Alexandra is a personal trainer with two beautiful children who runs her own business. She is also a survivor of domestic violence. In the past few years there have been major cuts made to Legal Aid, and the government has created stricter criteria in order to be eligible. In the aftermath of divorcing her abusive husband, Alexandra has had to take out two loans totaling thousands of pounds to cover legal and court fees, as she was unable to receive Legal Aid. Alexandra does not believe that the government has done enough to support victims of domestic abuse.
‘He had threatened me many many times that he was going to kill me and I thought that this the moment, the moment had now come. He did let go and I did survive. He would become very controlling, he would become very aggressive. I could see how he was sucking all the energy and all the life out of me. The attacks got worse and worse. At the time we were seeing this couples therapist he was a really really nice man and he said we only know what we are capable of when we do what we are capable of. The assumption is that you have to be living on the streets or on drugs to be abused. There is such a misconception of what a woman should be like when she experiences domestic violence. My councillor was very reassuring and it was nice to be listened to. I applied for legal help but because I ran my own business I didn’t get any help. This time not emotionally but financially. It would be really useful for women to have more support and faster support .’
What is the government’s policy towards victims of domestic abuse?
One in four women in the UK has, or will have, experienced domestic violence. In the last year, according to the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW), it is estimated that 8.2% of women experienced domestic abuse in 2014 – 2015. This is the equivalent to roughly 1.3 million women. Last year, the government introduced a new strategy to end violence against women and girls, which included £80 million in funding. This is to support vital services such as rape crisis centres. However, this increase in funding has not been enough to fully support women’s services to the extent necessary, and many women who have experienced domestic violence do not believe that enough is being done by the government to support them. New research by Sylvia Walby, Unesco chair in gender research and a Professor of Sociology at Lancaster University, shows that violent crime against women is on the increase, whilst violent crime against men falls.
Who is eligible for Legal Aid?
Legal Aid is support provided by the government in order to help meet legal advice, family mediation, and representation in a court or tribunal. Legal Aid performs a crucial role in providing vulnerable citizens the legal support they need.
To receive Legal Aid, your income and capital must be within certain limits. If your gross monthly income is over £2,657 you will not be able to get Legal Aid. ‘Gross income’ is total income before tax and national insurance are taken off. If your gross income is less than this amount, you still might not qualify. A calculation is then made to assess your ‘disposable income.’ In order to meet the criteria for legal aid, this cannot be more than £8,796 a year and £733 a month. If your monthly disposable income is over £315, you are still required to pay a small monthly contribution if you are getting legal representation through Legal Aid.
In April 2013, the government brought in plans to reform Legal Aid in England and Wales. These reforms reduced the amount of cases eligible for Legal Aid, including divorce, child contact, welfare benefits, employment, clinical negligence, and house law. The changes also mean that victims of domestic violence must now provide ‘proof’ before they are eligible for Legal Aid.
What is the issue with this approach?
Violence against Women is recognised as a fundamental infringement of human rights. Domestic abuse has a devastating impact on sufferers and their children. Many victims of domestic abuse believe that there is no clear pathway for them. Support, such as counselling sessions, tend to come at an extra cost. The government should do more to support victims of domestic abuse through properly funding women’s services, and through providing proper financial and legal support to ensure victims are able to get the justice and support they need.
In order to curtail public spending, the government has made cuts to Legal Aid in its latest reform plan. These cuts have been proven to be problematic for the most vulnerable clients. Firstly, the criteria for Legal Ais is set too high and prevents a lot of vulnerable people from acquiring adequate legal assistance. Also, reduced Legal Aid funding leaves many women to fend for and represent themselves – often leading to them being cross-examined by their abuser. This can be very intimidating and traumatising. Furthermore, domestic abuse is already an under-reported problem in society. If women feel that they may not be able to get the necessary support they need, this may prevent women speaking out against their abusers in the future.
In addition, victims of domestic abuse are now unlikely to get the legal help they require unless they are able to provide ‘proof’. Many women are unable to provide medical or other proof to support their case. Research shows that an estimated 40% of women affected by violence do not have the required evidence in order to apply for Legal Aid. The required evidence amounts to a doctor’s note of evidence of injuries, or similar. This is highly problematic as women often do not report their injuries at the time as resulting from an abusive partner; they often give other explanations as they’re afraid of the consequences of letting authorities know about their situation. This excludes many victims from acquiring legal assistance and seeking justice. It is already extremely difficult for victims to bring their case to court, and this makes it a lot harder.
The government must properly fund women’s services
Women’s services and organisations provide great efforts in supporting victims of violence. Many women rely on these services to rebuild their lives. With cuts to women’s services, less people are able to seek the help they need as a lack of funding means that women’s organizations are left with a limited capacity to help victims. Women’s organisations not only support these women, they also do work on campaigning for victims of sexual violence, create awareness and tackle the stigma surrounding survivors of domestic and sexual violence and rape. Their work is vital.
Did you know?
Domestic abuse cases in the UK have increased year by year and are at a 43% increase since 2007/08.
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