Domestic abuse victims to receive ‘flee funds’ to escape abusive partners | UK News

Hundreds of domestic abuse survivors will receive cash payments of £2,500 each to help them flee their tormentors, under a new initiative.

The £2m scheme, which launches this month, is described as a “lifeline” for women who can’t flee – or are forced to return to – abusive relationships because they cannot afford essentials.

A successful pilot of the scheme last year, saw 600 victims given £250 or £500. A review found 80% of applicants used it to flee to a safe location, as well as buy food, clothing, nappies and security cameras.

The new scheme funded by the Home Office and delivered by Women’s Aid charities, will see these “flee funds” rolled out across England and Wales, and offers an additional £2,500 payment to pay for a rental deposit or bills.

The safeguarding minister, Laura Farris, told Sky News: “The most common reasons preventing people leaving a relationship are a lack of money, the strong fear of reprisals or being found in the future and concern about their kids – can you take them with you, how are you going to pay for everything?

“The point of this cash injection is to give them the security and confidence to make that first move to leave the relationship, and then a more substantial amount to get back on their feet, as they pay for those first few months of rental accommodation and look for a job.

“No government has done this before. Of course, we’re going to have to see how it works and it may be that we need to increase funding.”

Laura Farris
Laura Farris said no government has implemented a scheme like this before

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Labour also backed the scheme, but shadow home office minister Alex Davies-Jones said it was “against a backdrop of total failure” given prosecutions for domestic abusers have halved since 2015 despite a rise in reported cases.

There were 2.1 million victims of domestic abuse in the year to March 2023. Domestic abuse charities report calls to helplines last year were well above pre-pandemic levels – blaming the cost of living.

‘I came here because I was scared’

Sky News visited a small refuge for South Asian, Turkish and Iranian women in London, run by the Ashiana charity. They had fled violent relationships and most were ineligible for any public funds.

One, a woman in her thirties who was forced to leave her daughter behind, had slept in a church for several nights after fleeing her violent husband. She is now training to be a beautician, and hopes to leave the refuge this year.

Domestic abuse
One woman told Sky News she slept in a church before going to a refuge

“I came here because I was scared,” she said. “My husband was beating me; he was hurting me, and I couldn’t find any help.

“It was really scary, it was a new country and I couldn’t speak English. I didn’t know anything”.

She needed specialist support, but said the payment scheme “is a very good idea, being able to buy things I need gives me confidence”.

‘A lifeline for many victims’

Ms Farris said when the prime minister had promised, in a weekend interview, to tighten the benefit system to pay for tax cuts “he’s not talking about victims of domestic violence who have made the life-changing decision to leave their abuser”.

Nicole Jacobs, domestic abuse commissioner for England Wales, said cash payments have never been tried nationally, because domestic violence crossed different government departments.

Domestic abuse
The scheme could become a lifeline for many victims of domestic abuse

She said it would be “a lifeline for many victims” but said they must reach “those who face the most difficult barriers to support”.

Farah Nazeer, Chief Executive of Women’s Aid, said: “When we worked on the pilot of the fund in May last year, we saw immediately the impact this was having on survivors – over 75% of applicants used their grant to replace or purchase essential goods for themselves or their children, after they had fled their abuser with nothing to their name.”

Labour peers are trying to amend the Victims and Prisoners Bill, currently in parliament, to ban police and other authorities passing on data about domestic violence victims to immigration control.