“That’s why we are quadrupling funding for victim support services, including investment to increase the number of independent sexual and domestic abuse advisers by almost half.
“At the same time, our Victims and Prisoners Bill will enshrine their rights in law for the first time, making sure victims get the support to which they are entitled.”