Map of refuge stories across the UK
19.10.17 The Bureau Local

Stories from around the country show a refuge system at breaking point

Over 30 pieces have been published on the investigation - the Bureau’s largest collaboration to date

Across England domestic violence refuges are turning vulnerable women away, closing down vital specialist services and battling budget cuts, according to the Bureau's country-wide collaboration.

More than 20 reporters and volunteers across England - all members of the Bureau Local network - dug into council and police data, surveyed refuge managers and gathered powerful stories of women fleeing danger.

We heard stories of refuges closing in Sunderland, Suffolk and Stoke; more than a thousand women turned away; and experts warning women and children will die as a result.

It was the Bureau’s largest collaboration to date. The result was an in-depth look at refuge provision across the country.

Here are the stories from across England:

The story's impact

Influential Members of Parliament, the Labour leader, shadow ministers and top police chiefs have all spoken out in the wake of the Bureau Local’s findings.

Jeremy Corbyn MP, the leader of the Labour party, accused the government of placing political policy before women’s welfare as he demanded action over cuts to domestic abuse services.

He told the Islington Gazette: “The blame for cuts to services in Islington and across the country lies squarely at the door of the Conservatives, who have slashed funding while at the same time giving tax breaks to the super-rich and big corporations.”

Conservative MP Maria Miller, who chairs the Women and Equalities Select Committee, called for a statutory requirement on local authorities to fund refuges.

The chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Domestic Violence, Labour MP Jess Phillips, said, similarly: “We need a specific funding model for refuges, because without it people die.”

Dawn Butler MP, Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities, told the Bureau:

“I am concerned that Theresa May's Conservative government are penny wise and pound foolish. These cuts to services are costing extra money in emergency policing and care and in some very sad and tragic cases it may be literally costing lives. It is time that there is a fresh look at this government's priorities as there seems to be a direct correlation between the lack of funding and the increase of incidents and this is concerning.”

Jon Cruddas, the MP for the East London seat of Dagenham and Rainham, told the Barking and Dagenham Post that the findings highlighted “deeply worrying concerns”, while the veteran MP for the neighbouring seat of Barking, Margaret Hodge, said she was worried by “the rise in high-risk cases in the borough”.

Lyn Brown, MP for the West Ham constituency, spoke out over the pressures on domestic violence funding. “With reports of domestic violence on the increase it is absolutely wrong that the Tory government continues to underfund the council services that can help them,” said Brown.

Senior figures in the police service have also expressed concern.

Detective Superintendent Julie Wvendth, from the Norfolk constabulary, said domestic abuse was one of the force’s priorities, but added that an increase in reporting had led to funding not keeping up with demand.

Tim Passmore, Suffolk’s Police and Crime Commissioner, said he was “horrified” at the way funding has been cut generally, but added that his office had put £150,000 this year into supporting the county’s three women’s refugees in Lowestoft, Bury and Ipswich.

Two weeks after our story broke, the Department for Communities and Local Government opened a consultation for "improving access to social housing for victims of domestic abuse". 

Ep.9 When the roof came down by The Tip Off

Ep.9 When the roof came down In late July I read a Facebook post that would send me on a three month journey- from town council steps, to bland hotels to dirty council flats- I followed the stories of women fleeing domestic violence only to be let down by the system designed to support them.

Our largest collaboration yet

Over the course of five months, the Bureau Local worked with more reporters and helped produce more local stories than we ever have done for a single investigation. It also featured on Channel 4 News- the Bureau Local's first piece on television.

Our work started with Jasmine Andersson, who joined the Bureau on a fellowship sponsored by NCTJ's diversity fund aimed at encouraging more diversity in journalism. She spotted a story from earlier in the year warning Sunderland’s refuge funding was in danger of drying up completely.

We decided to explore the situation around the country - putting a call out to our Bureau Local network of reporters to dig into the issue in their patch.

We collected data on refuge funding from local authorities across England. Of which, 84, more than half of authorities responsible, were able to provide data for the year 2010/11 and 2016/17.

We obtained data from an additional 42 responsible authorities but they were unable to provide the data for those years. Other councils could not provide the data we requested. We also collected data on domestic violence incidents over time by putting in Freedom of Information requests to police forces across England.

We also crafted an online survey for refuge managers. Our network took the survey and used it to interview their local refuge managers, allowing us to pull together comparable information and tell a nationwide picture.

Finally, we asked local reporters to dig into the £20m pot of funding for domestic violence services announced by the Department of Communities and Local Government.

Here at Bureau Local central, we used a Python script to pull out all the areas receiving DCLG funding and those that are not. This allowed us to calculate that 15% of the adult female population is not in an area covered by the fund. You can see our Python scripts and access the data here.

Alongside all that data work we also went out and talked to domestic violence survivors and refuge managers to tell their stories.

Stories have appeared in: Yorkshire PostIpswich StarNorwich Evening NewsEastern Daily PressEast Anglian Daily TimesTimes & StarBirmingham EastsideNorth West Evening MailBlackpool GazetteBirmingham MailThe OvertakeLancashire PostHartlepool MailWakefield ExpressThe Municipal JournalBarking & Dagenham PostIslington GazetteNewham RecorderNew StatesmanChannel 4 Newsthe Independent, and others.

Our journalists were: Jasmine Andersson, Sarah Cheverton, Tom Bristow, Emma Pearson, Lenka Pešková, Caroline Barber, Emily Davies, Robyn Vinter, Rebecca Omonira-Oyekanmi, Chris Burn, Dan Peters, Stephanie Soh, Emma Youle, John Blow, Alex Shaw, Paul Bradshaw, Luke Sproule, Lucy Todman, Emily Pearce, Carmen Aguilar and Giuseppe Sollazzo.

Our beautiful illustrations were by Ella Paton of Viewfinder Studios.

Get the data

Want the information on your local authority?

Access the data and code behind our story here

This article was updated on October 30 to include the section "The story's impact'.

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