Watch: This Is A Political Occupation
Her staff are underpaid for the complex and emotionally laborious work they do. Some employees earning a London salary of less than £27,000 despite having over ten year’s experience. There is also no money for additional staff to cover sick days or leave, and redundancies have meant that her refuges can only be staffed two and a half days a week, leading to further problems on the ground.“We’ve seen more women being evicted [from refuges], which was previously very rare. Because of the trauma they’ve experienced, they might display aggressive behaviour themselves and not be able to cope in a new environment. Not having someone there to moderate has sometimes led to arguments getting out of hand.”
Refuge managers are also put in the difficult position of having to turn women away who cannot access certain benefits due to their immigration status—like the housing benefits refuges rely on to pay for accommodation.Deborah Cartwright, chief executive of Oasis Domestic Abuse Services in East Kent, which also runs two refuges, refers to one European woman who had no recourse to public funds under laws restricting access to immigrants from specific countries. “She would not leave her children,” says Cartwright. “The only option she had was to live in her car outside the family home and go into her house during the day while her husband was at work.”
"I’m genuinely frightened for refuges in general, including ours. Everything is a constant battle."
The future of Ella’s refuge is far from stable. Local authorities have shaved off 12 percent of their funding which has impacted staff salaries, and the current contract could end at any time. “The best thing I can say is that it hasn’t affected the women or the children because the staff are just absorbing it. We’re really stressed all the time,” she says. Staff work overtime while she regularly clocks in between 60-70 hours a week, which doesn’t include on-call hours.“I’m genuinely frightened for refuges in general, including ours,” she says. “Everything is a constant battle. It’s a constant battle for funding, it’s a constant battle to get support, it’s a constant battle for housing, it’s a constant battle for benefits. And you can’t avoid thinking that politically, the most vulnerable people are being targeted.”