Women fleeing domestic violence will no longer be shut out of refuges, after the government dropped controversial plans for funding changes.
You rarely hear positive news related to domestic abuse. As the World Cup kicked off earlier this summer, we learned that England losing could cause incidents of domestic violence to spike; late last year, a leaked document by the National Police Chiefs Council showed that incidents of DV had surged dramatically since 2013. Neither of these are what you could describe as uplifting stories.
In November 2017, meanwhile, we were horrified to hear that proposed changes to government funding could result in more than a third of English refuges closing their doors for good. The government had announced plans to remove refuges from the welfare system, meaning that women would no longer be able to pay for accommodation in domestic abuse shelters using housing benefit.
If these plans were implemented, Women’s Aid warned, thousands of vulnerable women fleeing abusive partners – and their children – could be blocked from accessing the life-saving help and support they desperately need.
Now, though, we have some rare good news. In a welcome U-turn, the government has dropped its plans to remove refuges from the welfare system – meaning that domestic abuse survivors will still be able to use their housing benefit to pay for the vital accommodation.
“Survivors and refuges will be breathing a sigh of relief tonight, safe in the knowledge that the government’s dangerous planned changes, which would have removed refuge’s last secure form of funding, are now off the table,” Katie Ghose, the chief executive of Women’s Aid, told Stylist.co.uk.
Housing benefit is an essential source of income for women’s refuges, thanks in no small part to the severe cuts that local authorities have faced in recent years. Earlier this year, an investigation by The Guardian revealed that council funding for women’s refuges in England, Scotland and Wales had been cut by almost £7m since 2010.
“With on average two women every week being killed by a current or former partner in England and Wales, refuges provide a real lifeline for thousands of women and children experiencing abuse at home,” Ghose said.
As well as refuges, the government had also proposed to remove other forms of short-term supported accommodation – including housing for older people, homeless people, offenders, people with mental illnesses and drug addicts – from the welfare system. These plans have now been scrapped.
More than 175,000 people signed a petition opposing the changes to funding for women’s refuges. Housing minister Kit Malthouse said that the government had listened to the concerns of the public and domestic violence experts.
“Protection of the most vulnerable has always been our primary concern, and following our consultation, the case for keeping supported housing in the welfare system became clear,” he said.
However, shadow housing minister Sarah Jones questioned why ministers “put people through this pain and uncertainty in the first place”, and said that three years had been “wasted” on consultations on the scrapped proposals.
Ghose said that while she was pleased that the government had scrapped the proposals, politicians now needed to work with domestic violence organisations to ensure that specialist support services for survivors were properly funded.
On just one day last year, 94 women and 90 children fleeing domestic violence had to be turned away from refuges, she added.
“Refuges are still doing extraordinary work on uncertain, shoestring budgets and struggling to meet demand,” she said.
“That’s why our campaign is far from over. We want to work with the government to secure a long-term, sustainable funding future for all domestic abuse services so that every woman and child can get the help they need to rebuild their life free from fear and abuse, not just for today but for life.”
Domestic violence remains a serious problem in the UK, and refuges are still under immense financial strain. It has yet to be seen whether the government’s forthcoming Domestic Violence Bill will go far enough in supporting women and children fleeing abuse.
But in these dark times, we think we need to take small victories where we can. Perhaps ministers should never have made these proposals in the first place – but we should all be relieved that they changed their minds.
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Images: Getty Images