Support for battered women often is a cover up for benefit fraud. But it’s not immigrant Poles who cheat.
by Janusz Mlynarski, The Polish Observer
01 September 2011. What happens in a London shelter for single mothers, disproves the fact that the biggest beneficiaries of social assistance among immigrants are our fellow Poles…
For example, in one of the shelters for single mothers in London, you can see at a glance that British taxpayers’ money is going down the drain, and not – contrary to what the local tabloids write – on these "terrible Poles." Donors supporting organizations under the banner of "shelters for women" should also look at what they get for their money.
Shelters are most often associated with collective rooms, shared bathrooms and kitchens … but such places in Britain were last seen during the war. Currently, they are comfortable apartments equipped with modern kitchens and decent bathrooms. That’s what women’s shelters are. In London alone there are about 200, and maybe more – it’s hard to count them, because new ones always come out.
These facilities are usually provided to victims of domestic violence, or women who as a result of random events do not have a place to live. Priority is given to women with children. For ladies holding a British passport, and satisfying the conditions, it is relatively easy to get in, a bit harder – but no too much – for EU citizens.
Maja had no choice, she had to run away with her child from her husband – a tyrant. She told the police she had nowhere to go, so the police placed her for two days in a private guest house (expenses were covered by the local authorities) and after that transported her to a shelter for women in west London.
This facility was like a dream. A nice quiet neighbourhood. A small building set in a large park, a few steps away from Acton Central station and numerous shops. After the nightmare Maja had with her husband, this flat was paradise. As she had a child, she received a one-room apartment with kitchen and bathroom. A roommate who had no children received a room to share with other woman. Clean and nice. Unfortunately, all this peace turned out to be misleading.
On the bottom floor there was an office which housed the shelter management. Ladies worked there from 10:00 to 18:00 then there was relative peace. Everything would change after they left, as the office was left unattended, except the one camera monitoring the entrance to the building.
Inviting outsiders was strictly forbidden, but most tenants did not comply. They invited not only their friends but also men. "Needless to say under what purposes," says Maja.
It was also illegal to bring alcohol in the shelter, but nobody really controls it, and even from time to time, the characteristic smell of marihuana was present in the air.
"Now, perhaps a little less, because the police closed down the nearest supply point by arresting the dealers, but not so far ago, girls from the shelter were the regular customers there” says Ramon, who lives opposite the building.
The local residents have become accustomed to the wild screams and fights that occur most frequently on weekends (when only camera monitor the shelter), but from time to time they call the police, who – admittedly – come fairly quickly, but late enough for the uninvited guests to disappear, either inside the rooms where the cops cannot not enter withouta search warrant, or in the park.
"Most of these women live off prostitution," said Ramona’s neighbour, Simon. "I know it because I was there, not once only. I can tell you how much they take for that “pleasure”, but sometimes they’re satisfied by a joint or a few drinks. They live with this quite well, believe me – they can earn some 400 pounds a week," adds Simon.
It turns out that there are plenty eager for a cheap sex, but not everyone is very welcome there. A group of Somalis who come there from Harlesden are regular customers and they are also very jealous too. They simply do not like “competition” so it sometimes happened that they’d beat others up bad and even use knives. Women from the shelter are, however, " mobile ", so they can visit some clients in their homes, where the Somalis have no access. But are they all not afraid of the camera?
"They are not afraid, because they stretch hoods on their heads, so it is difficult to recognize them, and the camera is positioned so that it records only the person who opens the doors”, says Maja, confirming that many of her roommates worked as a prostitutes.
These types of shelters generally do not belong to the Government, but to various charities so there is nothing to cling to. Moreover, who is sleeping with whom and for how much is a private matter. Well, not exactly …
"The government pays benefits to these people. The amount varies – sometimes 20 pounds a week, sometimes 90. Multiply this amount by the around one thousand women living in shelters, and you get an idea of the high sums that go for it from our taxes” – says Emma, a former employee in three London shelters.
"But that’s not all. In my experience many women in the shelter should not even be there – they lie in the recruitment interview", she adds.
The criteria by which the shelters accept women are actually very "friendly". All you need is to make an appointment by phone, say a few words about your situation, and then confirm it in n interview. You can say whatever nonsense, because nobody verifies, you do not need to submit any referrals, documents from the police or the court, the opinion of psychologist or other specialists – you "say and do." The most common scam is to present yourself as a battered woman, victim of a violent partner, thug, etc… even if a partner simply does not exist. On this basis, the staff compiles a "report", the lady gets access to the shelter and becomes a candidate for other kinds of benefits as well.
"And this is all about cheating to get a flat from the government: later the "victim" and her partner, the alleged gunman, enjoy the new dwelling together, which should go to those more in need," says Maja.
Polish women, who according to local tabloids suck from the British social assistance budget, hardly use any of the shelters. I made phone calls to 14 shelters for battered women in London and I founded only two Polish girls there. People from the administration of that institutions with whom I spoke, agreed that Polish women are very rare.
Read the article in Polish on www.thepolishobserver.co.uk