Last week at Prime Minister’s Questions, Theresa May pleased MPs by telling them that the government will not place the same housing benefit cap on supported housing as for private rented accommodation. Supported housing includes long-term accommodation for people with severe disabilities and chronic conditions, as well as short-term housing such as hostels, women’s refuges and safe houses.
This sounded sensible at the time, as domestic abuse charities had been warning that capping the housing benefit paid to the women staying in refuges would mean they would have to close (at an even greater rate than they have already been shutting down). But the temporary relief was followed yesterday by the discovery that short-term supported housing will be taken out of the welfare system and instead funded through grants given to local authorities. These grants will be ring-fenced, but the government consultation published yesterday doesn’t say how much money will be available to already cash-strapped local authorities.
The argument behind devolving the grants to local authorities is that they are best-placed to understand the needs in their areas. But localism is also a tremendously convenient excuse for central government to blame councils when, as is happening on a regular basis, women fleeing domestic violence are turned away from refuges because there are no beds and there is no money.
Perhaps ministers would find this easier to get away with were it not for the fact that one of the pieces of legislation that they think they really can pursue in this minority government is a Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill, which will enshrine a proper definition of abuse in law for the first time, and introduce changes to the criminal and family justice system to better protect women and their children who are affected by abuse. But this will make little difference if the government keeps shrinking the pot of funding available to the refuges who take women in once they’ve managed to flee an abuser. This should be an issue that gets raised again at Prime Minister’s Questions this week: last week’s announcement disguised much of the gory detail which has now been revealed.