Rising tide of domestic violence costs £50m

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THE COST of addressing domestic abuse and violence against women in the Borders could be as much as £50million a year, councillors will hear today.

The staggering figure reflects the estimated local provision and use of criminal justice, police, health and social services, loss of economic output and civil/legal services.

Yet total current funding in the region to tackle the causes and traumatic aftermath of domestic abuse amounts to just £392,000, the bulk going directly from the Scottish Government to the voluntary sector. A further £74,000 a year is provided by Scottish Borders Council for the provision of a refuge for battered women.

But the Holyrood largesse, committed over the past three years, is due to cease at the end of next month.

“At this point there has been an early indication from the Scottish Government that current funding levels will be maintained for a further 12 months, but there has been no formal confirmation of this,” states Andrea Beavon, SBC’s Violence Against Women (VAW) co-ordinator, in a shock report prepared for today’s full council meeting.

“There is limited ‘mainstreaming’ of domestic abuse within local authority [council] or health board services – it is not ‘core’ business ... with no consideration for long-term planning capacity,” she adds, urging councillors to bring what she calls a redesign project, currently being progressed, into SBC’s communities and health portfolio.

Her plea is backed up by worrying regional trends, including:

z an increase in the number of domestic abuse incidents, with the vast majority of victims women, reported to police, with more than 800 in 2009/10;

z an increase in repeat victimisation rates over the same year;

z an increase in the number of referrals made in relation to children present when police attend an incident;

z a rising number of children in the child protection system due to domestic abuse;

z an increase in the number of homelessness presentations due to domestic abuse;

z an increase in the numbers of women and children requiring refuge.

Ms Beavon says that from the development of LetSBsafe (Borders Women’s Aid) and LetSBsafe2 (Children 1st) – the specialist domestic abuse services for adults and children in the Borders which, together, receive more than £300,000 from Holyrood – it is clear the numbers of women and children living in high risk situations is “greater than expected and there is evidence of considerable unmet need”.

Ms Beavon goes on: “The current response comprises an ad hoc mixture of generic and specialist services within different agencies, with a mix of adult and children’s services across the voluntary and statutory services. There is evidence of overlaps and duplication as a result.

“There is also evidence of inbalance within and across the agencies in relation to making referrals to specialist services ... funding streams are varied and there is no doubt that services will be required to compete for funds.

“There are insufficient refuge places [at five, less that half the number recommended for the region’s population]. The current response to domestic abuse is almost entirely focused on incidents reported to police ... at the cost of prevention, protection and participation. This reactive response creates duplication of effort and the creation of unmet need.”

Ms Beavon wants a more co-ordinated community approach to produce better outcomes for women, children and perpetrators, with a redesigned service based on the internationally-recognised format, which brings together the criminal justice and support service interventions with the primary goal of protecting victims from ongoing abuse.

The need to improve the response to domestic abuse in the Borders had, she reveals, already been recommended by an externally-commissioned options appraisal, and a project team, headed by Ms Beavon, had been set up.

Today, she will seek council approval to progress the new set-up with her team already looking at funding streams, including the Big Lottery.

“Research carried out in the Borders clearly shows victims are still not sure where they can receive support or are confident of a response that prioritises their safety,” reveals Ms Beavon.

“The new service will be the first point of contact for all victims and their children.”