This week the Secure Tenancies (Victims of Domestic Violence) Bill passed it second reading unopposed in the House of Commons. The Bill is the result of pressure from the Labour Party in opposition to some of the measures outlined in the Housing and Planning Act (2016) brought in to ban councils from offering lifetime tenancies to people with low incomes living in council properties. Despite the fact that the final wording of the Act included many exemptions to this, like allowing people with small children access to lifetime tenancies, my Labour colleagues and I made clear that it didn’t go far enough to protect people who are victim to domestic violence. Without the guarantee that they will be given secure tenancies elsewhere, domestic abuse victims are far less likely to feel that they can leave abusive households.
This is why the Secure Tenancies (Victims of Domestic Violence) Bill can be seen as a welcome step forward in recognising the need to support people fleeing domestic violence. The Bill’s promise is that local authorities will now have to provide secure tenancies to victims of domestic violence that are forced to leave secure tenancy homes to escape abuse.
But the massive funding cuts that this Tory Government has forced on our councils in recent years mean that, in reality, the bill does very little to offer victims of domestic violence the security and protection they need to rebuild their lives.
Since 2010, Government funding for affordable council and housing association properties has fallen by three quarters nationally. In Liverpool and Knowsley, our council budgets have been slashed by more than half since 2010. If these cuts continue, the money simply won’t be there to make sure that alternative housing provision for domestic violence victims is available.
Ongoing cuts to women’s refuges, which provide short term support for those fleeing abusive households, mean that many shelters are now struggling to stay afloat and provide this vital lifeline. Now the Government are also proposing measures to remove all housing benefit support for residents of women’s refuges. The organisations who run them warn that this could lead to up to half of their refuges closing once this funding is removed.
The Secure Tenancies (Victims of Domestic Violence) Bill does nothing to solve these issues. We need a Government that will look at the bigger picture, that will properly fund our essential services, and one that will truly support our most vulnerable. Only a Labour Government will.