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Supporting People Programmes

Volume 517: debated on Thursday 28 October 2010

1. What recent representations she has received on the likely effect on women victims of domestic violence of reductions in funding to Supporting People programmes. (19942)

We have received no such representations. However, we have been meeting a number of organisations that provide support to women who are victims of domestic violence, and most recently my hon. Friend the Minister for Equalities met the chief executive of Refuge to discuss exactly that issue. I am pleased to be able to tell the right hon. Lady that following widespread consultation with the voluntary sector, the Government have committed to providing £6.5 billion to the Supporting People programme over the next four years.

That is, of course, a real-terms cut in the supported housing programme. Women’s refuges also get their money through housing benefit and, at present, they are allowed to charge rates above the local housing cap, and therefore access more benefit than the cap would allow. Will that exemption continue, given the decisions that have been taken to impose that housing cap across all areas of the country?

I thank the right hon. Lady for her concern in relation to support for refuges. We will consult on welfare reform proposals more widely, and that issue can certainly be considered. In relation to the support that refuges provide for victims of domestic violence, I am pleased to tell her that this Government have been able to extend until the end of this financial year the pilot period of the sojourner project dealing with victims who have no recourse to public funds. That is another matter on which we are considering longer-term solutions to ensure that refuges can provide support for the women who need their services.

Will the Minister ensure that all domestic violence centres have access under one roof to welfare, housing and the criminal justice system so that the victim can access them at one single point as is the case at the Croydon family justice centre?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for mentioning the very good model at the family justice centre in Croydon, which is based on an experience that was developed in New York. I was pleased to visit a centre in New York a couple of months ago and see the benefits there. The Croydon model is a very good one, but it will not necessarily fit all areas. In more rural communities, for example, a single point might not be the answer. Some very good work has been done by Cherwell district council on how to ensure that there is inter-agency working in rural areas where a single physical centre is not always the answer.

May I press the Minister on her answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Margaret Hodge), as there is considerable concern about this issue? The Supporting People budget is being cut by 11% and the ring-fencing is being removed so that refuges and supported housing will have to take their chances among competing areas while local council budgets are being cut by more than 25%. The Minister has not explained what will happen to housing benefit support for those women who are going into refuges and who are badly in need of support and protection. I do not think her answer was sufficient, and I ask her to consider this further and provide the House with some reassurance. She will know that there is great concern that the spending review is already hitting women twice as hard as men. Will she stand up for women who may be affected by domestic violence and will she guarantee that there will be no reduction in help and support for women who badly need it?

I welcome the right hon. Lady to her position. She held the same position before the leadership elections within the Labour party, but I welcome her again now she has been reappointed. I am sure that we will have a number of interesting exchanges on this issue and I hope that we will work co-operatively on many areas of women’s issues and equality, as is right and appropriate.

The right hon. Lady asks about ring-fencing and the Supporting People funding, but the decision to remove that ring-fencing was first taken by the Labour Government because it has not been ring-fenced since 2009. On the question that the right hon. Member for Barking (Margaret Hodge) asked, a White Paper will be produced before the welfare reform Bill. It will be possible for people to make representations on specific issues such as the impact of housing benefit changes on refuges and for those representations to be taken into account.