EDINBURGH’S social housing crisis has more than doubled the length of time women and children who escape domestic abuse have to stay in refuge, the Evening News can reveal.
The lack of affordable housing and the impact of the cuts in housing benefit – the “bedroom tax” – means that women are stuck in temporary accommodation offered by charity Edinburgh Women’s Aid.
As a result, the average length of time spent in a refuge has soared from 155 days to 348 days, which leaves the charity unable to offer refuge to other women at risk from or suffering domestic abuse.
Today manager of EWA Michele Corcoran said: “For many women who have experienced or are at risk of domestic abuse, staying in their own home is not a safe option. Through no fault of their own they must leave familiar surroundings, family, friends and neighbours, to find a safe place to stay.
“While refuge is a safe place and can provide support and respite for women to recover from the trauma of domestic abuse, it is meant to be a short term measure. The ideal length of time would be about four to six months, which gives time to get support, sort out legal issues, deal with the conflicting emotions that arise from leaving a partner and gives them the protection of a safe space to do this.
“It is important that women, and accompanying children and young people, can then move on to rebuild their lives and leave the abuse behind but, at the moment, the average wait for a local authority property is 348 days.”
She added; “The women in refuge rely on social housing to secure permanent accommodation however, in Edinburgh, that option gives limited choices. The housing stock is poor, with few new properties being built, and the wait can be up to a year or more.
“There are options of private lets, however that is not a permanent solution and, for women in our accommodation, the thought of having to move again, not being able to build a life for fear of a landlord giving notice is often too risky, especially if they have children.
“The other negative result of the housing shortage is the longer people are in our accommodation, the fewer people we can offer places to, the equivalent of ‘bed blocking’ in the NHS. Where we could accommodate three families per space in a year, it is only one.”
More than 25,000 people are already on social housing waiting lists in Edinburgh and the council has said that 16,000 new affordable homes are needed in the city over the next ten years. Families with children are routinely waiting in temporary accommodation for between eight months and a year to get a permanent tenancy.
In a recent report calling on the Government to exempt refuge accommodation from the bedroom tax, Scottish Women’s Aid stated: “Women experiencing domestic abuse face considerable barriers in trying to leave an abusive partner. Access to refuge at the point they make that decision is crucial, as is the possibility of finding and affording a home at a future date.”
But city housing vice-convener Councillor Cammy Day stressed that the council was making abused women a priority. “Nobody should have to suffer domestic abuse and the council recently launched the Speak Up, Speak Out campaign, which reaches out to women and children affected by this, or anyone who has concerns about others who are being harmed in this way.
“One aspect of the support that the council provides to people in this position is to provide temporary accommodation in the first instance, before working with them to determine what would best suit their long term needs. Victims of domestic abuse have priority for council and housing association homes.”