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Women’s Aid — [Dr William McCrea in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:08 pm on 14th March 2012.

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Photo of Anne McGuire Anne McGuire Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) 3:08 pm, 14th March 2012

I totally agree. That echoes the point made by my hon. Friend Mr Brown—he is no longer in his place—who said that, given that uncertainty, women go back go the household where they were abused. If they have never engaged with the benefits system—and even if they have—there is an element of uncertainty about the time frames. It may not be entirely clear what will happen to their child benefit. Who gets the child benefit at the moment? Technically, it goes to women, but that might not be the case in some abusive relationships. As well as having to deal with violence and abuse, women face that financial uncertainty. We should not underestimate how difficult it is for women who are trying to get out of a violent situation not only to have to worry about the impact of the violence on them and their children, but to face uncertainty because they might be stepping off the edge of a cliff and they do not know what will happen. I totally endorse what the hon. Gentleman says.

Will the Minister tell us how organisations that offer hostel and supported accommodation will be treated in the assessment of housing support assistance in the new system? Currently, supported accommodation providers are allowed to breach the local housing allowance cap, because an element in the costs allows them to charge for additional support services, such as those provided by Women’s Aid or similar organisations, although Women’s Aid is obviously the principal provider.

We are seeing a real-terms cut in supported housing costs across the country, and we cannot run away from that. Local organisations that offer accommodation will therefore face a cut in any circumstances. Indeed, there is evidence to suggest that women’s aid organisations are receiving a greater funding cut than local authorities—there is a differential of 4% or 5%. There is therefore uncertainty, and if organisations that offer supported accommodation cannot make up the additional costs, there will be a real threat—this is what my right hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill was alluding to—to the financial viability and, indeed, the very existence of their hostels.

The Minister understands the commitment of those in organisations such as Women’s Aid who are able to give the support that is needed at a very difficult time; but although that voluntary activity is important, it is not the only element of the support that is given. There are services that have a cost attached to them, and we cannot ignore that.