'Women will die': Warnings as domestic abuse services struggle with rising costs

As soaring energy bills are pushing some domestic abuse services to the brink of ruin, ITV News was given exclusive access to one such charity in Merseyside to witness the near impossible decisions it's now having to make

It’s the first-time cameras have been allowed to film inside this refuge for women and children on Merseyside.

A colourful playroom is filled with toys, but only because the children staying here were forced to leave their own behind.

It's warm and it's calm - a sanctuary for those escaping domestic violence, and the location must be kept secret.

ITV News has been given permission to interview survivors and staff here, because they desperately want the government to listen - and provide urgent financial support.

“This service without a shadow of a doubt saves lives,” Victoria, a survivor of domestic abuse, explains through tears.

“I wouldn’t be standing here today. I wouldn’t have the fight that I’ve got, that I need for my kids. They’ve helped me so much.”

But ITV News has seen evidence that the majority of domestic abuse services like this in England are struggling to support those that desperately need it, as spiralling costs for energy, food and transport deplete their funding.

Some services say they're even facing closure.

“We’re potentially going to be looking at an £18,000 deficit to keep the lights and heating on” says Caroline Grant, CEO of The First Step, an organisation on Merseyside, that supports those at risk of domestic abuse.

“We have to have the lights on, we have to have the heating on, we’ve got children living here, we’ve got vulnerable adults living here - we can’t cut off the gas and electricity.”

“We’ve got nine women and 17 children in the refuge, now what do we do? Where can we get the money to pay those bills? We can’t ask the women - they’ve come to us with nothing, except the clothes on their back”

Caroline Grant, CEO of The First Step, told ITV News that she fears individuals pushed onto waiting lists could die unless they can be offered support sooner

She explains that people are now being left on waiting lists, because they can’t afford to help them.

“We’ve got 90 individuals from the community that we’ve had to put on a waiting list for support. How do we know that one of them is not going to appear on a homicide list in the future?”

When I ask her if she really believes women could die as a result, she replies: “Absolutely. We’re unable to support the level of need that is out there, because of a lack of investment.”

“In my 25 years of delivering domestic abuse support I’ve never seen a darkness that we’ve got now - a lack of empathy, and a lack of understanding.”

In a survey of domestic abuse services across England, carried out exclusively for ITV News by Women’s Aid, 96% said they’re facing financial issues related to the cost-of-living crisis.

67% said without financial help they’ll have to stop supporting survivors - either turning them away, reducing services or closing altogether.

And 73% said their staff are going through hardship too, with 20% revealing employees are using foodbanks.

Jenny Dennett, a community domestic abuse manager, says she’s even had to consider looking for another job, because her pay is not keeping pace with inflation.

“At times I’m having to borrow money before pay day, so I’m in a vicious cycle to get extra bits of food, basic things. I’ve had to think about what else I could do, or extra work, if things carry on this way.

"Which I wouldn’t want to do, this is what I’m passionate about - supporting people, making a difference.”

ITV News' Rebecca Barry spoke to survivors at a refuge for women and children on Merseyside. Credit: ITV News

For those in abusive relationships, the cost-of-living crisis has exacerbated the risks they face. But just as demand for support is increasing, already overstretched services are facing rising costs.

The First Step is currently supporting more than 300 women in the northwest of England, both in emergency refuge accommodation and others in the community.

In the last year, they’ve seen a 60% rise in people seeking help.

One survivor of domestic violence tells me she worries for other women like her, if these services can’t offer immediate support.

“I fear that they’ll stay stuck in that cycle and they won't have the support they need to get away. I genuinely believe it would’ve been fatal for me. I don’t think my children would have a mother now.”

Charities don’t want to deter people from seeking help, but say urgent intervention is needed, calling on the government to give a financial support package to domestic abuse services.

Farah Nazeer, CEO of Women’s Aid, says “It’s a sorry reflection on our society if we don’t take action now to really support these services.

"These services need to remain operational at this point of crisis - and it is a point of crisis. Women and children will die and be at risk of harm unless we get this right.”

A government spokesperson told ITV News: “We are working across government to ensure victims and survivors of domestic abuse are fully supported, including by delivering the commitments worth over £140 million in the Tackling Domestic Abuse Plan.

"This includes trials of a ‘flexible fund’, which charities could use to provide extra money to victims and survivors."

What are the signs of domestic abuse?

Domestic abuse can include, but is not limited to, the following:

  • Coercive control (a pattern of intimidation, degradation, isolation and control with the use or threat of physical or sexual violence)

  • Psychological and/or emotional abuse

  • Physical or sexual abuse.

  • Financial or economic abuse.

  • Harassment and stalking.

  • Online or digital abuse.

If you need support, the following services are available:

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