Support women who are victims of Domestic Abuse and Stop Sanctioning them!
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Domestic violence affects all people, but disproportionately women. 1 in 4 women will go through domestic violence at some point in her lifetime, 5 dying a week as a result. This leaves the majority of women either being directly affected, or knowing someone close to them who has been directly affected and the cost to women’s lives is deadly.
Domestic violence affects victims and survivors in many ways, not only the physical and emotional violence but also deeply debilitates victims financially during and after abuse. As such many victims and survivors need to go through the benefit system.
The benefit sanctions for claimants who do not meet very strict requirements are cutting life lines and placing victims at further risk. The DWP needs to take into consideration the many reasons why those trapped in violence or leaving violence may not be able to look for jobs, get to job centre appointments on time or meet the many other requirements for those claiming benefits.
Having an abusive partner affects your ability to leave the house. It is typical for abusers to create ways of blocking victims from leaving the house. Removing or hiding car keys is common. Making victims hand over money resulting in a victim being unable to travel is also common. Not to mention, the victim may be being abused or is too traumatised or injured to make an appointment. Domestic violence victims may also not be able to attend particular job centres because going into that area can put them at immediate danger from abusers.
There are a number of cases becoming apparent where domestic violence victims are being financially sanctioned for not attending job centre appointments, even when they have rang to explain why.
This is just the tip of the iceberg of how benefit sanctions affect domestic violence victims, which are disproportionately and overwhelmingly women.
Guidance policy around appealing sanctions to benefits does state that claimants may appeal their sanction for a ‘good reason’. This is an incredibly broad term and there is no official policy outlining what the DWP accepts as a ‘good reason’. In the Gov.UK press release of 6 November 2013 titled: ‘ending the something for nothing culture’, it states that the decision of a sanction is made by an ‘independent decision maker’. This leads us to believe that there is no official policy to outline domestic violence as a ‘good reason’ for an appeal and that the decision to sanction is down to individuals, and thus there is no policy of consistency of this issue. It’s also publically not clear what level of, if any, training is delivered to these ‘independent decision makers’ on domestic violence. This leaves domestic violence victims with no formal legislation from which to contest a sanction on the grounds of domestic violence, nor are these victims guaranteed that their sanction will be made by a fully informed and trained individual on domestic violence.
Furthermore in the case of disentitlement sanctions, it appears no appeal is given or it is given after the sanction occurs, at which point the financial damage to the victim is already being done.
The strict procedures are, for many reasons, seemingly impossible for domestic violence victims to meet. The DWP regulations are unfeasible to navigate if you’re living with violence. Victims are in incredibly vulnerable and in difficult situations, often to the detriment of their mental health. 3 of the 5 women domestic violence causalities per week are from suicide and as a result, the benefit system is contributing to the death of women.
Our demands on the DWP are as follows:
- That you do not implement any sanctions on people at any point who have disclosed that they are suffering from domestic violence and that domestic violence victims are not put on any disciplinary procedures.
- That you work with specialised domestic violence services to offer specialised training to all staff members to be able to ‘spot the signs’ of domestic violence and work with those who are suspected of being abused and signpost them onto specialised services in the area. Further that you do not sanction suspected domestic violence victim claimants at any point.
- That you enshrine in policy that domestic violence is a ‘good reason’ to appeal any benefit sanctions for those who have been sanctioned prior to domestic violence disclosure.
- That you work with domestic violence victims to find ways to give them job finding advice on terms that work and are safe for them.
- That you work alongside specialist domestic violence services such as women’s aid to produce a fuller long term plan which supports domestic violence benefit claimants.
- That you make this revised policy publicly visible online and displayed in DWP offices and job centres in order to reassure domestic violence victims that they can disclose their situation in order to get the best support.
The brutal truth is that the DWP benefit system is not helping domestic violence victims and is contributing to the loss of victim’s lives. Victims do not need the burden of this harsh and complex system when they’re already in an incredibly traumatic situation. There are cases where victims have escaped abuse, yet the abuse continues in the form of DWP sanctions.
We will not go away and we will not give up on this issue. We hope that you take our demands seriously and that you will be open to discussions on this matter.
Women’s lives matter collective - Yorkshire
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