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Monday, November 27, 2017

UK Government proposals could put women's lives at risk

Last Friday was International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, also known as White Ribbon Day. It is followed up until the 10th December by 16 Days of Activism against gender-based violence.

I marked the day by visiting Swansea's Domestic Abuse One Stop Shop which offers information, advice and support if you are affected by domestic abuse. They had a fair in which organisations associated with their work were offering information about their services.

The timing of this news therefore could not be more devastating (and crass). The Guardian says that abuse survivors and charities believe that the lives of vulnerable women and children will be put at risk by proposed changes to funding for refuges:

In little-publicised proposals, the government plans to remove refuges and other forms of short-term supported housing from the welfare system.

It would mean vulnerable women fleeing abusive partners will not be able to pay for their accommodation using housing benefit, the last guaranteed source of income available to refuges. On average, housing benefit makes up 53% of refuge funding.

Katie Ghose, the chief executive of Women’s Aid, said: “The government’s proposed reforms to supported housing will dismantle our national network of lifesaving refuges and put the lives of women and children trying to escape domestic abuse at risk. This is a matter of life or death.”

On average, two women a week are killed by a partner or ex-partner in England and Wales. Under the current spending model, Women’s Aid found 94 women with 90 children were turned away from refuge services in one day.

The warnings come as “16 Days”, an international campaign to end violence against women and girls, is launched.

Instead of being able to use housing benefit to fund refuges, the government proposes handing a “ring-fenced” grant to councils for short-term supported housing. However, this does not exclusively cover refuges – it is also aimed at older people, homeless people, offenders, people with mental illnesses and drug addicts.

The various charities quoted are worried about the fact that a number of councils are not very engaged with the agenda of tackling domestic abuse, whilst others may insist that money is only spent on local people, ignoring the fact that many victims need to leave their own area to avoid the abuser.

The charities believe that these reforms fly in the face of pledges made by the prime minister to make it a key personal priority to transform the way the UK tackles domestic violence.

The other concern of course is that once this money is taken out of the demand-led welfare system and converted to a grant, then it becomes easier to chip away at the value of the support. In other words budget decisions could lead to the grant becoming diminished in real or even cash terms over a period of years.

We really need some better assurances about this proposal and how it will work out in the long-term.
With distressing details coming to light of misogynistic abuse in all walks of life - including politics - it beggars belief that vulnerable women are being let down in such a way. When our leaders call for respect for and protection of women I like to think they mean all women, certainly including those so admirably supported at Swansea DAOSS.
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