A WIRRAL MP has demanded firm assurances that women escaping violent partners will not be affected by forthcoming benefit changes.
Frank Field, Labour Member of Parliament for Birkenhead, has spoken out after Wirral Women’s and Children’s Aid raised fears that the benefit cap and Universal Credit may jeopardise services.
The refuge scheme is part funded through housing benefit which survivors use to pay for their housing costs but the charity are worried that the changes could mean some rent liability not being covered.
But Mr Field is arguing that refuges should be exempt from cuts due to their importance within communities.
He said: “These refuges save lives and must be deemed exempt accommodation under the welfare reform changes. Their vital services must not threatened by the future changes.
“A national network of refuges has been built up over the decades. This network will be irreparably damaged unless action is taken now”.
Mr Field is now set to press work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith on the issue in Parliament next week.
Under the plans, the benefit changes mean that refuges will not receive direct payments, as happens now, but will be forced to chase individuals for rent payments.
And payments to women claiming rent for the house they have escaped from, but intend to return to when it is safe, will be capped.
In a letter to Mr Field, Val Saunders, head of Wirral Women's and Children Aid, said: “As part of the housing benefit we receive covers staffing costs for the unique 24-hour service we provide, this loss would have a considerable impact on our ability to continue our work for victims of domestic abuse.
“The Government has agreed to disregard the cap if refuges meet the complicated criteria for ‘exempt accommodation’ under existing rules.
“But a survey of Women’s Aid members found that over half of refuge services are not likely to count as being 'exempt accommodation'.”
Mr Field, previously appointed as the poverty tsar, added that if refuges such as the Wirral service are closed, the lives of women and their children “will be put at risk.”
And he pointed out that closures would also increase costs for children’s and social services, the NHS and the police.