£3.5m for domestic violence charities

Government scheme includes measures to increase financial control for abused women

The government today unveiled a £3.5m funding package for domestic violence charities.

The cash will be spent on renewing support for charities, awareness-raising leaflets and initiatives to ensure victims do not return to abusive relationships.

New measures include fast-tracked benefits services for domestic violence victims and regular visits to refuges and Sure Start centres by benefits staff, saving women the trauma of waiting at social security offices.

A new scheme is also planned in collaboration with the banking sector to help women who feel trapped in abusive relationships because they do not have control over their own finances.

The home secretary, Jacqui Smith, said: "I know from talking to domestic violence professionals that money worries may exacerbate domestic tensions and that one of the reasons why many women remain in abusive situations is concerns about financial independence – I do not want any woman to feel trapped."

The government has been working with banks to make it easier for abused women to set up accounts if they have fled a violent home leaving identification documents behind.

Smith said: "I hope that new information about how the banks can support victims, even if it's just by offering to discuss personal and sensitive financial matters privately or accepting non-traditional forms of ID to open a new account, will enable more women to feel they can take their first step towards breaking away from their abusers."

Paul Ross, director of the British Bankers' Association, said: "The banking industry is committed to providing help to victims of domestic abuse urgently in need of access to banking."

The funding announcement comes as donations dry up because of the credit crunch.

Sandra Horley, chief executive of Refuge, said the charity "has already had to cut back on staff".

"There are still massive holes in domestic violence service provision and other government departments need to allocate funding to plug these gaps," she said.

"The reality is that Refuge, like many other providers, is struggling to survive in an impoverished sector."

The government allocation came under fire from some charities, which feel it does not reflect the diversity of groups affected by domestic violence.

Broken Rainbow, which serves lesbians, gay men, transgender and bisexual victims of domestic violence, pointed to what may be seen as a bias in the scheme, which allows abused individuals to open independent bank accounts with a letter from a refuge manager confirming their circumstances, as opposed to the usual multiple proofs of identification which may be in the possession the abuser.

A spokesperson said: "It is problematic for LGBT people as there are no LGBT refuges in the UK. As such, this new initiative, while a step in the right direction, falls short for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities."

The charity, which receives funding from the Home Office for its helpline for male victims of domestic violence, called for greater "inclusivity" in Smith's statements. The spokesperson added: "Domestic violence is not a gender issue but a human issue and as such it's time to address the LGBT community where the problem remains invisible."

Organisations serving ethnic minority women said the funding will not address the crisis they face. The drive to integrate them within generic service-providers has threatened their existence in recent years, according to a spokeswoman for Southall Black Sisters, who pointed out that "just one in 10 local authorities out of 408 provide services for ethnic minority women".

She added: "Local authorities are diverting funds so small providers get absorbed into large organisations such as housing associations. When that happens, they lose their purpose and cannot address specific needs of women confronted by linguistic barriers and difficulties with immigration status. Funding is not reaching organisations that serve the most vulnerable people."

• This article was amended on Wednesday 11 February 2009. Broken Rainbow, not Broken Arrow, is an organisation which serves lesbians, gay men, transgender and bisexual victims of domestic violence. This has been corrected.

Ali Ahmad

The GuardianTramp

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