Two years after the government made coercieve or controlling behaviour a criminal offence, over 50 members of the Labour Party in Kent have signed an open letter calling on the government to reverse their planned housing benefit cap for domestic violence refuges.
Currently, Housing Benefit makes up around 50% of the revenue refuges rely on. The letter notes that “if Housing Benefit entitlement is removed for those in refuges, it will mean vulnerable women fleeing abusive partners will not be able to pay for their accommodation using housing benefit – the last guaranteed source of income available to refuges.”
In October 2017, a document was published by the Department of Work and Pensions and Department for Communities and Local Government, ‘Funding Supporting Housing’. Proposals contained in this document state that instead of being able to use housing benefit to fund refuges, a ‘ring-fenced’ grant to councils for short-term supported housing would be given. However, the majority of women (77.6% in 2015) in refuges come from outside the authority, having left their original home in order to escape the perpetrator.
If these reforms proceed, Labour is concerned that this will result in a postcode lottery of domestic abuse support services, with further refuge closures who provide such an invaluable service, and more women and children being turned away from the lifesaving support they offer when escaping domestic abuse and violence.
The letter was signed Councillor Alan Baldock, Leader of the Labour Group on Canterbury City Council alongside Labour leaders in Dartford, Medway, Thanet and Medway. Elected Labour representatives from North Thanet, South Thanet, Maidstone & Weald, Faversham & Swale, Rochester & Strood, Gillingham & Rainham, Chatham & Aylesford, Dover & Deal have also made a stand.
The letter asks that the government “reconsiders and abandons its plans to remove refuges and other forms of short-term supported housing from the welfare system.”
Signing the letter on behalf of Canterbury Labour Party were Helen Bintley and Mel Dawkins who serve on the Executive as Women’s Officers. In lending their support they said ‘we support this letter and hope those in power consider the effects that these cuts will have on the lives of women and children in Kent; it’s about time the government starts listening to the true stories and how it effects these people on a daily basis.”