Welfare reforms 'threaten two-thirds of women's refuges'

More than two-thirds of domestic abuse refuges in England and Wales will be "decimated" if they are not exempt from the Government's plans to cap housing benefit, a charity has warned.

Statistics published by Women's Aid and Welsh Women's Aid show that 67 per cent of refuges in England and 69 per cent in Wales would have to close if the changes go ahead. Furthermore, 87 per cent in England and 100 per cent in Wales would not be able to continue with their current level of provision.

The Government has proposed capping housing benefit in supported housing at Local Housing Allowance rates. A cap on LHA for social housing is due to come into force in April 2018. Ministers have, however, delayed the decision on supported housing pending a DCLG-led review of the sector.

Women's Aid said the introduction of the cap would "drastically" reduce the amount of housing benefit refuges receive. For some, housing benefit covers as much as 90 per cent of rental costs and service charges. Under the proposed cap, the charity said, the income of one refuge in England would be cut from around £300 per room, per week to £60, placing it in an "untenable" financial position.

This would put the lives of thousands of vulnerable women and children at risk, the charity said, at a time when 17 per cent of refuges have already closed since 2010.

It added that so many refuges will have to close if the cap goes ahead that recent Government investment of £33m in England's network of refuges will be rendered "meaningless".  

In addition to an exemption from the cap, Women's Aid is calling for a "sustainable, national funding solution" for refuges.

Polly Neate, chief executive of Women's Aid England, said: "The Government has shown great commitment to refuges over the past two years. Ministers have really listened and understood the vital role they play, and have invested millions of pounds to keep them open. It is simply extraordinary to undo all this good work now. We urge ministers to reconsider.

"Remember, women who flee to a refuge are running for their lives. Refuges provide specialist support to help women and their children truly recover from domestic abuse and rebuild their lives with a view to long-term independence. We urgently call on the Government to exempt refuges, and other forms of supported accommodation, from these welfare reforms.

"This latest crisis is just one crisis too many. We urge the Government to make a public commitment to securing the future of refuges with a sustainable long-term funding solution. With an average of two women a week being killed by a partner in England and Wales, this also makes economic sense: each domestic homicide costs society £1.8m, meaning that the loss of women's lives due to domestic abuse costs the country over £14m a month. These women and children have been through enough, and they deserve better than services which are continually on the brink of closure."

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