One of the better questions at today’s PMQs came from Tory MP Chris Green, who asked about the government’s proposed funding model for refuges. Green was among the Conservatives who last week raised concerns about the plan for local authorities to pay grants to refuges rather than individual places being paid for by a woman’s housing benefit, and he did so again today, asking Theresa May the following:
‘Will my right hon. Friend join me in praising the work of Fortalice, which has provided domestic abuse support in Bolton for 40 years? Will she consider under the current reforms the benefits of a new funding structure for domestic abuse refuges separate from the supported housing sector, so that refuges can continue to deliver their specialist support?’
May’s response was pretty defensive, with the Prime Minister claiming that the government didn’t think the current system was sufficiently responsive to the news of women fleeing domestic violence. She added ‘that is why we want to put the funding in the hands of local authorities, but bring in new oversight to make sure we are delivering the right support for the right people’.
This is a classic May answer: not giving anything away at all. The problem is that while the Prime Minister has a good record on domestic violence from her time as Home Secretary, it is not a sufficiently politically salient issue for her to feel the need to produce anything more than a line that suggests the government will not change its course on the reforms, which campaigners fear will close many refuges, resulting in more women being turned away (currently around 90 are turned away every day), and more women therefore returning to their abusers. If MPs like Green want the Prime Minister to come to the House of Commons Chamber with more than a gentle defensive line prepared on this policy, they will need to recruit more MPs to make more of a noise about the threats to the refuges in their own areas.