Funding cuts to Refuge?

There’s been some dismay on the net, and in opposition parties, about the reports of cuts to Women’s Refuge funding announced by the government last week.

Women’s refuges say some women fleeing from violence may no longer be able to get a safe bed after a surprise Government policy change chopped $700,000 off their funding.

The 45 refuges have lost $382,200 from their national contract and just over $300,000 in contracts held by some refuges for family violence co-ordinator and child advocate jobs, which have been scrapped.

Now I felt some dismay reading this article myself – because it is so misleading.  Firstly, the family violence co-ordinator roles referred to in the article are not front-line workers – they co-ordinate local community networks.  I agree their cutting is a tragedy – just as NZ communities are beginning to understand and respond to family violence better than ever before, we are cutting the very jobs that made that community collaboration work.

But they are not frontline jobs in Women’s Refuge, in fact they are not even usually hosted by Women’s Refuges.

Secondly, the child advocate jobs were sometimes frontline.  That depended on the community they were based in.  But they did not offer beds to families.  They were established to co-ordinate safety issues for children across agencies, and were often hosted by agencies such as Barnardos or Relationship Services or Plunket or Jigsaw.  Far more often, in fact, than they were hosted by Women’s Refuge.

Thirdly, the national contract for Women’s Refuge does cover local refuges delivering services – ie giving women and children support, information, a place to stay, help to escape, clothing, food and toys – you name it, local refuges do it. 

But it also funds the National Collective of Women’s Refuges national office – set up to represent the issues of local Refuges to government.  I know, because I used to work in one of the 5 positions funded under that central contract at the time.  None of these positions impacted on whether women were able to get a safe bed.  They were advocacy, advice and administrative positions.

I’m not arguing that if a national office advocating on behalf of local refuges is functioning well, the issues surrounding domestic violence will not be well understood by government, and therefore women, children and men (because most men killed in domestic violence situations are killed by other men) will be safer.

But it’s certainly misleading to say funding cuts to Women’s Refuge national contract necessarily mean there will be less funding to work with families on a local level.

Let’s check what the government is actually saying on this:

Women’s Refuge was advised funding for advocacy services to lobby government would not continue, but operational funding would remain unchanged, meaning there should be no effect on provision of bed nights.

Paula Bennett may be not telling the truth on this.  Or there might be some deliberate misinformation going on, to provoke support for a service which is vital for community well-being.

If the second is true, and it’s happened before*, we are missing an opportunity to talk about why effective national representation of issues to do with violence against women is important.  Which is a great pity, because while the work of local Refuges is life-saving, the work of national advocacy and representing the local should be social policy influencing, and therefore life-saving on a macro level, if it’s done well.

Refuges have been slipping away from the National Collective over the last few years.  When I was there, three years ago, we used to say there were 51 Refuge members.  Now there are 45.  What this funding change will do is reduce National Office’s ability to be effective, and therefore make it even more likely members will withdraw. 

That’s the debate we should be having – how to make sure we have effective national advocacy on domestic violence from a feminist and grass-roots perspective. 

* For the record, my take on those ads is that they could have become rock solid by simply saying “One in three NZ women will need help during her lifetime.”     

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One thought on “Funding cuts to Refuge?

  1. Brilliant post. I like your blog, especially this one. Funnily enough I have just had a debate about this with an acquaintance who is convinced that women will indeed suffer. I don’t think this is the case at all. I personally think that it is a matter of putting money where it is needed most. We are a tiny economy with too many fingers in too many pies. I think need to focus more on streamlining non profit groups and ensuring that there is no double handling and increase data sharing. Very interesting too that the Womens Refuge was found to be in breach of the Adverstising Standards. And disheartening as things like that serve only to minimise the real issues faced by many women.

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