14th Dec, 2018

Government reforms on housing benefit could hit West Mercia Women's Aid's refuges

Malvern Editorial 8th Mar, 2018 Updated: 8th Mar, 2018

NEW GOVERNMENT reforms could mean the end of housing benefit for applicants of supportive housing, putting victims of domestic violence at risk says West Mercia Women’s Aid (WMWA).

The reforms, due to be implemented by 2020, will strike a major blow to Women’s Aid refuge centres across West Mercia.

The news comes amidst International Women’s Day which takes place today.

WMWA chief executive Sue Coleman said the charity was actively campaigning against this proposal because of its ‘devastating effect on refuge provision for women and children escaping violence and abuse.’

The changes will mean such women will lose the right to apply for housing benefit. Instead, local councils will be allocated funds via central government to fund temporary housing directly themselves.

Sue said such ring-fenced funding could not be guaranteed and was vulnerable to removal as shown in cases such as the Supporting People and Sure Start programmes.

I am anxious it will put more pressure on local authority budgets in the long-term and any ring fence will ultimately be relaxed as others have been.

“The continued need to make cuts in central and local Government funding will inevitably see a reduction in the resources available to provide refuge from domestic violence and abuse – and this is at a time when we know the need is increasing, year on year.”

EU statistics show domestic abuse-related offences reported to police accounted for one-third of violent crime in the UK.

The figures, published in 2017, also showed the highest number of violent sexual crimes in Europe, including rape, were recorded by police in England and Wales.

This is reflected in the number of refuge referrals received by WMWA, which have increased by eight per cent from 2015/16 and 2016/17.

With domestic abuse on the rise, WMWA is demanding funds instead of cuts to domestic abuse services.

The charity said its refuge centres were already running at full capacity across West Mercia. This means between 90 and 100 women a year were declined a place as all vacancies are filled within a matter of days.

But even in these challenging circumstances, women were not left with nowhere to go.

“WMWA will never see women without anywhere to go and will find them a space elsewhere or liaise with local councils to ensure their safety.

“Refuges are not hotels, but those living in them still need the basics we all enjoy – a warm bath, a comfortable bed, space for the children to play, and the knowledge the building is secure and they are safe.

“All of this has to be paid for.”

Director of Public Health Dr Frances Howie said: “The Government has recently consulted nationally on new proposals to commission short term supported housing, which would include refuges and associated emergency accommodation.

“As part of their response, Worcestershire County Council and Worcestershire’s district councils, suggested the Government could consider commissioning refuge accommodation separately through a national longer term programme.

“This is in line with the call from Women’s Aid and other organisations nationally.

“We await to see what the Government decides to do in response to the consultation and how it intends to implement any changes.”

Special report by Anu Shukla. 

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