Letter: Trapped women

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Sir: The research commissioned by the Children's Society and Hackney Safer Cities ("Britain's wife-beating epidemic is revealed", 23 January) confirms that domestic violence is the most pervasive, costly and socially damaging of hate crimes.

The Government's commitment to develop a national strategy on the issue is very welcome. However, there is little point in the Government encouraging women to seek help, if at the same time it cuts off their escape routes.

Women who leave violent marriages usually have been allowed no control over their own finances. Consequently, they are often destitute at the time of departure and become benefit claimants for the first time. The planned cut to lone parent benefit will deal them a devastating blow. It is likely to lead to thousands of women and children continuing to live in situations of extreme violence, because they simply cannot afford to leave.

Mothers contemplating leaving violent partners typically calculate to the last penny what they will have to support their children if they leave. Most are, and will remain for the foreseeable future, unable to work or retrain due to the trauma they and their children have experienced. They are often exhausted and in poor health. In many cases, harassment by the ex-partners continues.

Even though they may have lost everything they owned as a result of leaving their home, women will often put the stability of their children before their own desire to work. It is unreasonable to expect such women to work and cruel to penalise them if they make the responsible decision not to do so.

The Government should urgently reconsider its decision to cut this benefit and examine why it is that an administration committed to combating domestic violence is also cutting women's benefits and is considering many other proposals, such as means-testing or taxing child benefit and ending independent taxation for couples, which would severely reduce women's control over their own finances.

JEAN CALDER

Director, The Women's Refuge Project

Brighton, East Sussex

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