Critics have also raised concerns that the new benefits system, which will see all benefit paid to just one member of a family, could leave people trapped in abusive relationships with no hope of escape.
Many homelessness hostels and night-shelters will also be affected by the benefit cap, although shockingly it will be those with children who are at greatest risk.
The benefit cap, set to be introduced in April 2013, will see benefits capped at £350 a week for a single claimant and £500 for a family of any size. This cap includes support with rent payments, which make up the bulk of almost all benefit awards. Already Housing Benefit caps are leading to soaring homelessness and the impact has barely even been felt. The situation is set to become far worse when payments for temporary or emergency accommodation are also subject to the cap.
Women’s refuges and other types of emergency accommodation are forced to charge high rents (paid by Housing Benefit) to cover staffing costs. Experienced staff are critical to the services they offer, for both resident security and ongoing vital support.
When the cap is introduced next year Women’s Aid warn that the loss of income will “decimate the refuge network”. To make matters even worse, the move to a monthly payment system for Universal Credit - along with ‘direct payments’ which means housing benefits will no longer be paid to landlords – may see some residents falling into arrears placing further pressure on services.
Homelessness hostels which support young people who have suffered abuse may also be forced to close. With brutal cuts already made to Housing Benefits for those under 25, there may well be nowhere left to run but the streets for children who are abused in the family home.
Universal Credit will only be paid to a single family member as opposed to benefits being split between between couples as at present. For those in abusive relationships this could prove devastating, allowing abusive partners to trap people in a financial straitjacket from which there is little chance of escape.
Women’s Aid supported 180,000 adults and children last year. This support could disappear completely when Iain Duncan Smith’s inept benefit changes are driven through.
Whilst hostel and refuge accommodation has improved over the years it could still best be described as basic. Women fleeing domestic violence, or homeless teenagers escaping abuse, are a world away from the plasma screen collecting mythical claimants so often portrayed in the media.
It is a sad truth that already those who have suffered trauma or abuse and are unable to work are forced into poverty by paltry benefits. The decimation of refuges and emergency accommodation services will now mean homelessness as well for those seeking to escape their situation. That this savage scenario doesn’t even seem to have occurred to Iain Duncan Smith tells us everything we need to know about the posh boys in this Government’s attitude to women.
UPDATE: Not quite a u-turn, more a bodge has been announced. With no clear details however services for those fleeing domestic violence remain under a grave threat.
A briefing report on the impact of Welfare Reform produced by Women’s Aid can be downloaded at: http://www.womensaid.org.uk/core/core_picker/download.asp?id=3744 (PDF)