Cutting funding for domestic abuse charity ‘would be catastrophic’

Sharon Howard, chief executive officer of Safe in Sussex
Sharon Howard, chief executive officer of Safe in Sussex

Cuts to funding for a West Sussex charity supporting women fleeing domestic abuse would ‘put lives at risk’ the organisation has warned.

The Tory-led West Sussex County Council is considering ending housing support funding worth hundreds of thousands of pounds to a number of organisations from April 2019.

Since the grants are discretionary the cabinet member responsible is set to look at starting a process which could lead to a number of contracts with charities being terminated.

Safe in Sussex, which provides refuge accommodation for women and their children who were subjected to domestic abuse, is one of the organisations that would lose out.

Sharon Howard, the charity’s chief executive officer, said: “I can’t believe they are even proposing such a thing. It’s going to put women’s lives at risk and children’s lives at risk.”

She described how they were the only refuge provider in West Sussex, with locations in Worthing, Horsham and Littlehampton.

While the charity serves the whole of West Sussex, it also takes women from other parts of the country.

If the county council cuts Safe in Sussex’s funding it would result in two refuges closing and the loss of 13 beds.

Mrs Howard said: “It would be catastrophic.”

The charity, which does receive some cash from Children in Need, is constantly looking for financial support. It has applied for money from central Government in the past but even when it is successful the grants are temporary.

The refuges always have high occupancy rates and are all currently full.

For women the action of going into a refuge is a last resort but Mrs Howard explained they are happy to do so because their lives are in danger.

As well as providing accommodation the charity supports women with their recovery and helps to rebuild their confidence and self esteem.

They also have specialist support workers for the children who accompany them.

Typically women stay for about six months and often for up to a year.

Louise Goldsmith, leader of West Sussex County Council, said: “The stark reality is we simply do not have the money to continue delivering the services we currently deliver in the same way and to the same level. We have come to the point that we need to make some difficult and necessary choices and this is the first reluctant step in this budget process.

“Locally there is really good work happening and we are committed to working in creative, innovative ways including collaborative working with partners to do as much as we can to mitigate the impact of these decisions and in doing so limit the effect on residents.

“The publication of the forward plan is the first step in the democratic process for our savings programme. No decision has been taken, these decisions are really important to making sure we meet the financial challenges we face. In order to make these decisions there is a full and thorough decision making process to go through. For many of these decisions that will include formal consultation with those most affected.

“Any changes we make we will do with the full understanding of the impact that has and the support we need to put in place to make sure we mitigate the impact for all of our communities.”

Beccy Cooper, leader of the Labour group at Worthing Borough Council, said: “These cuts will have a devastating effect on the most vulnerable people in Worthing and across the county

“This funding provides the safety net for people who have reached a crisis point in their lives – people who have become homeless, or who face homelessness, those who are the victims of domestic violence, those who because of mental issues or problems of drug or alcohol dependency are unable to maintain stability in their lives.

“This funding provides the one thing that can bring people back from a downward spiral by putting a roof over their head and the stability of somewhere to live and access to the help to get their lives back on track.

“It just doesn’t make economic sense either. It will inevitably mean more calls on those who will have to pick up the pieces – the police, the ambulance service, our hospitals, and social services.

“There is still time for the county council to pull back from the brink and think again about these cuts. We will be fighting the proposal every step of the way over the next month to make sure they do.”

James Walsh, leader of the Lib Dem group at County Hall, added: “These cuts fly in the face of the council’s avowed policies of protecting the vulnerable in our communities, and are merely cynical cash saving measures, and have no place in a civilised and caring society.

“They are part of a much wider programme of cuts to make up the shortfalls caused by the drastic reduction in the cash given by central government for local council services. It is time for the public and the council to stand up and tell central government that austerity has gone too far, and is severely eroding local Services to the elderly, young people, and vulnerable in our communities.”

The charity was set up in 1977 as Worthing Women’s Aid and relaunched as Safe in Sussex back in 2013.

The organisation also facilitates support groups in the community to women and delivers early intervention healthy relationships educational programmes into primary and secondary schools across West Sussex.

For more information or to support Safe in Sussex visit www.safeinsussex.org/

Thousands have already rallied behind Crawley Open House, which could also lose funding, while the YMCA DownsLink Group, which provides supported housing services to homeless young people in Worthing, Crawley, Horsham and Burgess Hill, has warned that if the council ended all financial support it would lead to the closure of 206 homes for vulnerable young people.