A lot of ‘noise’ has been generated this week (rightly) across all media over the safety of women generally and about domestic violence and abuse. It is way past time to turn this ‘noise’ into real practical actions in both the housing and welfare areas.
- A few years ago we had a Key Performance Indicator (KPI) that said every local authority should have 1 refuge room per 10,000 population. This needs to be reinstated.
- It needs to be added to with social landlords have to provide 4 social housing properties at social rent per year for every 10,000 population in each local authority for women leaving refuge.
- Further, the bedroom tax and overall benefit cap need to have an exemption for those leaving refuge.
To illustrate if the local authority has a population of 300,000 it would mean:
- The council would be duty bound to have and fund refuges with 30 spaces
- The council would be duty bound to find 120 permanent social housing properties per year for former refuge residents
- The 120 per year former refuge residents would be exempt from the bedroom tax and overall benefit cap – just as the budget last week made single former refuge residents exempt from the shared accommodation rate if they had been in refuges for 3 months.
Thirty domestic abuse households each staying for 3 months means those 30 refuge rooms accommodate and support 120 households each year and all would need and deserve a new start in the most secure housing at the cheapest rents, that is, social housing.
Last year I wrote about the disgraceful social housing response to domestic violence and abuse that saw just 2% or 2 in every 100 refuge households being offered social housing which came from an article in the Guardian (picture above.) We need to make that 100 in every 100 and by taking away the welfare barriers in the Bedroom Tax and Overall Benefit Cap and leave social landlords with no excuses not to provide the most secure rehousing at the most affordable rent levels to those who have fled domestic violence and abuse.
Social landlords, as councils and housing associations are called, love to form groups such as Cathy Come Home and love to proclaim they are supportive of domestic abuse survivors yet words are not enough. They need to put up or shut up and do their first and most important job which is to house and rehouse those who are the most in housing need.
Two-thirds of women in refuges have fled there with children and they are without any doubt those most in need of rehousing and a fresh start. Over the past twenty years I have advised a number of refuges and had many ad hoc conversations with women who have taken the unbelievably traumatic step of uprooting themselves and their children to they know not where, yet still they worry that their children should have contact with the abusive fathers of their children. They question whether they have done the right thing to flee despite the physical beatings and emotional, psychological, financial abuses they have suffered and over many years. What effect is their incredibly brave decision to flee having on their children they constantly ask themselves and they are torn by this and will never ever not question their decision to do that. Just writing that is harrowing and illogical yet it reveals what a total mindfuck fleeing domestic violence and abuse is for a woman and mother. I could write so much more yet my point that they are those most in (re)housing need is made. Those who allocate social housing never hear or see these issues and instead are hamstrung by their organisations allocation rules.
Council and HA landlords don’t provide rehousing as the facts show so it is well past time to force them to put up and shut up and regulate them so they do. The social landlord who refuses to rehouse them is not a social landlord and they should be barred if necessary from receiving any subsidy or other funding if they fail to rehouse. These three simple changes – and they are simple changes – need teeth and if the only way to make what we call ‘social’ landlords sit up and take notice and do what they claim their social purpose is, of rehousing those most in housing need, is to threaten social landlords, then so be it.
Refuges suffer from the lack of safe and secure move on properties for residents from them and yet the system means refuge providers have to move vulnerable women and children to the private rented sector in the vast majority of cases because social landlords do not and will not provide the safe and secure and genuinely affordable rehousing they need and deserve. That system cannot go on any longer and we need legislation to force social landlords to rehouse and to force local councils to facilitate a minimum number of refuge places such as the old KPI.
Refuge providers also need an absolute legal right to support funding for support pre-refuge (outreach) funding for support at a refuge and for visiting support post refuge. They deserve nothing less. I have lost count of how many refuge board meetings I have attended where they decide how many places per year they can grant to women with no recourse to public funds (NRPF) and accommodate and support at their own cost. Imagine having to make that decision! I have lost count of the number of women in refuges who waited until their children had fled the family home before they fled to a refuge and suffered years and decades of abuse personally and hope their children never heard or saw that abuse.
Unfortunately what we call social housing sees constrained allocation officers dealing with bricks and mortar but not with people and this is the classic interaction between general needs housing allocation and the needs of prospective tenants who are people with a wide array of support issues and for all supported housing client groups not just domestic violence and abuse.
The word ‘social’ means of people not of bricks and mortar.
Finally, I have also lost count of the number of women who have fled and who later feel forced to return to the abusive perpetrator and staff at refuges telling me how staggeringly common this is. There are many complex reasons for this undoubtedly, but let’s make sure one of those reasons is not that those fleeing return because the social housing system did not provide a safe, secure and affordable rehousing option – one that shouldn’t need legislation to force social (sic) landlords to provide yet unfortunately needs precisely that!