By Lee Mannion
LONDON, Nov 29 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - More than 4,000 women and children fleeing domestic violence in Britain could have nowhere safe to go under proposed welfare reforms, rights campaigners said on Wednesday.
The charity Women's Aid estimates that funding reforms could force a third of 300 refuge services in England and Wales to close their doors, forcing victims of violence to sleep rough or return to live with abusers.
"Refuges will be faced with the awful reality of either turning more women and children away or closing their doors forever," Katie Ghose, head of Women's Aid, said in a statement.
Domestic violence is rife in England and Wales with an average of two women a week being killed by their partner or ex-partner, she said.
Women seeking protection from abuse currently use housing benefit welfare payments to pay to stay in refuges but the government proposes to give grants to local councils instead.
A government spokesman said its aim was to "remove the need for vulnerable people to pay their rent at a difficult time in their lives" and to give refuges more certainty over funding.
"Domestic abuse is a devastating crime and we're taking action to make sure that no victim is turned away from the support they need," he said via email.
Demand for refuges already outstrips supply, with almost 200 women and children being turned away on one day in England this year, Women's Aid said.
"The government must now drop these shameful and damaging proposals," Sophie Walker, head of Britain's Women's Equality Party, said in emailed comments.
The plans show that the government does not understand gender inequality, she said, coming in the wake of allegations of improper behaviour by powerful men in British politics.
(Reporting by Lee Mannion @leemannion. Editing by Katy Migiro and Kieran Guilbert. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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