Government cuts put victims of domestic violence at risk of losing unemployment support

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Government cuts put victims of domestic violence at risk of losing unemployment support

date: 30 August 2011
embargo: 00.01hrs Thursday 1 September 2011

Victims of domestic violence at risk of losing vital unemployment support.

Victims of domestic violence in the South West will struggle to receive vital unemployment benefits, as they will need to provide written evidence of their abuse from the same charities and refuges that are being cut or closed as a result of government spending cuts, warns the TUC today (Thursday) in its submission to a government consultation on jobseeker's allowance (JSA) and domestic violence.

The 2009 welfare act, due to be implemented by the government later this year, states that domestic violence victims claiming JSA are eligible for an automatic deferral period of 13 weeks. This means that those affected by such violence, who are predominantly women, can receive the vital financial support for around three months without being available for work or actively seeking work - the normal criteria required to qualify for the benefit.

Jobcentre Plus advisors can use their discretion to extend this deferral by a further 11 weeks giving up to 24 weeks grace for the most serious cases, so it is vital those affected by domestic violence qualify for the initial period, the TUC argues.

The government proposes that victims of domestic violence must provide written evidence of their abuse from their doctors or relevant support organisations to receive the grace time period. The TUC is concerned that these support organisations are the same refuges, charities and shelters that are being cut back or completely closed due to reductions in government funding, leaving them under-resourced and ill-placed to take on such commitments.

Domestic violence accounts for between 16-25 per cent of violent crime in the UK, and there are 13 million incidents of physical violence or threats of violence against women every year. At the same time the government's cuts are hitting domestic violence services even more than other charities reliant on public funding.

In March Women's Aid found that 60 per cent of its refuge services and 72 per cent of its outreach services had no funding agreed from 1 April 2011. While there have been some developments since March, research published by the union backed anti-cuts campaign website False Economy recently revealed that 74 support services for women affected by sexual and domestic violence are having their funding cut or withdrawn in the current financial year, clearly showing the continued impact of the cuts.

The TUC is therefore concerned that domestic violence victims will be unable to get the written evidence required from these hard-pressed support organisations in the allocated time frame, and consequently not receive the much-needed JSA funds.

As domestic violence often happens within the home and leaves no trace - especially for cases of intimidation, and emotional and psychological abuse - it can take time to put a written evidence-based account together. And with key support organisations around the UK either being cut back or closed, the TUC is concerned that take-up of this vital 13-week deferral period will be severely affected.

Nigel Costley, Regional Secretary of the South West TUC, said: 'The government has paid lip service to the importance of violence against women services, while at the same time forcing many to close their doors or scale back their work due to funding cuts.

'As services are cut and closed, those suffering from domestic violence are left high and dry at a time when they most need support to escape violence and to rebuild their lives.

'Now the government is decreeing that domestic violence victims must produce written evidence from these very same overstretched and hard-pressed services in order to qualify for a key JSA grace period. This 13-week timeframe will give those who have suffered from violence in the home a vital chance to escape the abuse - which in many cases involves moving to another area and building a new life from scratch - without the pressure of having to find work at the same time.

'By cutting vital support services, and introducing new obstacles and needless red tape, the burden of the cuts is once again falling on some of the most vulnerable people in society. It's clear we're not all in this together.'

Women's Aid Chief Executive Officer Nicola Harwin said: 'While Women's Aid welcomes the provision for victims of domestic violence to be exempt from the requirement to seek work for up to 24 weeks, we are concerned about the current proposals for evidence requirements, as well as the need to provide training for Jobcentre staff to ensure they are able to respond appropriately to victims.

'It can be a long and exhausting process leaving an abusive relationship without the additional barrier of getting evidence to access unemployment benefits from a specialist domestic violence service that has very limited capacity.

'This puts additional pressure on both survivors trying to access benefits and those working in specialist domestic violence services.

'This year we have seen severe funding cuts affecting many domestic violence services and those that remain are likely to be running with fewer services and a reduced number of staff. Not only does this mean that fewer abused women and children will be able to access local services, but there are less staff to work with those that do. In some areas there may be no local services at all.

'Leaving an abusive relationship is already an extremely difficult time without adding in these additional pressures and barriers to getting free from abuse.'

The TUC is also concerned about increased conditionality for lone parents in the government's proposals, as problems obtaining appropriate childcare make it difficult for many single parents to get jobs even in good economic times.

In the current economic climate, with five unemployed people for every job vacancy, the TUC believes that increasing the number of jobs available for unemployed people would be a more productive use of the limited resources of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

ends

Nigel Costley is available for comment on 0117 947 0521 (ISDN available on request) and 07887 797 153



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