Local authorities fail female victims of violence

One in four local authorities face legal action after being accused of discounting gender equality by failing to protect women who are the victims of violence.

A new report says ethnic minority women are “especially poorly served” by councils, while a quarter of rape crisis centres face closure or cutbacks.

Professor Liz Kelly, chair of End Violence Against Women (EVAW), said services for women who had been the victims of violence in Britain were the envy of Europe but now faced a “funding crisis”.

“These organisations grew out of understanding women’s needs and the commitment of women’s groups to say no to violence,” she said.

“If they are not supported by governments at all levels we risk not only failing to fill the gaps, but creating support deserts.”

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), which compiled today’s report, is threatening legal action against 100 local authorities in England and Wales to take action over their lack of specialist services for women.

“Local authorities and other public bodies are required by law to promote gender equality, and that duty requires them to take into account men and women’s different needs,” a statement said.

“Because violence against women is such a major cause of women’s inequality, public bodies should ensure adequate support for women in such circumstances.”

The commission has published a “map of gaps”, available at mapofgaps.com, which it says reveals the postcode lottery facing women in England and Wales.

“This is a call to action for everybody who cares about this issue, and a firm reminder for those in local and national government with the power to make a difference,” said EHRC chair Trevor Phillips.

“Urgent action is needed to provide funding and support to ensure that all women can get help whenever they need it – wherever they live.

“I hope that the bleak statistics in today’s report, contrasted with the inspiring stories from parts of the country that serve as a beacon – will serve as a wake-up call and inspire others to take action. But for those councils who continue to ignore the dire need to shore up services and plug the gaps, we also have a stark reminder: the commission is ready and willing to use its enforcement powers.”

Commenting, shadow minister for women Theresa May said: “The government’s funding arrangements have left centres struggling and over recent years many have closed.

“I urge the government to provide the long-term funding assurances that rape crisis centres need by matching our commitment to offer them guaranteed three-year funding.

“The government must act now to support rape victims.”

Every year more than three million in England and Wales fall victim to rape, domestic violence, stalking or other forms of abuse.

The commission is giving the 100 councils in its sights one month to improve of they will begin legal action against them.