Councils in England will have a legal duty to provide secure homes for victims of domestic abuse under new plans announced by Theresa May says the BBC today – a claim which is absolute bullshit.
Regrettably this is fake news as councils will NOT have any legal duty to provide secure homes at all. Instead of accepting this as fact try reading the 47-page consultation document and you will see clearly and without any ambiguity that claims of councils having to provide a secure home is nonsense never mind having a legal duty to do so.
As well as the new statutory guidance to be issued saying anything about secure homes it also only applies to 151 top-tier local authorities in England and not to all 341 local authorities. Moreover, what the government is proposing – to expand accommodation-based provision for domestic violence survivors – can already be done under existing HB regulations and so this announcement is nothing new.
The government wanting to provide an additional 2,200 (not necessarily refuge) bedspaces to add to the current 3,813 refuge bedspaces (plus an unknown number of other DV properties) is to be welcomed but with a huge number of caveats and very much NOT with wild fake news claims such as a right to a secure home and all councils must provide as a legal duty.
A final fact before I discuss what this consultation paper actually says and means is that the number of refuges in England has fallen by 8.5% since 2010 when there were 294 refuges and in 2018 there were 269. In 2010 there were 139 floating support DV services and in 2018 this had fallen by 26% to be 103 – thus any political kudos the Tories are seeking from this announcement and aided and abetted by the BBC Fake News department of Tory propaganda (and numerous others such as C4 Dispatches) needs to be seen in this correct factual context.
One final comment is I have advised 18 refuge services over the past 20 years in a paid professional capacity as a supported housing consultant in financial, strategy, development and operational terms and many more in unpaid advice and time. That said let’s get on to what the government is proposing in its 47-page consultation paper that can be accessed here and page 19 is the first place to star
As you can see there is absolutely no mention of a secure home or any legal right to a secure home at all. A future statutory duty to “meet the support needs of victims and their children” is a legal duty to provide support not a legal duty to provide accommodation let alone a ‘secure home!’
This proposal also states any future statute and statutory guidance applies to Tier 1 LAs and the GLA and this is 119 councils out of 341 in England. The rest of the 222 English local councils will be obliged to support the Local Partnership Boards this proposal creates similar to the Commissioning Body construct of the Supporting People programme from 2000 onwards that have all disappeared in England and any such ‘holistic’ construct which is set up to commission services (and all commissioning is a discretionary process not a mandated one or actual legal duty) always fail. It is the commissioning model that has seen the 8.5% cut in refuge services and the 26% cut in floating / visiting support domestic abuse services lest we forget.
The commissioning process theory is far worse than Compulsory Competitive Tendering which it replaced in the provision of support and always sees non-expert organisations such as housing associations come in to relace the real experts such as individual specialist charities who comprise the vast majority of refuge services. Yet the commissioning model sees commissioners always seeking to deprofessionalise the expertise needed in domestic abuse (and other client groups) by comparing them with generic low level support services who employ generic and non-specialist staff on minimum wage rates. The current government know this and their proposal to put domestic abuse support provision with local commissioners is chronic blameshift as when the commissioning model fails central government will say we put the money up thus any blame lies with local authority commissioners.
Using the commissioning model for statutory support is bizarre. The 119 Tier 1 authority Local Partnership Boards will see 119 markedly different definitions of what “support” means. The only time “support” which is very different from “care” has ever been defined was back in Supporting People and the woolly and vague definition then I reproduce below to reveal an acute problem in how the term support will ever be defined in statute and associated stautory guidance:
The above list is generic only and is neither comprehensive nor specific to typical support tasks in domestic abuse services where we find liaison with legal services and with schools and with police and hospital services as routine operational functions of supporting those that have fled domestic violence. Additionally, domestic violence or domestic abuse services are unique within supported housing in that they always need three distinct parts of (a) pre-refuge or ‘Outreach’ ; (b) refuge; and (c) post-refuge services. No other client group has support to include services encouraging victims to leave their home in order to get support that while regrettable and offensive in theoretical terms is necessary in practical terms – a view supported by the fact that 68% of refuge entrants come from a different local authority to where the refuge is based.
There used to be a Key Performance Indicator (KPI) that said all councils – so the 341 in England – should have one refuge bedspace per 10,000 population. The word should does not mean must and a simple statute to enact that all local councils whether Tier 1 or not must have one refuge bedspace per 10,000 population and as a absolute minimum is sorely needed and would mean all councils have to provide a secure refuge place – and note well a refuge is a temporary emergency provision and not a long term secure home so even this would not make a legal requirement for a secure home.
Another unique practical issue with domestic abuse support provision is post refuge support and which differs markedly from any other client grou in its longetivity. In other support client groups there is the notion that floating or visiting support after the primary accommodation-based provision should not continue for longer than two years yet domestic abuse involves children and the last thing that children need is having to move schools every two years. The necessary support for domestic abuse services involves children as much as the parent and the trauma of domestic violence and abuse stays with children forever and also stays with the parent, usally the Mother, who is constantly questionning herself whether her decision to leave and split up the family unit has had a negative impact on her children. It is why domestic violence is a heinous crime and one that never escapes its victims and survivors.
The practical difficulties the brief overview above creates is in the number of homes needed. If the current 3,813 refuge places sees each resident stay for an average of 3 months before being rehoused it means over 15,000 new secure homes need to be found each year just for refuge residents in England. Those secure homes need to be in the social rented sector not in private renting to be secure in terms of tenure and also given the overall benefit cap policy that sees any benefit househld with three children and in some areas with two children not getting their rent paid through housing benefit. Just 9% of refuge residents are in work and 11% have to give up work to afford a refuge in data from Women’s Aid and published along with official police data on domestic violence.
One issue with the proposal to make support a statutory duty which is what this proposal is means that in order to do that the government have to create an exemption from the overall benefit cap policy for domestic abuse survivors. Delving deeper that examption from the OBC policy would also need to be until the youngest child leaves full time education too which could be 20 years! I doubt that Government have seen this issue yet what they do say is that this entire proposal is subject to budgetary constraints that have yet to be estimated and yet to be agreed by the Chancellor in the Spending Review.
The fake news BBC website article after telling all and sundry lies about what this proposal is concludes:
Local government secretary James Brokenshire said it was estimated an extra £90m a year would be needed for local authorities to provide accommodation for victims. The details on funding would be settled through the Spending Review process, he added.
As councils are not duty bound at all to provide accommodation anywhere in this proposal it is clear that James Brokenshire is either incompetent, a liar or both and I suspect strongly the cost of excluding domestic violence victims from the overall benefit cap policy is something the Treasury will include in any claimed £90m per year which in any cases is chickenfeed.
The same current government is avidly promoting the Housing First model of support for homeless persons and acknowledges that Housing First sees open-ended duration of visiting support (which the HF advocates says averages 3 years) and also acknowledges the cost of this at £40 per support hour for an average 3 hours of support per week. Go back to my numbers above which say over 15,000 domestic abuse households are created each year and lets assume they have 3 year support needs at this same 3 hours per week. Crunching those numbers sees:
- A constant 45,000 former refuge households needing support each year
- An average cost of £120 each per week of 3 hours support at £40ph
- An average weekly support cost of £120 x 45,000 = £5.4 million per week
- A yearly support cost of £282 million … which Brokenshore estimates at £90m!
Then factor in the reduced saving of up to 45,000 OBC exemptions and which broadly equate to £3,500 each per year and a further cost of £157 million per year giving a total cost of circa £340 million per year to government of making support to survivors of domestic abuse a statutory right … and for which this Government want to pay local councils just £90 million per year!
Blameshift and skullduggery abounds!
In summary of my initial thoughts above which have been considered and drafted within an hour shows this proposal for what it is – absolute bovine anal secretions and desperate lies from an ever more desperate Conservative government (and who may even be in office when this abject consultation finished in August 2019!)
Reader be very careful of your salt intake!