Welfare cap would decimate women’s refuges, says actress

Julie Walters, who wants ministers to omit refuges from a housing benefit cap.  Pic: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire
Julie Walters, who wants ministers to omit refuges from a housing benefit cap. Pic: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire
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More than two-thirds of refuges for victims of domestic abuse in England and Wales will close unless these lifeline services are made exempt from a new government welfare spending cap.

Actress and Women’s Aid patron Julie Walters made the claim and highlighted how refuges save lives as the charity’s chief executive pleaded with ministers to reconsider the proposal.

Women’s Aid said a planned blanket cap on housing benefit will “decimate” refuges for women fleeing domestic abuse.

Mrs Walters, said the Government must exempt refuges from the cuts “or live with the consequences of more women being killed”.

Two women die every week in England and Wales at the hands of a current or former partner.

Women’s Aid found 67 per cent of specialist domestic abuse refuges in England - or 180 out of 269 - and 69 per cent in Wales will be forced to close if they are not exempted from the Government’s plans to cap housing benefit.

Not a single refuge in Wales would be able to offer the same level of services if the cap comes in, while in England the overwhelming majority, at 87 per cent, would have to at least scale down their provision.

The Government plans to cap housing benefit for refuges at Local Housing Allowance rates, slashing the amount of money centres receive by as much as £240 a week per room.

The charity warned that cutting these life-saving services will put “the lives of thousands of vulnerable women and children at risk”.

Mrs Walters said: “Refuges save lives, it is as simple as that. The Government must exempt them from these welfare reforms or live with the consequences of more women being killed, and more families (being) traumatised by domestic abuse.

“Domestic abuse is a human rights issue, and women and children need the specialist support that refuges provide to reclaim their dignity and strength.”

Women’s Aid chief executive Polly Neate said: “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.”

She said refuges were in a similar funding crisis two years ago and the Government invested £33m to keep them going, but the benefit cap risked undoing all this work.

Ms Neate added that the “latest crisis is just one crisis too many”, and urged ministers to come up with a long-term commitment to funding that will keep refuges going.

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said plans to cap housing benefit for refuges have been delayed while a review is carried out.

He said: “We fully support the valuable work carried out by domestic abuse refuges and other supported accommodation providers.

“That is why we deferred this measure for this sector while we conduct a review to ensure it is sustainable in the long term. We will continue working with providers to ensure the right protections are in place and will set out our plans in the autumn.”

RISK THAT ‘MORE WOMEN WILL DIE’

The welfare cap warning comes as the nation has been listening to BBC Radio 4’s The Archers as Helen Titchener goes on trial for the attempted murder of her controlling and abusive husband Rob.

Charlotte Kneer, manager at Reigate and Banstead Women’s Aid refuge, in Surrey, said her centre is one of those potentially facing closure.

She said: “As a survivor myself - a real-life Helen - and now a refuge manager, I cannot stress enough how high the demand is for refuges. I dread to think what will happen if we have to shut our doors.”

“It is a dire situation. The uncertainty means we cannot plan for the coming months. We don’t know if we’re going to be here. More women will die.”