Monday, 31 August 2015

Victims of the system

It has long been said that the government’s austerity agenda at a time of economic stagnation will increase housing need. The accusation from London women’s refuge Eaves and others that the capital’s councils are failing people fleeing domestic violence, gives this concern a face.

So why is this happening? It would be easy to dismiss these claims as squeals of protest from organisations facing funding cuts, but recent cases in Hounslow in west London suggest otherwise. That councils are facing average funding cuts of 27 per cent by April 2015 is true and cuts are being made to local authority domestic violence services. Yet, it beggars belief that any public servant would set out to make savings by deliberately refusing to assess victims of domestic violence and accept them as homeless.

A more likely theory is, as in Hounslow, procedures are simply not up to scratch and, as a result, a dangerously poor service is being provided. It shouldn’t take the intervention of the Local Government Ombudsman to point this out, but now that it has Hounslow has responded by overhauling its approach and is providing staff training on how to identify and respond to potential cases of domestic abuse.

A similar approach has been followed by housing association Peabody, with sobering results. Three years ago it set out to ensure all its staff who came into contact with customers were trained to spot and report possible cases of domestic violence. It has since seen the number of reported cases rise from four in 2007 to more than 80 in 2011. It is now providing this training to other social landlords and we’ll shortly be publishing a more detailed article on this.

Once cases of domestic violence have been identified, local authorities have a ready-made approach provided by their social work colleagues. A clear failing in the tragic example of Baby P in Haringey was that there was no central forum for assessing cases involving other agencies such as the police and housing providers. The better local authorities, such as Newham, are now implementing this structure and ensuring all staff know where to report concerns about domestic violence. All councils must now follow suit and ensure they are not doing too little too late.

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