Jobless women suffering domestic and sexual violence having their benefits penalised, according to report

The Fawcett Society criticised the Department for Work and Pensions for not publicising rules which allow flexibility in imposing benefit sanctions on victims of violence by their partner

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The Independent Online

Jobless women who suffer sexual and domestic violence are being wrongly penalised by losing all or part of their benefits, according to a report published today.

The Fawcett Society, which campaigns for gender equality, criticised the Department for Work and Pensions for not publicising rules which allow flexibility in imposing benefit sanctions on victims of violence by their partner.

Its inquiry team, which included Sir Keir Starmer, the former head of the Crown Prosecution Service, found that women facing domestic violence had their Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) cut  for missing Jobcentre appointments and training courses.  Lone parents and women who did not speak good English suffered the same fate.

Amanda Ariss, the inquiry chairman, said: “It is deeply worrying that a benefit that exists to support us all if we find ourselves out of work is putting vulnerable women and their children at risk of  unnecessary financial hardship, mental and physical ill-health and, in extreme cases, exploitation and abuse. This makes no sense.”

Belinda Phipps, the society’s chairman, said: “Women, particularly mothers, are more likely to be affected by financial hardship  in the home because they act as ‘shock absorbers’, shielding their children and families from the impact of financial hardship. Every day, women in the UK are going hungry so that their children can get fed.  All of this affects their ability to seek work and to engage with a system that discriminates against them. That leads to them losing their benefits.”

The inquiry heard evidence that women were warned their children would be taken into local authority care because they did not  have enough income after losing their JSA.  It found that the system did not take account of  women’s lives.  For example, lone parents have to look for full-time jobs involving three-hours of travel even though that makes it impossible for them to look after their children.

 

Outlining the inquiry’s proposals at a Westminster press conference today, Sir Keir called for specialist advisers who would help claimants suffering domestic and sexual violence; lone parents and those without good English. He said claimants should be told about the policies in place to help victims of such violence.

Sir Keir added that the system of appealing against benefit sanctions should be overhauled to bring in a quick, informal process.  Lone parents (67 per cent) were much more likely than all claimants (47 per cent) to be hit by the most severe financial penalties.

A DWP spokesman said: “The report is misleading and wrongly suggests that women don’t make use of our important safeguards in the same way that men do. Lone parents now get more help than ever before to move off benefits and into work, and our Jobcentre coaches work with claimants in domestic violent situations so they get the flexibility needed to take time off from their job search. The number of lone parents in work is now at record levels and for the first time, under Universal Credit lone parents working a small number of hours will get help with childcare.”

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