New research by women's advocacy group shows damage caused by cuts in housing benefit for refuge
THE CHARITY Scottish Women’s Aid (SWA), has criticised proposed policy changes by the UK Government which would see housing benefit cut posing a "critical threat" to refuges across Scotland.
Plans laid down from last year by the UK Government to change housing benefits for supported accommodation would mean more than £3.7m worth of cuts to Women’s Aid groups, and would result in the closure of refuges for women endangered by domestic violence across Scotland.
The group has launched a report outlining the possible effect on women, children and adolescents who face physical and psychological domestic abuse and rely on refuges in often life threatening situations.
"These cuts will cost lives if implemented; there are no two ways about it. Closing refuges will remove one of the few tools women have to keep themselves and their children safe." Dr Marsha Scott
The chief executive officer of SWA, Dr Marsha Scott, said: "These cuts will cost lives if implemented; there are no two ways about it. Closing refuges will remove one of the few tools women have to keep themselves and their children safe.
"Refuges are not an optional luxury, they are an essential specialist service crucial to supporting women, children and young people in extremely difficult circumstances.
"The UK Government needs to remove this threat immediately and work with specialist providers – specifically women’s aid groups – to safeguard the lives of women children and young people experiencing domestic abuse."
The housing benefit shortfall is from £1,000 to £450,000 a year with only one women's aid group having a refuge that could be fully paid for by LHA housing benefit rate
Currently there are 37 local women’s aid groups across Scotland that provide 487 refuge spaces for women and children who have experienced domestic abuse.
Women's aid groups lease properties from local authorities and housing associations and the rent is paid through housing benefit claims which are set against an individual’s eligibility.
As women's aid groups are dependent upon housing benefit covering their costs any cut to the housing benefit bill would be felt especially hard on those groups providing shelter.
According to SWA's last census day in 2015 in cooperation with the Care Inspectorate, demand in Scotland still outstripped supply with 27 per cent of women and children not being able to find accommodation.
Figures showing the projected shortfall in funds for women’s refuges
The proposed changes by the UK Government come in the form of the Local Housing Allowance (LHA), which is a flat rate payment that caps the amount of housing benefit paid to the private sector and is meant to keeps costs for government down.
Former Chancellor George Osborne said in 2015 that it would be introduce in 2018 but has been delayed from April of this year.
The LHA means that there is a shortfall between what money is needed for an average women's refuge, 40 per cent of which are communal, and what the LHA offers.
The housing benefit shortfall is from £1,000 to £450,000 a year with only one women's aid group having a refuge that could be fully paid for by LHA housing benefit rate.
The warning follows the announcement by the Scottish Government over their plans to introduce a new Domestic Violence Bill that will in its words, "confront the scourge of domestic violence through a new offence to criminalise psychological abuse" and modernise the way domestic abuse is treated in the court system.
Picture courtesy of Tamara Craiu
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