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Welfare Reform Bill puts women and children in greater danger

August 3, 2009

Welfare Reform Bill puts

women and children in greater danger

Briefing by

Black Women’s Rape Action Project & Women Against Rape

Tel: 020 7482 2496   Email:  bwrap@dircon.co.uk    war@womenagainstrape.net

http://www.womenagainstrape.net/indexpage.htm

 

House of Lords: Grand Committee — 9 June onwards

 

The government and its Minister for Women Harriet Harman have made a great show of their commitment to support women against domestic violence.  Sandra Horley, of national charity Refuge, commented on the recent government roadshow: “Gimmicks like Jacqui Smith’s won’t help battered women.”*   The Welfare Reform Bill would put women and children in even greater danger by making it harder to leave a violent partner and survive financially and emotionally, so forcing women to submit to danger and violence, just to ensure they or their children have food and shelter.  It would deny traumatised women and children time to recover without the added pressure of finding employment.  And it would grant abusive ex-partners more rights over children and prolong their damaging and dangerous involvement in their lives and their mothers’.

 

  • In 2007-8, domestic violence accounted for 16% of all reported violent incidents (British Crime Survey), and 72 women were killed by their partners or ex-partners.  The devastating preventable murders of Sabina Akhtar (aged 26) and Arsema Dawit (aged 15) highlight that women and girls in grave danger still cannot rely on police protection or the Crown Prosecution Service to prosecute our attackers.  Even now, every week 10 women kill themselves to escape domestic violence.*  

 

  • Abused women are five times more likely to attempt suicide.  The figures for Black and ethnic minority women are even higher: for example, 50% of women of Asian origin who have attempted suicide or self-harm are domestic violence survivors.**

 

  • Domestic violence is often witnessed by children, who may themselves also be physically or sexually assaulted by their mother’s attacker.

 

  • Women Against Rape (WAR) spearheaded a 15-year campaign which, in 1991, won recognition in law that rape in marriage is a crime.  A previous London survey by WAR found this to be the most common form of rape: that one in seven women had been raped by their husbands; four-fifths of such women were trapped in the relationship by lack of money and/or housing (Ask Any Woman, 1985, p.98-9).  The Welfare Reform Bill would deepen women’s financial dependence on partners and thus increase the abusive and humiliating lives they impose on women. 

 

Women recovering from domestic violence must not be forced into job seeking.

The Bill abolishes Income Support, the basic lifeline to leave a violent man.  Mothers, with their children, fleeing domestic violence would be treated as job seekers, subject to conditions enforced by sanctions.  Such brave but traumatised women would be given only one month’s grace before having to seek work.  Baroness Helena Kennedy and others are urging at least three months, on the grounds that children need their mother’s presence.  Even three months is not enough.  Many victims of domestic violence are deeply traumatised, living in a refuge or other temporary accommodation, and still at risk from the ex-partner. A woman from Women Against Rape described how she felt when she escaped:

“I was a nervous wreck.  You don’t know who you are anymore; you are like a beaten dog in a corner.  It took me three months to find somewhere to live.  No way could I have got a job . . . If I had gone for interview, they would have looked at me like I was a nutter.”

 

Women who for health reasons claim Employment and Support Allowance (which replaced incapacity benefit) would be compelled to undertake “work-related activity” on pain of sanctions.  Only a few are exempted.  There is great concern about the welfare of people with mental health problems in this new regime, and there are many amendments on this issue. Having to meet impossible conditions, and faced with official hostility, some women will be driven to self-harm or suicide.

 

Benefits staff are often careless about women’s safety, but they’re not the ones who deal with the consequences

For decades, a woman looked after her husband, a dangerous, extremely violent man with psychiatric problems.  After he was violent to Jobcentre staff, his benefit money was paid to her (though she was never told that she was entitled to claim Carers’ Allowance, and would have had more money to live on).  Then she managed finally to escape, which benefits staff were aware of.  But they sent a joint giro to her new address.  She and her daughter fled their new home, terrified that he had been told where his giro was, and would come to attack them.  They moved once.  Then the benefits office did it again, so they had to move again.    

 

Forcing women into the hands of violent men

During a recession, the government is making survival benefits harder to get, with harsher sanctions.  “Work for your benefits” at £1.73 an hour will be enforced against single mothers and other vulnerable women if they have not been able to get a job for two years.  To survive and feed their children, women will be forced not only into the hands of rapist partners, but into prostitution, shoplifting and other crime, or forced to endure sexual exploitation by employers and co-workers rather than risk losing jobs.  

 

Delete Clause 46: Joint birth registration grants violent ex-partners greater rights over the child and unwanted involvement with the mother.

Domestic violence is suffered by 30% of women. Yet joint registration of births would be compulsory – giving all fathers a say in decisions about the child, and access to records which could reveal the mother’s address.  Fathers could independently register their paternity.  This is the latest attack on mothers’ and children’s safety.  Though exceptions would be allowed if a mother fears for her and her baby’s safety, most domestic violence goes unreported, so relatively few women can prove violence or mental cruelty.  The registrar will decide.  The government says registrars should not accept solely the mother’s word on not knowing the father’s whereabouts.  Mothers who refuse to name the father if “good cause” is not accepted could be fined, or imprisoned for seven years for deliberately giving false information.  These powers are worse than the notorious Child Support Act which impoverished and terrorised many single mother families, until it was abolished. 

 *Independent, 11 March 2009

** Chantler, K, et al. (2001) Attempted suicide and self-harm: South Asian women (Women’s Studies Research Centre, Manchester Metropolitan University); Newham Asian Women’s Project: (1998) Young Asian Women and Self-harm: A mental health needs assessment of young Asian women in East London (London: Newham Inner City Multifund and NAWP) 

No woman who is bringing up children is unemployed. New Labour; Shower of Shit

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 3, 2009 03:31

    This is disturbingly similar to “welfare reform” here in the US which scapegoated and punished women of color for the fact that the US not only doesn’t have a full employment economy, but unemployment is often kept artificially high by Federal Reserve policies to keep wages down.

  2. August 3, 2009 15:39

    Well you know, the UK has to follow everything the USA does! This act also attacks all vulnerable groups – even the govt reports show it won’t work. It is a massive pre-election PR exercise.

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