21/02/2016 16:51 GMT | Updated 21/02/2017 05:12 GMT

An Open Letter to Iain Duncan Smith: Will Refuges Be Exempt From the Housing Benefit Cap?

Dear Secretary of State for Work and Pensions - the Rt Hon Iain Duncan Smith MP,

I am sure you've heard about the about the crisis facing domestic violence refuges discussed around the Cabinet table. Your colleagues, the home secretary and the secretary of state for communities and local government, have made it a priority to halt the closure of these lifesaving services. Women's Aid is genuinely grateful for what this government has done so far, and we are hoping for more once the new cross-government Violence Against Women and Girls strategy is announced.

Frankly, I cannot believe you genuinely want to undo all the work we and the government have done together to try to put refuges on a more secure footing. I think the disastrous impact the housing benefit cap will have on refuges is unintentional. But, make no mistake, it is dangerous.

Two years ago, refuges were being destroyed by funding cuts - often the first service to be deemed unnecessary by local authorities.

Women's Aid members - hundreds of domestic abuse services all over the country - asked us to do something before it was too late. So, we launched the 'SOS: Save Our Services' campaign. The government listened: we won £10 million in short-term emergency funding. Nine months later, we partnered with the Sun for the 'Give Me Shelter' campaign to take the refuge issue to a new and powerful audience. This ended in us going to Downing Street to hand in a letter to the chancellor - who listened again. We won a further £3million, and George Osborne released a statement of support. Women's Aid pushed refuges onto the political agenda, and the extra £13million has saved many of these lifesaving services.

But, many refuges are still operating with half the funding they used to have. Thousands of women and children fleeing for their lives every year still need support. We still need a long-term solution, and we hope that the £40million of domestic abuse funding from DCLG will be used to develop a long-term sustainable system.

If you do not exempt refuges from the housing benefit cap, you will destroy all of these good intentions, and the £13million already spent will have been in vain. Whilst Women's Aid and your colleagues have been shoring up the cost of care and support, you will be taking away the funding that covers the rent and living costs in refuges, slicing it from about £300 per room per week to £60-£100. You do the maths. Refuges will not survive.

Yes, refuge funding is frustratingly complex. That's not the fault of refuges, who have fought to keep going for decades, pulling together funding from a range of sources. It's why a funding crisis which literally costs women's and children's lives can go unnoticed until people like us start to make a fuss.

Thank you for all the government has done: emergency funding, investment in earlier support for women and children, a genuine focus on violence against women. Please don't undermine it all. It makes no political sense. And it will cost lives. We need you to tell us, and right now: will refuges be exempt from the housing benefit cap?

I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Yours sincerely,

Polly Neate

Chief Executive, Women's Aid