Women are dying at hands of their lockdown abusers… we need refuges more than ever

REFUGES are desperately needed more than ever during Covid-19, with women and their children trapped in lockdown with their abusers.

There is some funding, although nowhere near enough, for accommodation alongside the Domestic Abuse Bill, which Women’s Aid has lobbied for with The Sun for many years through the Save Our Shelters campaign.

But what it doesn’t do is use the word “refuges” in the Bill, which means this important money could be spent on unsafe housing while lifesaving refuge doors close.

This week, as the Bill goes into committee stage in the House of Lords, we are asking for the word refuges to be used, not accommodation.

We need to be assured by the Lords that the £125million that will be given to councils from April for domestic abuse accommodation will keep the doors open of the refuges that save the lives of women and children. 

This £125million will go some way but not far enough in meeting the cost of refuges, which Women’s Aid estimates is over £170million a year.

We need to know that this money will not be given to the cheapest provider.

There is a huge difference between a roof over your head and a domestic abuse refuge. Women’s Aid has local member organisations all over the country that run lifesaving refuge services, along with community-based services and helplines for abused women and children.

In numbers…

19 out of 31

women said abuse got worse in pandemic


felt they could not escape the violence in lockdown


They are run by women for other women and are safe spaces to heal from trauma. They have confidential addresses. The women who run these services help survivors of abuse to rebuild every aspect of their lives as they flee across the country to escape their ex-partner, often in fear of being killed or seriously injured.

This is why we also need the “local connection” rules for women accessing refuges to be banned. 

When someone is trying to kill you, you need to get to somewhere you feel safe, not be restricted to a refuge and future housing in the area where the person you are terrified of is living, and where you are unlikely to be safe from them.

In a refuge, you will be guided through opening a new bank account, arranging new schools for your children, get support for the trauma you have experienced and start having some hope for the future.

You don’t get that from cheap landlords, and this is why we need the Bill to have clear definitions in it. Without the government money, lifesaving services will close, and more women will die at the hands of their abusers.

Currently, on average three women are killed every fortnight, but during the first two weeks of lockdown last year this more than doubled.

Many, given little choice, end up back with the perpetrator

We spoke to a domestic abuse survivor called Daisy*, 25, who had left with her baby. She had a bad first experience of accommodation but then found the support she needed in a Women’s Aid member refuge.

She told us that the first place she was given did not feel safe — there were people up all night drinking and using drugs. 

It was so bad that she ended up returning to her abuser, but thankfully she was able to secure a place in the refuge which offered the help she needed to start a new life.

Without funds being ring-fenced for quality, specialist refuges in the Domestic Abuse Bill, councils making decisions about budgets could give desperately needed money to the cheapest option, which is dangerous for women and their children, like Daisy and her baby. 

For many women, given lack of choice and no option of somewhere they feel safe, they will go back home to their abuser.

The Bill needs to guarantee refuge spaces to the women and children who urgently need them, and they must be available for every woman who needs them. This includes funding for services for black and ethnic minority women, so all women can access a service that meets their needs and can genuinely help them. The Bill must also include migrant women.

If not, we will see abused women being forced to return to the violence they are escaping from and yet more women being killed. This Bill provides the biggest opportunity we have to protect survivors of domestic abuse, to save lives and to keep refuge doors open. 

This week, we ask the Lords to make some much-needed changes to ensure that this is a Bill that truly keeps women and children safe.

  • Name and identifying details changed to protect  anonymity.
  • Stats from a 2020 Women’s Aid study.

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