We can't let women’s safety slip off the budget agenda

We can’t let women’s safety slip of the budget agenda

safety

As the national focus turns to the federal budget, during a time when safety at home feels more important than ever, the Morrison Government’s commitments still fall far short of what’s needed to combat the domestic violence crisis, writes Renee Carr from Fair Agenda.

It’s said that the key measure of an economy should be the good it creates in people’s lives – and that budgets are about what governments really value.

So at a time when safety at home is more important than ever, when the domestic violence that devastates our communities continues, we cannot let safety slip off the national – and budget – agenda.

Every pathway to a safer future relies on a foundation of access to the specialist services that can support victim-survivors to be safe.

The time a woman reaches out for help or tries to escape her abuser can be incredibly dangerous. As a nation we should be committed to making sure everyone can access the support they need to be safe.

But right now, our government’s funding decisions mean too many women are being left on their own with an abuser who is determined to isolate and control them.

As a community we can’t tolerate that. The consequences are devastating.

The Morrison Government took a positive step early in this pandemic by committing an additional $150 million for family violence response. But with experts estimating $180 million is needed to fund safety at home programs alone – it’s far from what’s actually needed.

Last Thursday Treasurer Josh Frydenberg released a national update on the state of our economy, offering a signpost of where things are at ahead of the federal budget, now due in October. But there’s been no further mention of the funding that’s needed to address family violence.

Everyone reaching out for safety support should be able to get it. But government priorities, and the funding decisions that flow from them, aren’t providing that. Instead:

  • Many specialist women’s and family violence services around the country are so overwhelmed that they have waiting lists of months. This means that many victim-survivors aren’t able to access the support they need to manage their safety in moments of great danger.
  • In many states a significant number of women still cannot access safe at home programs when they need them either because that service isn’t funded in their area, or isn’t resourced to keep up with demand. This means that many women are left to make the impossible choice between fleeing and hoping they can access homelessness services, or staying trapped at home with their abuser. Without safe at home programs that assist survivors with security for the home, protection orders and support; many women and children will remain trapped in abusive situations in perpetuity. Services have recommended a tenfold increase in Commonwealth funding is needed in this area (to $180 million).
  • Crisis accommodation services are still beyond their capacity to provide appropriate physical shelter to those fleeing unsafe homes and the specialist staff who are needed to provide the immediate safety management assistance to those facing such significant safety risks.
  • Family Violence Prevention Legal Services are the key specialist and culturally safe service for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander victim-survivors of family violence – particularly women and their children. FVPLS still aren’t funded to provide support across all urban, rural and remote areas where their support is needed. And were already unable to meet the demand for their support before the pandemic increased strain. The National FVPLS Forum still has no funding certainty for their vital coordination work.
  • Community legal services were not resourced to help everyone reaching out to them before the pandemic. They are already experiencing increases in demand for assistance, and expect that will rise again when restrictions begin to ease. These are the kinds of services women affected by domestic violence rely on to help them protect their children, to navigate the family law system, and to deal with financial abuse.
  • Services that intervene with men at risk of using violence to change their behaviour are experiencing a significant increase in demand for their services. Helplines that provide counselling and referrals are receiving more calls than ever from men seeking help to address their behaviour. The Morrison Government has responded with a grant that means helpline assistance is available nation-wide for the first time in response to the initial wave of COVID impacts. These services are vital and should be available ongoing. At the same time, the deeper ongoing work of the Men’s Behaviour Change programs face average waiting times of almost three months. While these programs are currently an area of state and territory funding responsibility, the Commonwealth should play a critical role in expanding service availability and breaking the cycle of violence.

During this crisis we have seen the Morrison Government implement changes on a scale previously unimaginable. It’s time they brought the same vigour to addressing the domestic violence crisis.

You can join the campaign calling on the Morrison Government to ensure everyone can get the support they need to escape domestic violence at Fair Agenda.

If you or someone you know is affected by domestic or family violence you can contact 1800 RESPECT for 24/7 support on 1800 737 732. Men can access counseling, information and referral for their use of violence by calling Men’s Referral Service on 1300 766 491.

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