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Monday, September 05, 2016

Poor timing and poor policy hits domestic abuse charities

The poor timing of the Tory Government's proposals to cap housing benefits for people living in social housing is not as important as its adverse consequence. Nevertheless timing is important in politics and some Tory MPs may well feel be feeling a bit nervous as a consequence.

As middle England sits riveted to the trial of Helen Titchener for the attempted murder of her husband, Rob the debate that it has engendered about domestic abuse has been passionate and wide-ranging.

As the Guardian reports, a Helen Titchener Fund, set up by Archers listener, Paul Trueman has already raised more than £135,000 for the Refuge charity. It is well on its way to meeting the target of 150,000. That would be the equivalent of almost 2,900 nights in a refuge for a woman and her children at a time when domestic violence services are experiencing huge cuts.

As the storyline intensified in February, there was a 17% increase in calls to the national domestic violence helpline, run by Refuge and Women’s Aid.

However, at the same time, Women's Aid is highlighting that two-thirds of women’s refuges in England are facing closure due to a change in the way housing benefit is paid to supported and sheltered housing.

The Guardian says that Government plans to cap housing benefit in the social sector at the same levels paid to private landlords risks destroying the finances of the refuges, which take in women and their children who have been victims of violence at the hands of their partners.

A survey of Women’s Aid-affiliated refuges shows that 67% of those operating in England would be forced to close if they are not exempted from the reform, while 87% would be forced to scale down the support they give to families.

Inevitably there will be an impact in Wales as well, but what that impact will be is not clear as the way shelters are funded here is slightly different and the Welsh Government's Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015 imposes duties that will still need to be met.

I suspect that shelters may well struggle to remain open here but some clarity will be needed from the Minister on the extent of the threat posed by the housing benefit cap and whether it can be mitigated.

The Department for Work and Pensions have deferred the reforms until 2018 and they believe that this will give women’s refuges a period of grace while officials conduct a review into funding for the supported housing sector.

However, the uncertainty surrounding the outcome of the review is already affecting providers. It means that they are not able to plan for the future as they have no idea about future income.

The National Housing Federation says that building work on an estimated 2,400 new specialist homes has already been cancelled as a result and an additional 9,270 homes would not be able to be built if the housing benefit cap goes ahead.

This is not a fringe issue. As the Helen Titchener trial continues it is becoming clear to many Tory voters, if they did not know already, that domestic abuse is not just about physical violence but also involves psychological abuse as well.  They will be puzzled as to why their government is cutting back support for women affected by it.

Let us hope that Tory MPs take up their concerns and put pressure on the government to reconsider the way this cap impacts on supported accomodatoin for victims.
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