As the ‘Archers Trial Week’ begins, refuges in England and Wales are in crisis

67% of refuges in England and 69% in Wales are facing closure due to welfare reforms
● This comes after £33 million of government investment in refuges
● Julie Walters, Patron of Women’s Aid England, urges the Government to exempt refuges from welfare reforms “or live with the consequences”

As Helen’s trial begins in The Archers, Women’s Aid England and Welsh Women’s Aid reveal today that the domestic abuse refuges that support real-life Helens are in crisis again.
Startling new statistics show that 67% of specialist domestic abuse refuges in England will be forced to close if they are not exempted from the Government’s plans to cap housing benefit. 87% of refuges in England would not be able to continue with their current level of provision. In Wales, 69% of refuges will be forced to close, and 100% would not be able to continue with their current level of provision. The Government plans to cap housing benefit in the supported housing sector at Local Housing Allowance (LHA) rates, drastically reducing the amount of housing benefit that refuges will receive. Refuges receive only a tiny proportion of the housing benefit spent on the supported housing sector, and housing benefit is a vital source of income for them. This is because it covers a large proportion of rental costs and service charges. For some refuges, housing benefit covers 90% of these costs. Under the housing benefit cap, the income of one refuge in England would reduce from around £300 to £60 per room per week, placing the refuge an untenable financial position.
These life-saving services will be decimated if they are not exempted from the Government’s plans, putting the lives of thousands of vulnerable women and children at risk. Women’s Aid England and Welsh Women’s Aid urge the Government to exempt refuges and the wider supported housing sector from the planned welfare reforms.
This crisis comes after significant government investment to preserve England’s national network of refuges. Two years ago, Women’s Aid launched the SOS: Save Our Services’campaign to protect refuges from further funding cuts, following the closure of 17% of refuges since 2010. In response to Women’s Aid campaigning, the Government has secured a total of £33 million to support refuges.
However, if refuges are not exempted from the planned welfare reforms, this investment will be rendered meaningless, as so many refuges will close. Women like Helen Titchener will have nowhere to go when fleeing abusive relationships.
Women’s Aid and Welsh Women’s Aid also call for an end to the constant crises facing refuges. They are today demanding that, in addition to exempting refuges from the various welfare reforms, the government must commit to finding a sustainable, national funding solution for these life-saving services.
Polly Neate, Chief Executive of Women’s Aid England, said: “The Government has shown great commitment to refuges over the past two years. Ministers have really listened and understood the vital role they play, and have invested millions of pounds to keep them open. It is simply extraordinary to undo all this good work now. We urge ministers to reconsider. Refuges form a tiny part of the welfare bill. And they literally save women’s lives. The figures we have today are just a snapshot of the crisis. If Helen had access to specialist domestic abuse support in Ambridge, perhaps she would not be on trial now. “Remember, women who flee to a refuge are running for their lives. Refuges provide specialist support to help women and their children truly recover from domestic abuse, and rebuild their lives with a view to long-term independence. We urgently call on the Government to exempt refuges, and other forms of supported accommodation, from these welfare reforms.
“This latest crisis is just one crisis too many. We urge the government to make a public commitment to securing the future of refuges with a sustainable long-term funding solution. With an average of two women a week being killed by a partner in England and Wales, this also makes economic sense: each domestic homicide costs society £1.8 million, meaning that the loss of women’s lives due to domestic abuse costs the country over £14 million a month. These women and children have been through enough, and they deserve better than services which are continually on the brink of closure.”
Julie Walters, Patron of Women’s Aid England, said: “Refuges save lives; it is as simple as that. The Government must exempt them from these welfare reforms – or live with the consequences of more women being killed, and more families traumatised by domestic abuse. Domestic abuse is a human rights issue, and women and children need the specialist support that refuges provide to reclaim their dignity and strength.”
Charlotte Kneer, Reigate and Banstead Women’s Aid refuge manager, said: “If my refuge is not exempted from these changes, we will be forced to close. It is a dire situation; the uncertainty means we cannot plan for the coming months. We don’t know if we’re going to be here. More women will die. As a survivor myself – a real-life Helen – and now a refuge manager, I cannot stress enough how high the demand is for refuges. I dread to think what will happen if we have to shut our doors.”
Eleri Butler, Chief Executive of Welsh Women’s Aid, said: “A cap to housing benefit would have devastating consequences for specialist services across Wales – it could force over two thirds of Wales’ specialist refuge services to close their doors. For other services it could mean being forced to subsidise costs from money used to provide direct support to survivors, or risk losing refuge provision altogether. Refuge services, many of which are already at breaking point, will become even more stretched and under resourced, or disappear altogether. No woman should be turned away from accessing lifesaving support delivered by refuges. These services in Wales have been supporting families affected by domestic abuse for decades helping women to recover from abuse and to achieve independence. That is why we are calling on the UK Government to exempt refuges from planned changes to Housing Benefit. We need a sustainable funding model for refuges and specialist services across Wales. This is essential if the future of life-saving refuge services across Wales is to be secure.

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