Charities have to turn away women seeking refuge
Women’s Aid turned away 230 women seeking refuge from domestic violence on a typical day last year due to lack of space, a report on the impact of welfare reform has found.
Interim findings from a Labour Party commission on women’s safety suggest the problem is getting worse in 2012, with some organisations reporting they are turning away as many as half the women who approach them.
The report, by former solicitor general Vera Baird, calls for the government to ensure that funding for refuges is not threatened by reforms to the benefit system.
Local authority funding has already been cut 31 per cent between the 2010/11 financial year and 2011/12, the report says. Refuges are typically funded by a combination of local authority support and rent.
Shadow minister for women and equalities Yvette Cooper, who commissioned the report, said: ‘The prime minister should commit to a full audit of the impact of his government’s decisions on women’s safety, with new safeguards to prevent vital services being badly hit.’
London-based Eaves Housing told the commission: ‘In the past it was rare that we could not find a refuge or hostel place for women calling us – maybe once every three to six months. Now it can be as often as three or four times a week when our staff, instead of getting a woman into a safe space can do no more than advise a young woman how to minimise the risk of harm if she has to sleep rough.
‘She is advised to hang around places that are open late and quite busy and visible as long as she can – fast food joints, internet cafes, then to head for police stations or accident and emergency departments.’
The report is based on 14 evidence sessions and 160 submissions, and includes a major section on housing. This records refuges’ fears that changes to housing benefit and the move to the universal credit could affect their financial viability, particularly concerns over whether refuges will continue to receive service charges – which they use to fund services such as counselling and security.
The commission heard evidence that homeless person’s units in local authorities are under financial pressure to ‘ration’ access to support by refusing to assess people.
‘Women’s organisations told us that a further issue is that this change in attitude from HPUs has compelled them to resort frequently to getting solicitors to write letters threatening court action in order to force them to support women fleeing violence,’ the report says.
Among the other issues raised in the report, the commission also heard concerns about the impact of payment of the universal credit to one partner in a couple, that ‘this will increase women’s financial dependency on their male partners and reduce women’s independent access to economic resources’.
It states: ‘Not only is that of general concern for women’s equality but women find it harder to leave violent households if they cannot access cash to facilitate the immediate costs.’