By Caoimhe Fitzpatrick
FEARS have been expressed that lack of funding could result in reduced help being made available locally to victims of domestic abuse.
In the last twelve months (April 21-March 22) the number of recorded domestic abuse incidents locally was 2,660, an increase of 100 on the previous twelve-month period (April 20-March 21).
The number of Domestic Abuse Crimes also increased to a new high of 1,792 (an increase of 35).
However, with the increase, support sectors require sufficient funding to be able to provide quality support to service users. Domestic abuse services are providing life - saving support and if no funding continues the results could be life threatening. Women’s Aid are witnessing an increasingly high demand for their services and their waiting lists growing daily.
CEO of women and children domestic abuse and support charity - Women's Aid, Eileen Murphy exclaimed, "If this continues, there is no doubt that services will shrink, possibly until they will actually disappear. "
Women’s Aid is the lead agency in tackling domestic/sexual abuse and seeks through its work to promote healthy and non-abusive relationships. Their vision is to end domestic abuse in society and to establish a future where domestic abuse is unacceptable and women and children are safe in their homes. However, with the lack of funding this vision could slowly deteriorate.
CEO Eileen Murphy is witnessing an increase in service users every day and providing service is becoming more challenging:
"We are seeing an ever-increasing demand for our services, and we are sitting with a waiting list which is even greater than what we can actually provide."
Women's Aid Armagh and Down provide support to women and their children across not only Newry, Mourne and Down but into Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon areas too.
Eileen regrettably stated: "We receive a very small amount of funding for work with our children, every day is a growing demand for our services, and our funding is being reduced and reduced year on year."
Today Women’s Aid are supporting 280 women in the NMD and Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon community. However, they also currently have 256 women on their waiting list, and numbers are increasing daily. They are also providing direct one to one support for 35 children but there are 82 children on our waiting list.
Eileen also believes that the PSNI statistics are under reported. This is because many people who are victims of abuse may fear coming forward as she said, “reaching out for help could cost you your life or cost you your children’s life.”
Women’s Aid gain their funding from the Supporting People Programme. Supporting People is a decentralised government programme that funds, monitors and improves frontline housing-related support services for disadvantaged and vulnerable people. A decision taken in 2010 means that Supporting People is now an un-ringfenced grant that is absorbed into the formula grant, allowing individual councils to make future spending decisions.
"The funders are Supporting People within the Department of Communities NIHEX. They fund a wide range of homelessness services across NI including all Women’s Aid groups. The overall Supporting People’s budget has been frozen since 2009 and in April 2018 the funding for accommodation services was cut by 5%. Who else is sitting with the same budget since 2009 trying to manage in today’s environment."
I asked Eileen if she believed that more commitment needs to come from our local Assembly:
"Absolutely, we should have proper funding for what we do, we do this all across NI, not just here in Newry, we do this with very insecure funding, and we don't know whether we are going to get it year from year."
"Sometimes when you hear of people talking about pay rises and salaries, you hear them talking about the public sector, and private sector. However, you very rarely hear about the frontline support services and voluntary sector."
Women’s Aid Armagh and Down started a brand-new ‘Building Resilience and Hope, Wellbeing Programme’ in April and there 78 women already on it.
"There is no doubt about it that the demand in domestic violence and domestic abuse support is constant and growing every single day."
The workers and volunteers at Women’s Aid Armagh and Down are working and supporting services users with traumatising stories and require extra support themselves. However, due to their lack of funding it limits the accessibility to this support.
“We train up really good, excellently trained, knowledgeable and experienced staff. However, they move on to much better paid jobs because they have to good after themselves and their families.
“We also need to provide support for our staff so that they don’t become traumatised themselves. When they walk out of the meetings with our service users, they don’t leave that woman and her situation behind.”
Eileen exclaimed the immense pride she has for these courageous women who take the step and reach out for help and support:
“The journey that it takes to free yourself from the chains of a perpetrator, to being able to be independently inn your own freedom, your own space, your own home, I mean that is a journey, a very difficult journey and its courageous women who take that journey.”