By Sisters Uncut
Women in London are being killed by men in alarming numbers. New figures released this week show that 25 women in the city were murdered as a result of domestic violence in just 12 months.
These numbers are no surprise to us. Many members of Sisters Uncut have either survived, or supported others through their experiences of domestic or sexual violence. We know all too well the brutal reality of this. And we also know the devastating impact that cuts are having on life-saving support services.
In July, we reclaimed an empty council home in Hackney to highlight the need for access to social housing for survivors of domestic violence. We were following in the footsteps of those in the refuge movement who set up the first refuges in squatted buildings in the 1970s. Forty years later, domestic violence is still endemic in our society, and we are still having to fight for the services that survivors need to find safety.
Since 2010, at least 34 refuges have closed around the country. Two-in-three women who approach a refuge for help are turned away. And specialist services are being eroded by councils to save money.
Other routes to safety are also being blocked: in boroughs like Hackney, central and local government housing policies have resulted in council homes lying empty while survivors are refused support. When support is offered, survivors are often housed in overcrowded, inappropriate temporary accommodation when what they need is sanctuary.
Migrant women are even further from being able to find safety. Survivors with 'no recourse to public funds' are often unable to access housing, benefits or refuge spaces. The Immigration Bill has forced GPs, landlords and teachers to act as border police, making it even harder for migrant women to access the services to support them. Migrant women are already at much higher risk of domestic violence and domestic homicide than other groups, and cuts to specialist services make it harder for them to flee. The specialist BME services offering community outreach and support in other languages are being cut.
The current situation is bleak, but things could be about to get much worse. As well as funding from local councils, refuges also receive income by claiming housing benefit for the women living there. Up to now, housing benefit has been one of the only consistent sources of income that refuges have been able to rely on. The government plans to cap the amount of housing benefit that supported housing providers, including refuges, are able to claim. Under the housing benefit cap, the income of one refuge would reduce from £300 to £60 per room per week. Statistics released by Women's Aid this week show that if the government continues with this policy, 67% of refuges will be forced to close.
In response to the campaign by Women's Aid, Theresa May announced on Wednesday that the government hopes to exempt refuges from the housing benefit cap. We will be keeping the pressure on the government to ensure that this isn't an empty promise. We need deeds not words.
In a country where 25 women have been murdered in one year in just one city alone, we cannot afford the closure of any more life-saving services.
Sisters Uncut are a feminist activist group. You can follow them on Twitter here.
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