DOMESTIC abuse is one of the fastest growing crimes in Cumbria - leaving funding for refuge places lagging behind, a new investigation has revealed.

The county's police force has seen incidents increase year-on-year - with domestic violence now accounting for 13 per cent of all crime recorded.

However, cash spent on refuges in Cumbria has remained largely static since 2008 - though council bosses state additional money has been poured into outreach workers tasked with preventing cases of domestic violence from reaching crisis point.

Now though, a £729,877 grant from the government is set to increase emergency accommodation places for survivors of domestic violence as well as the number of specialist support workers on the ground.

A spokesman for Cumbria County Council stressed refuge funding had not been reduced, and that the number of places across the county increased by three last year.

They added: “Cumbria is committed to tackling domestic violence and supporting victims.

"Total funding from the county council for domestic violence services has increased by 16 per cent since 2009/10 to £329,100 last year.

"Using this money, we financially support initiatives providing practical and emotional support for victims of domestic abuse, helping prevent issues reaching crisis point, as well as funding 21 housing-related support packages for victims, up from 18 in 2009/10.

“While the safety of a refuge can be an important element in keeping victims safe, demand for these places has not increased in Cumbria despite a welcome increase in reporting of domestic violence.

"Often victims and their children choose to remain in their own homes so that children’s attendance at school, and social networks, are not disrupted.

"In these instances we work with the police to remove the perpetrator from the family home.

"From a strategic perspective, agencies work together in Cumbria to monitor victims and perpetrators through multi-agency forums."

Three years ago, during 2014/15, Cumbria Constabulary investigated 2,453 crimes linked to domestic violence, accounting for 10.1 per cent of all offences.

In 2015/16, this figure had risen to 2,943, or 11.4 per cent of all crime, before rocketing to 3,294 - 13 per cent - last year.

Data uncovered by the The Bureau of Investigative Journalism in a joint investigation with CN Group shows money spent on refuge accommodation has failed to keep pace.

A sum of £117,000 was allocated to refuge places in Cumbria for each of the years 2014/15 and 2015/16.

Last year the figure did reach £122,000 - but this was the amount dished out in 2010.

Funding for domestic violence support workers has gone up from £284,909 in 2009/10 to £329,100 last year.

The investigation comes just a year after the sickening murder of Carlisle mother-of-two Melinda Korosi, 33, who was killed by her former partner Miklos Verebes just 36 hours after he was arrested and released by police over his ongoing campaign of rape, abuse and threats towards her.
Victim: Melinda Korosi.

Verebes, who had been jailed months earlier for a violent attack against Miss Korosi, was sentenced to life imprisonment in March and will serve a minimum of 28 years behind bars.

Months before Miss Korosi died, the Carlisle Women's Refuge, in Warwick Square, closed after its operator Impact Housing opted not to re-tender for the contract because of changes to the way it would be funded.

Her friends later claimed her death could have been avoided if she had been moved to a 'safe house'.

It is now hoped this latest cash boost for Cumbria from the Department of communities and Local Government - part of a £20m pot shared between 76 projects nationwide - will increase the availability of support for people experiencing domestic abuse over the next two years.

The money is being used to create 12 extra places for victims across the county, giving a total of 34 at any one time.

Specially trained, domestic abuse officers are also set to be employed, including one dedicated to advising young victims, while training will be given to 15 frontline council accommodation officers countywide.

Part of the funding will also be used to give out emergency grants to victims who leave their homes.

Cumbria's police and crime commissioner, Peter McCall, helped secure the bid.

He said: "We know we always need more resources across the public sector, that's why we have to keep banging away at this type of funding when it becomes available to make sure we get the best we can for the county.

Peter McCall. Photo: DAVID HOLLINS "This is one area of crime however where I can say I'm pleased to see reports increasing because it means people feel confident enough to come forward.

"We have to send a message out that if you commit this type of crime we will come after you."

Help available

Anyone suffering domestic violence can seek non-judgmental help and support from Let go Domestic Abuse Service, whether or not they wish to remain in the relationship.

This includes crisis intervention, advocacy, practical support, housing and safe accommodation.

To contact Let go:

- Let go north 01228 633640

- Let go south 01229 582386

- Let go west 01900 842991/842992

EXCLUSIVE: Investigation into way police handled case of domestic violence murder victim in 'final stages'

Cash for Cumbria - how much was the county awarded?

Cumbria was awarded £729,877 by the Department of Communities and Local Government from an overall pot of £20m.

It was one of 76 successful bids across the country to win a share of the money.

What will it pay for?

- It will be spent on 12 extra refuge places - six in Carlisle, two in Copeland, two in South Lakeland and two in Eden.

- Five domestic abuse advisers will be employed - recruitment for these posts is under way - and 15 frontline housing officers will be given training on the urgent needs of anyone who has suffered domestic abuse.

- A portion will be given out in emergency grants for those who have to leave home for their own safety.

Established charities struggling to make ends meet

Independent charities in Cumbria that help victims of domestic violence are struggling to secure enough money to make ends meet.

They will not receive any of a £729,000 grant awarded to Cumbria to tackle the crime by the government earlier this year.

The Freedom Project, based in west Cumbria, is now faced with having to decide which of its successful services are affordable for the year ahead.

Project manager Carole Launder, who helped establish the charity 20 years ago, said it receives between 400 and 500 referrals every year and provides specialist help not available anywhere else.

"We have been very lucky to have been given financial support by organisations over the years but it's becoming more difficult," she added.

"Everything we provide here for clients is free.

"There's a lot of poverty and people just don't have the money to pay for help. Domestic abuse is also the most under-reported crime in the country. A lot of our clients have never been to the police.

"But funding is really hard to come by.

"We used to be able to do a business plan covering three years, now we can only do it for one."

Another charity, The Well 2, based in Barrow, provides four spaces of accommodation for women who have suffered domestic violence. It also works with perpetrators to teach them about normal relationships and family life.

But it will not receive a share of Cumbria's DCLG award.

Chief executive Dave Higham explained: "We work with ex-offenders, people with addictions, to help integrate them into the community.

Dave Higham from The Well. "Many of these people don't know what normal family life is like, so when they get older they repeat what they've witnessed growing up and that can include domestic violence.

"There are layers of impact to a chaotic home life. From what we see, if there was more funding to tackle domestic violence, it could result in less offending in the future because the children caught up in it would be less likely to commit crimes or fall into addiction as teenagers or adults."

But Mr Higham added: "We are always struggling for funding.

"It's a constant pull on resources to be able to provide what we do."