We need more than refuges: why #budget2015 fails women at risk of domestic violence
Wednesday, July 8, 2015
George Osborne would like you to think that his budget will help victims/survivors of domestic violence, but he is lying. “I am determined domestic violence victims get the help they need” he said, as he announced £3 million of funding for domestic violence refuges as part of the Emergency Budget. Sounds good, doesn’t it? This money is desperately needed by refuge services and will make a difference in ensuring that specialist refuge provision is able to remain open for the time being. However we should not be fooled into thinking that Osborne’s budget is good news for victims/survivors of domestic violence.
Austerity is an ideological project that has already directly harmed victims/survivors of domestic violence and will continue to do so. There is no certainty of funding for community domestic violence services, children who have witnessed violence are increasingly unable to access specialist support, and cuts to legal aid mean that victims/survivors are less able to seek justice and safety.
Here are just some of the specific ways in which survivors will be harmed by the measures announced in today’s budget.
Benefit cuts will push even more women into poverty. Cuts to tax credits, including reducing the rate of working tax credits for those on the lowest incomes and placing limitations on child tax credit, which is mainly claimed by women, will disproportionately affect women. Women will also be severely impacted by the further reduction in the benefit cap.
We know that a lack of economic resources makes it much more difficult for women to leave abusive relationships, and can leave them feeling trapped if they are financially dependent on an abusive partner. We also know that the fear of being unable to provide financially for their children as a single parent can stop women from taking the steps to leave. The lower the rate of benefits that single mothers are able to claim, the harder it will be for many of them to leave their partners and move to a place of safety.
Continued commitment to (and expansion of) Universal Credit
By committing once again to their project of Universal Credit, the Conservatives have chosen to overlook its inherent risks. Not only are women affected by the aforementioned cuts in welfare but increasingly – with the phasing in of Universal Credit – abusive partners will be able to claim all benefits entitled to both of a couple. As the government’s own guidelines state: ‘if you live with your partner and both claim Universal Credit you’ll receive a single payment that covers you both.’ This measure is intended to “streamline” benefits and reduce “benefit fraud” but, alongside costing dramatically more than was forecast, it will make victims/survivors of domestic violence significantly more vulnerable to economic abuse and financial dependence on their partners.
When challenged on this, ministers have stated that in cases of domestic violence, victims will be able to request to have their claim separated from their partner – this shows an astonishing lack of understanding on the part of the government about the dynamics of abusive relationships and the risk to the victim/survivor that may result from such a request.
Disability and ESA
The rate of Employment and Support Allowance, a benefit for people unable to work due to sickness or disability, is going to be significantly reduced for people in the “Work Related Activity Group”. Reductions in disability benefits will also put women at further risk. Let us not forget that disabled women are twice as likely as non disabled women to experience domestic abuse. Again, any further restrictions to income will make it even harder than it already is for disabled women to access life saving services.
Most refuge places are funded through housing benefit. The announcement that 18 – 21 year olds will no longer be eligible to claim this benefit will be devastating for young women trying to leave violent relationships, who may find themselves unable to access funding for a refuge space as a result. It is predicated on an assumption that those in this age bracket can take refuge in their family homes, with no recognition given to how these homes can often be spaces of violence and abuse, and that, even when they are not, the effects of austerity and poverty reduce families’ capacities to support their children into adulthood.
This is especially concerning given that over half of women age 18 – 21 have reported experiencing at least one incident of abuse from a partner. The budget states that exceptions will be made for vulnerable young people, but gives no assurances that victims/survivors of domestic violence will be classed as vulnerable, and these exceptions only apply for six months whilst the vulnerable young person “looks for work” – what about young women for whom escaping and recovering from abuse takes longer than this? And what about those who cannot “prove” their abuse to the standards demanded by government-run bodies?
Sisters Uncut are a feminist group taking direct action for domestic violence services. We demand no more cuts to specialist domestic violence services. More than this, we recognise that there are a range of ways in which domestic violence victims/survivors are being hurt by austerity.
Domestic violence does not happen in a vacuum and tackling it is about more than just safeguarding specialist services. Domestic violence victims/survivors, like many other vulnerable groups in society, are being hurt by austerity from numerous directions. Austerity does not harm people just with individual cuts, but in the fatal combination of the many cuts, caps and scrappings that it entails. Making women poorer makes them more vulnerable to violence and abuse and makes it harder for them to escape it.
If George Osborne really wants to give domestic violence victims “the help that they need”, he must stop his ideological cuts to the welfare state that can provide a safety net for women and give them the chance of a safe and violence free future.