REFUGES are not just simply a bed for the night. They are an essential lifeline, especially at this time of the year, for women and children fleeing abusive relationships.

When women arrive at a refuge, they often have nothing but the clothes they are wearing. No one makes the decision to leave their home or their community lightly. It is a decision made in the grip of crippling fear.

Hidden away within our towns and cities, refuges do phenomenal work on a shoestring budget, taking women and children out of harm’s way every single day.

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And it is precisely because these services are so vital that I am extremely concerned at the proposed changes to their funding.

The Government’s proposals, which have received cross party criticism, aim to remove refuges and other forms of short-term supported housing from the welfare system. This means that women using a refuge will no longer be able to pay for their accommodation using their housing benefit – and 53 per cent of refuges’ income comes from these housing benefit payments.

Instead, the Government proposes to hand a “ring-fenced” grant to local authorities for short-term supported housing. The problem here is this funding does not exclusively cover refuges – it is also aimed at supporting older people, homeless people, offenders, people with mental illnesses and drug addicts.

More than two-thirds of women escape to a refuge outside their local area for fear they will be hunted down by a perpetrator. Therefore, financially-challenged local authorities are not always keen to support a refuge that is used by women who do not come from the neighbourhood.

This means refuges must operate and be funded as a national network to ensure every woman can safely escape domestic abuse. We must not allow the access to a safe haven to become a postcode lottery.

The UK has lost 17 per cent of refuge provision in the last seven years alone. A Women’s Aid report showed that on just one single day this year, 94 women and 90 children were turned away from a refuge, while 60 per cent of referrals to refuges in 2016-2017 were declined.

Studies show that women are most at risk when leaving or just after they have left an abusive relationship. When they ask for help, they are in the most dangerous seconds, minutes, hours and days and it is sickening to think that these Government plans are going to make it harder for those women to find a safe place.

This is a matter that I care about enormously and have worked closely with our local service since I became an MP in 2010. Refuges provide a fantastic service for women regionally and I will do all I can to ensure they are allowed to continue their phenomenal work in to the future.

I am sure many of you reading this are as passionate about protecting these vital services as I am and as such I am planning to write an open letter to the Prime Minister, Theresa May.

If you would like to be added to this letter please email your name and address to jenny.chapman.mp@parliament.uk so we can show a united front against these proposals.

Jenny Chapman is the Labour MP for Darlington