Refuge cuts in Northamptonshire 'may put lives at risk'

The 68 refuges could be shut by July

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Lives could be put at risk if refuges for women suffering domestic abuse in Northamptonshire are forced to close due to a financial crisis, a leading support worker has warned.

All the county's 68 refuge places could be lost in a funding reorganisation.

Wendy Lovell, of Women's Aid, said the refuges and services provided by them and other groups cost about £750,000 a year.

The county council said it was committed to helping vulnerable people.

Refuges for women and their children in the county face being shut by July, unless Women's Aid and other groups involved can raise funds to keep them open.

'Gave life back'

The refuges were funded by the government's Supporting People Programme: which provided funds to the county council to pay for support to vulnerable people.

But that money is no longer available.

Individual victims of abuse will continue to be eligible for financial help, enabling them to live independently or in bed and breakfast accommodation, but now there is no continuing funding for staff to run refuges.

Northamptonshire County Council is asking organisations to tender to provide services for victims of abuse, but this does not include a specific requirement to provide refuges as places of safety where women can try and rebuild their lives.

Annette, a mother who was in an abusive relationship and turned to alcohol, found help with a Women's Aid refuge.

She told BBC Northampton: "Without the refuge I believe my son would now be in care and I believe I would be in jail or dead."

Another woman helped by the refuge, Louise, said: "Quite frankly the refuge has given me my life back. It has been a life saver. I don't think I would be here today without the staff's help."

'Council support'

Ms Lovell said she did not want to blame any one organisation for the funding crisis, but called on the county council, district councils, the health service and Northamptonshire Police to work at finding the funds.

"We acknowledge there have to be cuts, but if something is not done [to keep refuges open] and there is a death - which could happen - then it will be too late," she said.

A spokesman for Northamptonshire County Council said: "The county council takes domestic abuse very seriously and is committed to supporting vulnerable people in our communities and reducing risk in families.

"The council is not reducing the funding towards domestic abuse. The council is changing the way that support will be provided and is looking at broadening the way that this help is administered."

A report on the service written by former Labour Northampton North MP Sally Keeble says Northamptonshire Police dealt with 12,211 incidents of domestic abuse in 2011-12.

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