So much of the tabloid coverage of the Philpott case has focused on benefit claiming, as if employment would have solved everything. What’s disheartening is not how much help the family got from the state, but how little. Would the situation have spiralled so out of control if there was more domestic violence outreach to women like Mairead Philpott?
Right now, domestic violence services are under threat up and down the country, and there are concerns that more and more women and children are not receiving the help they seek, let alone need. Research shows that there is a lack of understanding among women of what constitutes domestic violence, and a lack of awareness of where to go for support. The Violence Against Women sector has suffered from its heavy reliance on statutory funding, as highlighted by NPC in its 2009 research into the sustainability and stability of the sector. Public funding cuts have led to reduced refuge services, and proposed caps on housing benefit as part of the universal credit may also affect provision.
This is a typical case of short-term savings leading to higher long-term costs—these costs are well-documented. Refuge services seem to be at the mercy of local priorities and pressures, with the need to make individual local cases for funding, and explain the difference they make.
So what can these services do in response? There are resources out there to help domestic violence services evidence the work they do, and explain their crucial role. CAADA (Co-ordinated Action Against Domestic Abuse) provides an outcomes measurement service designed specifically for the domestic abuse sector. And what can commissioners and funders do? Being fully informed is key—NPC published a report on the sector and the best ways private funders can make a difference in 2008.
Diversifying funding is also an avenue being pursued by charities, including public donations, which is where media coverage becomes particularly important. Polly Neate from Women’s Aid has helped to redress the balance of the media coverage, by discussing the psychological and physical violence uncovered in the case. Domestic violence charities need all the help they can get to keep their essential services going, and recognition in the media of what’s really important in this tragedy is one place to start.