A change to benefit rules slashing funding for women’s refuges will put women and children at risk.
The Tories plan to remove refuges and other short-term supported housing from the welfare system.
That means women would not be able to claim housing benefit to pay for their accommodation. Housing benefit makes up over half of refuge funding.
Domestic violence worker Louise Harrison spoke to Socialist Worker in a personal capacity. “This is the last nail in the coffin for domestic violence services,” she said.
“It comes on top of cuts to legal aid, benefit sanctions, cuts to the health service. Every avenue a woman needs to escape domestic violence is being cut. Austerity really is killing people.”
The Tories said they would give councils a “ring fenced” grant to fund short-term supported housing instead.
This would see refuges competing with other services for cash—with vulnerable women likely to lose out.
Women fleeing abusive partners often seek refuge in different cities for safety reasons. But Katie Ghose of Women’s Aid said councils will be more likely to focus funding on local people.
And refuges are already severely underfunded.
Some 155 women and 103 children are turned away from refuges in a typical day due to lack of space, according to Women’s Aid.
The charity Refuge said it has suffered cuts to 80 percent of its services since 2011—with some being slashed by half.
Louise said the campaign in Doncaster is “the guide for every town and city on how to save services”.
But she added, “It’s been proven that trying to save services town by town, city by city is failing. Even where we’ve been successful—in Doncaster and Sunderland—it’s only a partial success.
“We are still left with smaller services.”
She said that trade unions should be at the centre of fighting to save domestic violence services. And activists everywhere can set up campaigns.
“Find your local women’s domestic violence services and phone them up,” she said. “Find out how the cuts have affected them. Say that you’d like to set up a campaign to defend the service and make it a key issue.
“Once there’s a campaign, other trade unionists can raise solidarity for it in their branches and raise funds. This is something that the labour movement can really get behind.”
And it’s not just a local issue. Nationally, it’s essential to demand the government reverse its decision on housing benefit—and provide funding to keep refuges open.
On average, two women a week are killed in England and Wales by a partner or ex-partner.
Louise said, “We are at a crisis level. Is this a campaign that can be put on hold until the next general election, whenever that might be? Absolutely not.”