Wales politics

Minister's domestic abuse warning about welfare reforms

Carl Sargeant
Image caption Carl Sargeant launched a campaign warning about the signs of domestic abuse

Welfare reforms could make it harder for female victims of domestic abuse to leave violent partners, a Welsh government minister has said.

At meetings in London, Carl Sargeant raised concerns with UK ministers about their changes to the benefits system.

Benefits will be paid to one member of the household when a new system is introduced next year.

But the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) said payments can be split in cases of domestic abuse.

Welsh Labour is planning legislation that would put new duties on public bodies to have an anti-domestic abuse strategy.

Although criminal law is not devolved, Welsh government sources say they want to improve the sometimes "patchy" services available to help abuse victims.

A white paper on a domestic abuse bill is expected next month.

Local Government Minister Mr Sargeant said the bill would complement existing laws when he addressed a conference in London on Thursday.

Later he met Home Office minister Jeremy Browne and welfare reform minister Lord Freud to express "grave concerns" about the Westminster coalition's changes to benefits.

In a major reform of the system, it will introduce the new universal credit next year.

It merges six benefits - housing benefit, jobseeker's allowance, income support, child tax credit, working tax credit and employment support allowance - into one monthly payment.

Mr Sargeant said: "This single payment to one family member could have a detrimental effect on victims of domestic abuse who are still living with their partners.

"It is likely to make it harder for an abused partner to leave a violent relationship if they have no financial independence."

He added that a cap on housing benefit could also disadvantage people escaping violent relationships who flee to refuges.

"This may result in them having to pay double rent for both the refuge and their existing property," he said.

"This would be made even more difficult by the reduction of their housing benefits. I will press the UK government as to whether they will agree to take this into account when an application for payment to refuge is received."

Mr Sargeant this week launched a publicity campaign encouraging people to look out for the warning signs of domestic abuse.

A DWP spokesperson said: "We will continue to support victims of domestic abuse so no one will lose out under our welfare reforms.

"Our flexible system will ensure that in cases of domestic violence benefit payments could be split and paid separately.

"We will also help meet the higher costs often associated with providing supported accommodation, and have set up a £120m fund to support vulnerable people who are affected by the benefit cap."

Additional funding will be available to provide discretionary payments for people affected by the benefit cap, the DWP added.

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