Women's Aid: Funding

Oral Answers to Questions — Communities – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:45 pm on 5 December 2016.

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Photo of Michaela Boyle Michaela Boyle Sinn Féin 2:45, 5 December 2016

1. Ms Boyle asked the Minister for Communities for his assessment of the tripartite arrangement for the funding of Women's Aid. (AQO 831/16-21)

Photo of Paul Givan Paul Givan DUP

With your indulgence Mr Speaker, as Minister with responsibility for broadcasting, I take this opportunity, at the start of my questions, to pass on my condolences to the family and friends of the late Austin Hunter, who so tragically died at the weekend. It is clear from the many tributes received from the political and media worlds that Austin was a man of great integrity and was highly respected by all who came into contact with him. I am sure that the whole House will join me in offering prayers and thoughts to the family at this time.

I turn now to the question. A tripartite funding arrangement exists for the 24-hour domestic and sexual violence helpline. This very valuable service is delivered by Women's Aid Federation Northern Ireland and has been funded by a grant agreement attracting funding from the Department of Health, the Department of Justice and the Northern Ireland Housing Executive. The Housing Executive currently funds the helpline with £113,000 per annum, while the Department of Justice and the Department of Health contribute £110,000 each per annum. This coming together by the Departments to ensure that a valuable service survives in an economically challenging time is a model for future collaborative working.

Photo of Michaela Boyle Michaela Boyle Sinn Féin

I thank the Minister. On that first note, on behalf of my party, I, too, send sincere sympathies to the family of Austin Hunter.

Minister, you will be aware that a total of 738 women and 520 children were accommodated in refuges in 2015-16 and thousands more accessed community support. However, 267 women could not be accommodated due to the lack of refuge space. Minister, what do you intend to do to support women who need refuge?

Photo of Paul Givan Paul Givan DUP

The Member raises a very important point. I have met Women's Aid to talk about the issues that it is actively seeking to address and the ways in which government can work with it. We primarily support Women's Aid to address the issues that the Member highlighted through the Supporting People programme. This Executive have put £72 million into that programme. This year, recognising the pressures that exist for the providers of the scheme, of which Women's Aid is one, I found an additional £3 million to be spent on meeting those needs. The Housing Executive is working with the providers and will be contacting them soon as to how that £3 million should be allocated to them to help meet the types of need that the Member has raised.

Photo of Jo-Anne Dobson Jo-Anne Dobson UUP

On behalf of my party, I concur with the Minister's sentiments. I was chatting to Austin just a few weeks ago, and my heart goes out to his family.

Can the Minister update the House on what work the Housing Executive is doing to address issues around domestic and sexual violence, especially when children are involved and new housing is urgently required?

Photo of Paul Givan Paul Givan DUP

Obviously, the primary way in which the Housing Executive, through my Department, gives support is through the helpline, which is a vital instrument for people faced with this difficulty and through which they can get the support that they need. Obviously, the 24-hour helpline is very important, and that is why the three Departments have been actively engaged to ensure that it can continue. We are going through a budgetary process. I, in principle, have said that I want my Department's funding to continue and, obviously, that is subject to the necessary finance being made available.

It is important that, when people come forward, and that is often a difficult thing to do, they get the support that they need in the challenging circumstances that they face, and the Housing Executive will work with individuals to make sure that they get the accommodation and support that they will need; and Women's Aid plays a very important role in that.

Photo of Carla Lockhart Carla Lockhart DUP

I thank the Minister for his answers thus far. The Minister will be aware that a very successful white ribbon event was held last week in this Building, hosted by Women's Aid, and I am sure that he will demonstrate his commitment to it. How much funding from his Department goes to Women's Aid?

Photo of Paul Givan Paul Givan DUP

Let me support the event that took place last week. Raising awareness of these issues is vital so that people know that there can be support and that they do not have to put up with domestic violence. It is also important that, when people step forward, they get the support that they need. The support that my Department provides to Women's Aid has funded, through the Supporting People programme, 13 Women's Aid refuges at a cost of £4,618,810 to provide housing support in 133 units of accommodation and nine floating support schemes to provide housing support to 1,163 women in their own home. That demonstrates the commitment that I have to supporting Women's Aid. I have met them, and I have also met Fermanagh Women's Aid on the provision that exists there and in Enniskillen. The First Minster asked me to join her in meeting them, and we discussed a range of issues that they have to deal with in Fermanagh that we are now seeking to address. That work is being progressed by the Housing Executive.

Photo of Kellie Armstrong Kellie Armstrong Alliance

I thank the Minister for his recognition that these services require specialist expertise and knowledge from providers. What commitment can he give to repeat revenue support for these organisations rather than short-term, frustrating funding?

Photo of Paul Givan Paul Givan DUP

There has been no frustrating of funding, so I am not sure where the Member gets that from; in fact, this year, I identified £3 million. The Supporting People programme was ring-fenced in previous years, and the fact that the budget was protected demonstrated the priority that the Executive give it. Whilst other parts of this Department's budget had a reduction, the Supporting People programme did not.

Having been in post only six months, I met senior officials and engaged with the providers, who told me that there were cost pressures, so, rather than frustrating funding, I allocated them an additional £3 million, which the Housing Executive will now allocate. There is a budgetary process, and I will make the case for this issue and others in my Department. Let me assure the House that I have already demonstrated that this is a priority for me and will continue to be so.

Photo of Nichola Mallon Nichola Mallon Social Democratic and Labour Party

I thank the Minister for his clear commitment to tackling domestic and sexual violence. I also welcome the tripartite arrangement. Given that he is clear that it is a priority for him, what discussions has he had with his ministerial colleagues, particularly in Health and Justice, to ensure that they view this issue equally as a funding priority?

Photo of Paul Givan Paul Givan DUP

Both the Department of Health and the Department of Justice have committed to ensuring that funding will be made available for the 24-hour helpline, which demonstrates the three Departments working together on this issue, as we do in tackling homelessness. We recognise that we need to work collectively, and that is a demonstration of how the Executive want to make sure that we all pull in the right direction and do not have Departments working independently of one another but Departments collaborating.

The Supporting People programme is something that we want to facilitate in order to encourage collaboration. The budget is under pressure, and there are challenges ahead in the financial environment that we exist in. Therefore, we want to ensure that vulnerable individuals who need support get it. Where there can be increased collaboration with the providers involved — if it means that efficiencies can be found in administration costs, for example, I very much encourage that so that the end user gets the support that they need — we will not have a plethora of providers using up administrative costs when money can be better spent on the front line. That is something that we are helping to facilitate with the providers.