Funding for domestic violence victims

Robert Jenrick, the Housing, Communities, and Local Government Secretary, has responded to concerns that the lockdown has led both to an increase in domestic violence and a reduction in help for victims. £76 million in extra funding “will support survivors of domestic abuse, sexual violence, and modern slavery, as well as ensuring vulnerable children and young people continue to get the help they need.”  There will also be a change to the rules so “those fleeing domestic abuse and facing homelessness, as a result, will be automatically considered as a priority by their council for housing – ensuring more survivors of domestic abuse have access to a safe home.” For those escaping domestic violence there will be “more safe spaces, accommodation and access to support services during the coronavirus outbreak.”

Jenrick says:

“It is essential that the most vulnerable people in our communities continue to get the vital support they need during this pandemic.  This multi-million-pound package is a boost for charities working on front line to provide often lifesaving support or services at this unprecedented time.  This includes essential support for domestic abuse victims, living in fear in the place where they should feel most safe – their home.”

It is a cross-departmental effort. The Ministry of Housing, Communities, and Local Government is focusing on accommodation. The Department for Education is providing extra help for safeguarding vulnerable children while the Ministry of Justice and the Home Office is increasing funding for charities that offer support services.

Apart from husbands beating their wives (or more usually these days male partners assaulting female partners) the House of Commons Justice Select Committee last week discussed “evidence of a newer trend, of older children – principally teenagers – attacking their parents amid frustration about being unable to go outside.”

Some refuges are full – or have closed as they have not found it viable to function due to the lockdown. The challenge is both to ensure help is available and that victims are aware of it.

90 per cent of rough sleepers have been offered accommodation

Even before the scale of the coronavirus crisis became clear the Government had put a high priority on reducing rough sleeping. Then emergency funding was provided with the aim of achieving rapid progress. With hotels sitting empty the scope was available. The most important element though was actively seeking out rough sleepers to make them aware of the offer and to encourage them to accept. Of course, it does not follow that everyone will.

The progress report from the Government is encouraging:

“Over 90 per cent of rough sleepers known to councils at the beginning of the crisis have now been offered accommodation where they can remain safe during the crisis – helping protect themselves and others from contracting the virus.”

Councils, charities, faith groups, and health providers have worked with the Government to make offers to “over 5,400 people who were sleeping rough at the beginning of the crisis”. Dame Louise Casey will lead a specialist taskforce which “will work hand-in-hand with councils across the country on plans to ensure rough sleepers can move into long-term, safe accommodation once the immediate crisis is over – ensuring as few people as possible return to life on the streets.”

How many of the offers will be taken up? Of those that are, how many will refuse long term help and be back on the streets in a few weeks or even a few days?

Discretionary small business funding announced

While businesses have been reluctant to take up state guaranteed loans, the offers of grants – Small Business Grants Fund and the Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Grants Fund – have been snapped up. But there has been some resentment from those who have not qualified due to technicalities. For instance, owners of ‘bed and breakfasts’ who live in the premises and thus pay Council Tax rather then Business Rates had missed out.

The Government has responded by providing a “five per cent uplift” to the £12.33 billion of funding – in other words, £617 million.

It says:

“This additional fund is aimed at small businesses with ongoing fixed property-related costs. We are asking local authorities to prioritise businesses in shared spaces, regular market traders, small charity properties that would meet the criteria for Small Business Rates Relief, and bed and breakfasts that pay council tax rather than business rates. But local authorities may choose to make payments to other businesses based on local economic need. The allocation of funding will be at the discretion of local authorities.”

Giving an element of discretionary funding strikes me as sensible from both a political and a practical point of view. The idea has been to avoid complexity to allow the money to be made available quickly. For the Government to have attempted to produce detailed lists of extra categories eligible for money would have been cumbersome. Inevitably some would still have felt unfairly excluded. Councils can hardly complain about being given the power to decide. However, that denies them the chance to just shrug off any complaints and blame the Government. The spirit of localism has survived.