HEADLINE: WELFARE CHANGES WILL FORCE 69% OF REFUGES IN WALES TO CLOSE
The leading national domestic abuse charities Welsh Women’s Aid and Women’s Aid England have today released startling new statistics showing that 69% of refuges in Wales will be forced to close, and 100% would not be able to continue with their current level of provision if they are not exempted from the UK Government’s plans to cap housing benefit.
The UK Government plans to cap housing benefit in the supported housing sector at Local Housing Allowance (LHA) rates, drastically reducing the amount of housing benefit that refuges will receive. Refuges receive only a tiny proportion of the housing benefit spent on the supported housing sector, and housing benefit is a vital source of income for them. This is because it covers a large proportion of rental costs and service charges. For some refuges, housing benefit covers 91% of these costs. Under the housing benefit cap, the income of one refuge in Wales would reduce from around £350 to £50 per room per week, placing the refuge in an untenable financial position.
These life-saving services will be decimated if they are not exempted from the UK Government’s plans, putting the lives of thousands of vulnerable women and children at risk. Welsh Women’s Aid and Women’s Aid England urge the UK Government to exempt refuges and the wider supported housing sector from the planned welfare reforms.
In Wales, positive steps have been taken by the Welsh Government to tackle violence against women and better support those who experience abuse, by the introduction of the ground-breaking Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015. As a result, it is anticipated that public services will improve their identification of those experiencing violence against women leading to increased demand on specialist services in Wales. It is deeply worrying that if refuges are not exempted, this good work will be in vain, as life-saving services could be left without the funding to protect and support the most vulnerable women and children in Wales.
Welsh Women’s Aid and Women’s Aid England also call for an end to the constant crises facing refuges. They are today demanding that, in addition to exempting refuges from the various welfare reforms, the UK government must commit to finding a sustainable, national funding solution for these life-saving services.
Eleri Butler, Chief Executive of Welsh Women’s Aid said:
“A cap to housing benefit would have devastating consequences for specialist services across Wales – it could force over two thirds of Wales’ specialist refuge services to close their doors. For other services it could mean being forced to subsidise costs from money used to provide direct support to survivors, or risk losing refuge provision altogether. Refuge services, many of which are already at breaking point, will become even more stretched and under resourced, or disappear altogether.
No woman should be turned away from accessing life-saving support delivered by refuges. These services in Wales have been supporting families affected by domestic abuse for decades helping women to recover from abuse and to achieve independence. That is why we are calling on the UK Government to exempt refuges from planned changes to housing benefit. We need a sustainable funding model for refuges and specialist services across Wales. This is essential if the future of life-saving refuge services across Wales is to be secure.
Anyone affected by domestic abuse or sexual violence in Wales can contact the Live Fear Free Helpline on 0808 80 10 800 for 24-hour, for confidential information and support, and help to access local services.”
Alison Hamlington, Welsh Women’s Aid Wrexham, Service Delivery Manager said:
“If a cap to housing benefit were introduced we wouldn’t be able to sustain the loss to Welsh Women’s Aid Wrexham and we would be looking at closure unless we were able to get funding from elsewhere. We have already made year-on-year savings and our only other alternative would be to downsize or make redundancies – both of which threaten the safety of the women and children we support every day. Our refuge provides lifesaving support to women and children when they need it the most and without it many of these women would have nowhere to turn.”
Polly Neate, Chief Executive of Women’s Aid England said:
“The UK 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. Refuges form a tiny part of the welfare bill. And they literally save women’s lives. The figures we have today are just a snapshot of the crisis.
“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 £1.8 million, meaning that the loss of women’s lives due to domestic abuse costs the country over £14 million a month. These women and children have been through enough. They deserve better than services which are continually on the brink of closure. ”
Notes to Editors:
1. For further information, or to arrange interviews, please contact Gwendolyn Sterk (Public Affairs Manager) at Welsh Women’s Aid on 02920 541 551 or GwendolynSterk@welshwomensaid.org.uk
2. Welsh Women’s Aid is the lead, national membership organisation in Wales which represents the views and experiences of Welsh domestic abuse services/violence against women services across Wales which provide a range of front-line services for survivors and their families. These include refuges, community-based outreach, support and advocacy and support for children and young people. More information is available at http://www.welshwomensaid.org.uk/
3. To donate £3 to Welsh Women’s Aid to help us continue our work to end violence against women and children in Wales please text ‘BLHI37 £3’ to 70070.
4. Anyone affected by domestic abuse or sexual violence in Wales can contact the Live Fear Free Helpline on 0808 80 10 800 for 24/7, for confidential information and support.