Assess the impact of welfare reforms on survivors of domestic abuse

Part of Domestic Abuse Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:15 pm on 16th June 2020.

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The impact of the cap on survivors was made starkly clear in the case of R v. the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, which considered the legality of the benefit cap. Two of the claimants in the case were survivors. One was living in statutory overcrowded housing and was unable to move herself and her family anywhere suitable and safe due to the cap. Another was stuck in a refuge because the cap meant that she could not afford any move-on housing, and she was therefore blocking a much-needed space for another survivor. They told Women’s Aid that they felt financially penalised for escaping domestic abuse.

I know that the Department for Work and Pensions states that discretionary housing payments, which are paid by local authorities, are available for survivors in such circumstances. However, DHP allocations remain inconsistent, short term and dependent on different councils’ policies and practices—it is yet another postcode lottery. They are not monitored by the Government centrally, so it is impossible to know whether they are providing an effective solution.

The Department for Work and Pensions has repeatedly claimed that the benefit cap is saving money. As I have highlighted, however, the cap creates significant hardships, and the Department therefore gives back a significant proportion of the money it takes from claimants by providing funding for discretionary housing payments to local councils in order to help them support capped claimants. The circular process of transferring public money from one budget to another fails to consider the impact that has on families, particularly survivors, who rely on less stable support and are certainly under somebody’s “discretion”.

The Department does not include in its figures the cost of DHPs included in administration costs, nor does it consider the increased cost to local authorities through temporary accommodation or the wider cost that the hardship created by the cap might have on other public services. Women’s Aid is concerned that the DHP allocation remains inconsistent, short term and dependent on different councils. The DWP confirmed that it has not carried out a full cost-benefit analysis of the cap. In 2018-19, however, the DWP allocated £60 million of DHP funding for local authorities in Great Britain to support capped households.

For those reasons, I urge colleagues to support new clause 41 in order to exempt survivors of domestic abuse from the benefit cap. To summarise, the Bill must do more for survivors of abuse, including those suffering economic abuse, than merely define what is happening to them. The new clauses would ensure that the Bill has a legacy of not only recognising that money is used to control and abuse, but making significant changes to reduce the number of women who are forced to stay with their abusers because they cannot afford to leave.