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Refuge financing partially saved

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housing benefit, refuge funding, government U-turn, Welsh Women's Aid, working women, destitutionBut some women don’t get housing benefit: if they work or have ‘no recourse to public funds’.

Women escaping domestic abuse will now be able to continue to have their places in women’s refuges paid via the welfare system: the government has dropped its plans to overhaul, read ‘cut off’, funding for what can be life-saving accommodation.

The government announced plans to take payment for refuges and other forms of short-term supported housing out of the welfare system last year.

This would have meant that women fleeing abusive partners would not have been able to pay for refuge accommodation by claiming housing benefit.

And currently payment through housing benefit is the last guaranteed source of income available to refuges; on average, housing benefit payments makes up 53 per cent of refuge funding.

The government’s proposal was met with strong opposition from women’s rights campaign groups, and this change is of course to be welcomed. It means that refuges and other supported housing for survivors of domestic and sexual abuse will still be available to help survivors access lifesaving and life-changing support.

But, as Welsh Women’s Aid’s chief executive Eleri Butler pointed out, this does not resolve the very real problems faced by women who can not access housing benefit because they work or because they have ‘no recourse to public funds’.

Being denied access to safety because they have insecure immigration status means many women suffering abuse have to make a stark choice: stay with the abuser or leave but face destitution.

This announcement by the government also does not change the risk that services in Wales face of proposed cuts to funding for Supporting People, a programme which provides housing-related support to help vulnerable people to live as independently as possible.

So Welsh Women’s Aid has joined Cymorth Cymru, the umbrella body for providers of homelessness, housing related support and social care services in Wales, and others, to demand that the Welsh government ring-fence housing-related grants to ensure that services can deliver the full range of support survivors in refuges need.

Groups providing specialist services for survivors of domestic and sexual abuse say they remain insecurely funded in many areas, and currently depend on a diverse range of funders to fully meet the needs of survivors of abuse.

The UK government has listened, Butler said, “and now it’s time for Welsh Government to guarantee to sustainably fund violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence specialist services across Wales.

“We look forward to working with Welsh Government to achieving the national model of sustainable funding for specialist services in Wales, which our National Strategy makes a commitment to deliver.”

To read the Housing Matters – Safeguarding the future of homelessness and housing-related support services in Wales report, please click here.

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