It’s generally accepted that women suffer the most from austerity. But now, it looks like some of the most vulnerable women in the UK are set to bear the brunt of these measures.
According to domestic abuse charity Women’s Aid, 67% of its affiliated refuges in England would have to close if current welfare cuts go ahead. 87%, meanwhile, insist that they would have to make cutbacks to survive.
Domestic violence isn’t disappearing, but support for its victims is
One in every four women is the victim of some sort of domestic violence, and 91% of domestic violence victims are women. One in five children, meanwhile, are witnesses to such events.
Since 2010, austerity cuts have forced 17% of domestic violence shelters to close down, and around 95% of women’s organisations have been affected by these policies.
But that doesn’t mean the problem of domestic violence has gone away. According to Lancaster University sociology professor Sylvia Walby, such violence (particularly against women) has increased since 2009 – coinciding with austerity-fueled cuts to support services.
The government measure now threatening domestic abuse refuges is the housing benefit cap. The current plan involves paying social landlords (including those in supported and sheltered housing) the same as private landlords.
The threat posed by the housing benefit cap
At the moment, the Department for Work and Pensions is holding off on the social sector implementation of the housing benefit cap while it analyses its ‘long-term sustainability’.
But Women’s Aid insists that the cap (in its current form) would greatly reduce the funding of its affiliated shelters – a fact that could prove devastating given that some refuges rely on the benefit for up to 90% of their costs. The organisation’s chief executive, Polly Neate, recently made the case for protecting these sanctuaries, saying:
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. These women and children have been through enough, and they deserve better than services which are continually on the brink of closure.
Women’s Aid England patron Julie Walters, meanwhile, stressed:
The government must exempt them from these welfare reforms – or live with the consequences of more women being killed and more families [being] traumatised by domestic abuse.
The ongoing gender violence at the heart of the austerity regime
According to campaign coalition A Fair Deal for Women, Britain’s economic recovery in recent years has been “funded disproportionally from women’s pockets”. Oxford University professor Danny Dorling backed this up in 2015, insisting:
The pain has not been spread evenly and the pain to come will not be. Women suffer disproportionately from the way the cuts have been chosen.
Between 2008 and 2015, female under-employment nearly doubled. And this has no doubt contributed to the fact that women depend on social welfare twice as much as men do. A recent study produced by Scottish gender equality group Engender, entitled A Widening Gap: Women and Welfare Reform, found that 20% of women’s income comes from benefits and the tax credit system. And the organisation says that, of the £26bn worth of cuts made to the welfare system since 2010, 85% has been taken from women’s incomes.
It is clear that austerity politicians have long been waging war on Britain’s women, whether they’re aware of it or not. Now, however, the doctrine could claim some of its most vulnerable victims yet if domestic abuse refuges aren’t given an urgent exemption from the housing benefit cap. If they aren’t, the impact could prove devastating.
– If you suffer from domestic violence, contact the National Domestic Violence Helpline (open 24 hours a day) for free on 0808 200 0247.
– Write to your MP and let them know how you feel about the housing benefit cap.
– Campaign with charities like Women’s Aid which are working closely with the people affected by these cuts.
Featured image via US Embassy London/Flickr