WWA welcomes UK Government’s announcement to exempt domestic abuse refuges from planned welfare reforms.

Welsh Women’s Aid welcomes UK Government’s announcement to exempt domestic abuse refuges from planned welfare reforms, to coincide with our ‘state of the sector’ report being published today.

On behalf of refuge services across Wales, Welsh Women’s Aid welcomes the announcement this morning that domestic abuse refuges will be exempt from the Local Housing Allowance cap on housing benefit rates in supported accommodation, until 2019.

Welsh Women’s Aid campaign, ‘Save Refuge Services to Save Lives’, and the ‘state of the sector’ report, published today, highlights that over two thirds of refuges in Wales would have been forced to close from April, if the cap to housing benefit had been introduced.

This report, Saving Services to Save Lives: Report on the State of the Specialist Domestic Abuse Sector in Wales, 2016, reveals that housing benefit provides around 55% of refuges’ total annual income to meet their housing costs. Refuge services also rely on other public sector grants to deliver support services for survivors of abuse, and the report also

46% of refuge services in Wales have already received cuts to their funding this year, leading to a lack of capacity to meet demand in many areas and inadequate funding for specialist children and young people’s services for many organisations.

This year’s cuts follows funding cuts last year for 58% of refuge services in Wales. 92% of refuge services in Wales identify funding and service continuation as being the main challenge facing their organisation this year. Last year, 388 survivors were not able to access refuges in Wales because there was no space when they needed help.

Eleri Butler, Chief Executive, Welsh Women’s Aid, said:

“We are delighted that refuges are to be exempt from plans to cap housing benefit in the short term, which would have devastated services across Wales if it had been introduced from next year, as planned. We also welcome the opportunity to work with Welsh and UK Governments to develop a long term solution to funding refuge services.

It is deeply worrying that refuge services up and down the country still face annual funding cuts that jeopardise their future existence, which has very real implications for survivors that depend on these lifesaving services for protection and support.

Last year refuge services in Wales supported 11,512 survivors, including 2,973 survivors of abuse being accommodated and supported in refuges. No one should be turned away from accessing life-saving support delivered by refuges, yet we know of at least 388 survivors who couldn’t get into refuges in Wales because there was no space when they needed help. These services in Wales have been supporting families affected by domestic abuse and other forms of violence against women for decades, helping them to recover from abuse and to achieve independence.

Positive steps have also been taken by the Welsh Government to tackle violence against women by the introduction of the Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015. This requires public services to improve how they identify those experiencing violence and abuse and to refer them to specialist services. This is a welcome development but will inevitably lead to an increased demand on specialist services in Wales.

We want to ensure that sustainable, long-term funding is provided to secure the future of these life-saving services so that refuge services can continue to protect and support the most vulnerable women and children in Wales for as long as they need them.”

Anyone affected by domestic abuse or sexual violence in Wales can contact the Live Fear Free Helpline on 0808 80 10 800 for 24-hour, for confidential information and support, and help to access local services.