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Campaigners claim proposals on priority housing for small percentage of individuals in domestic violence refuges don’t go far enough.

Security attempt to remove the protesters.

Womens’ rights campaigners disrupted a Full Council meeting today, shouting and unfurling a banner in the public gallery, in protest of a new policy proposal on the rehousing of domestic violence survivors.

The five protesters, from the ‘Bristol Sisters Uncut’ campaign, claim the proposal to grant ‘band 1’ housing priority only to the women and children deemed the most at risk doesn’t go far enough to support those who have experienced domestic abuse, or ease pressure on the services that support them.

The council’s proposal, currently under consultation until January, stipulates that only women judged the most vulnerable after a MARAC (‘multi-agency risk assessment conference’) will be placed in ‘band 1’, which is expected to benefit ten per cent of women currently in refuges. The MARAC process is employed for the highest risk domestic violence cases, bringing together representatives of local police, health, child protection, housing practitioners, Independent Domestic Violence Advisors (IDVAs), probation and other specialists.

“This policy will not help the ‘bed blocking’ problem safe houses face and force them to turn away the most vulnerable and at risk women and children wanting to flee domestic abuse.”

The issue was the subject of a council motion last Spring, and featured in Marvin Rees’ election manifesto. The motion followed a 38 Degrees petition launched by Bristol resident Mehala Osborne, while she was living in a safe house herself.

Currently one quarter of referrals for bed space in shelters are turned away due to lack of capacity, and those who reside in temporary accommodation often remain there for significant lengths of time while waiting for new homes to move on to. Domestic violence services nationally have been hit by cuts since 2010.

Bristol Women’s Voice, part of Bristol Women’s Commission which monitors issues effecting women in Bristol, have previously said the new measure constituted ‘some progress’ but that the impact on over-burdened services and the women who need them would be limited.

Mehala Osborne has commented that the policy would “not have any significant impact at all”. She stated: “During my time in Safe House I felt utter guilt knowing not only that I was the ‘lucky’ one to get the room, but even more guilt knowing when I was ready to move on I had nowhere to go. I was left in situation that continued my victim label, oppression on my life and rights and an isolation that left me utterly desperate to move on and utterly depressed. This policy will not help the ‘bed blocking’ problem safe houses face and force them to turn away the most vulnerable and at risk women and children wanting to flee domestic abuse.”

On average two women per week in England and Wales are killed by a current or former partner, while one in four women will experience intimate partner violence in their lifetime, according to statistics from the charity Refuge.

An online public consultation on the proposal is currently open.

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