Margate’s Oasis Domestic Abuse Service and Labour Party women officers and councillors across Kent are urging the government to rethink proposals to remove refuges and other short-term supported housing from the welfare system.
The changes would mean women escaping abusive partners will not be able to use housing benefit if they are staying in a refuge.
The payments are the only guaranteed income many refuges have and make up over half of their income.
It is often the only source of income available to women fleeing abusive partners.
The government’s consultation on funding for supported housing sets out the proposal to end housing benefit entitlement to women living in refuge, and transfer housing funds to local authorities to administer to ‘short-term supported housing services’ in their local areas. If approved the changes will come into effect from 2020.
The Women’s Aid charity says the move could force some 53% of refuges to either close or be forced to strip down the services they offer.
The Oasis service, based in Margate, has been delivering services to people experiencing domestic abuse in Kent for 23 years.
It began with a handful of dedicated people opening a refuge service in 1994. Every day staff at Oasis are confronted with the distressing results of this issue on the lives of the adults and children.
CEO Deb Cartwright says the charity has called on the government to urgently rethink the reforms.
She said: “We believe this model will lead to refuge closures, more women and children being turned away from life-saving support, and the disintegration of our world-leading national network of women’s refuges in the UK.
“We are asking the government to urgently halt these plan until the review of refuge funding has been completed in November 2018; and that they work with Women’s Aid to create a suitable and sustainable future funding model.
“By pushing the housing costs into local authorities we believe that refuge services will be left vulnerable to de-prioritisation or there will be a subsequent impact on community services.
“Local authority budgets are too squeezed, and the need for robust all round services for families affected by domestic abuse requires central government’s commitment to sustainable funding.
“This is crucial when we think about the cross cutting causes, consequences and long-term impact of this issue. This proposal creates a situation which will undermine the work that has been done nationally to work towards a reduction of domestic abuse. “
The impact of the changes on Oasis services would lay in the hands of Kent County Council if the proposals are brought in.
Labour councillors, MPs and other officers have also sent a letter to government in protest at the plans.
Ramsgate councillor Karen Constantine is one of the signatories, as are other Thanet Labour district and county councillors.
She said: “There are a number of difficulties with the government’s proposal, all made even more difficult by what is a clear housing crisis. This means more women and children may become homeless. Obviously that’s an extremely difficult position to ‘recover’ from as it creates extra hurdles to overcome. Homelessness and recovering from / surviving domestic violence places the burden not on the perpetrator but the victims.
“The existing domestic violence services are also absolutely pared down, run on a shoe string and goodwill, and trying to make an ‘income’. Oasis rund a shop, and has regular excellent fundraising efforts. What more can they do? Is it reasonable that they should have to provide a very specialist service and also run as an income generating business. It’s worrying that ‘charities’ and ‘good causes’ are in effect competing with each other.
“Why don’t we look at ‘social return on investment’ as a measure. If we can get women and families into safe and secure homes quickly there are long term savings. Why aren’t we looking at that?
“As a local councillor I do meet women who have survived terrible situations and restarted their lives, some of whom have moved to Thanet from other parts of the country to escape. It’s always very heartening to see these women and families growing stronger and moving forward, creating positive lives.
“They are breaking the cycle and taking control. Surely that’s what we want? An accessible escape route? No one chooses to meet, fall in love and have a family with an abuser.”
The government says:
The government says a bigger role in providing short-term and emergency housing will be taken by local authorities through a ring-fenced grant by April 2020, allowing vulnerable people to access secure accommodation without worrying about meeting housing costs at a difficult point in their lives.
The grant will be underpinned by a National Statement of Expectation setting out how local authorities should plan effectively for provision in their area.
Local Government Minister Marcus Jones said: “These reforms will deliver quality and value for money, funding certainty for the sector and give local areas a greater role in commissioning services.”
The consultation on the plans is open until 11:45pm on 23 January 2018
The reality of domestic abuse
Two women are killed by a partner or ex-partner every week in the UK.
Research by Women’s Aid found 94 women with 90 children were turned away from refuge services in just one day in 2016
From July 1 to December 31, 2016, Kent Police received 10,332 domestic abuse complaints.
Of those 1,629 people were charged with an offence.
488 adults received a caution
3012 cases hit evidential problems despite support from the victim for a prosecution
4637 cases hit evidence problems and the victim did not support prosection
For local independent domestic abuse advice in Thanet and Dover call the RAISE taem on 07718657160
open Monday – Friday, 9am – 5pm, there is an answerphone outside these hours.