Warning on abuse victim benefits
Victims of domestic violence could lose unemployment benefits under changes driven by the Government's spending cuts, the TUC has warned.
Support groups, charities and shelters helping women suffering from violence are being cut back or completely closed because of reductions in Government funding, leaving them under-resourced to give advice, said the union organisation.
Under the 2009 Welfare Act, due to be implemented later this year, domestic violence victims claiming jobseeker's allowance (JSA) can receive financial support for around three months without being available for work or actively seeking work - the normal criteria required to qualify for the benefit.
Jobcentre Plus advisers can extend this deferral by a further 11 weeks, giving up to 24 weeks' grace for the most serious cases, but the TUC voiced concern over plans for victims of domestic violence to provide written evidence of their abuse from their doctors or relevant support organisations to receive the grace time period.
TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: "The Government has paid lip service to the importance of violence against women services while at the same time forcing many to close their doors or scale back their work due to funding cuts.
"As services are cut and closed, those suffering from domestic violence are left high and dry at a time when they most need support to escape violence and to rebuild their lives.
"Now the Government is decreeing that domestic violence victims must produce written evidence from these very same overstretched and hard-pressed services in order to qualify for a key JSA grace period.
"This 13-week timeframe will give those who have suffered from violence in the home a vital chance to escape the abuse - which in many cases involves moving to another area and building a new life from scratch - without the pressure of having to find work at the same time.
"By cutting vital support services, and introducing new obstacles and needless red tape, the burden of the cuts is once again falling on some of the most vulnerable people in society."
Women's Aid chief executive officer Nicola Harwin said: "While Women's Aid welcomes the provision for victims of domestic violence to be exempt from the requirement to seek work for up to 24 weeks, we are concerned about the current proposals for evidence requirements, as well as the need to provide training for Jobcentre staff to ensure they are able to respond appropriately to victims."