- Cost of living crisis is rapidly becoming a national emergency for domestic abuse victims
- In some cases, this crisis could mean the difference between life and death for domestic abuse victims who can’t afford to leave perpetrators
- The crisis will only get worse as the winter months approach, warns Nicole Jacobs
- The Domestic Abuse Commissioner has written to the Chancellor calling for a national emergency fund for all victims to be able to access
- Stretched services are struggling to cope with extra demand and increased costs
- Political paralysis and lack of decisive action over the past few months has hit victims and survivors hard
- New stats from Surviving Economic Abuse’s Financial Support Line with Money Advice Plus show 67% of victim-survivors of domestic abuse are already in a negative budget or have less than £100 surplus at the end of each month
- Victim-survivors currently have an individual average debt of £20,000 – six times more than in 2020. After the winter, this is expected to be even higher, according to SEA and Money Advice Plus
The huge increases to the cost of living are having a devastating impact on everyone across the UK but the Domestic Abuse Commissioner says it’s a national emergency for domestic abuse victims and for the services that support them.
Nicole Jacobs has written to the new Chancellor of the Exchequer calling for urgent and immediate action. She said that the recent political inactivity had had a disastrous knock-on impact for victims.
In line with other key domestic abuse charities including Women’s Aid and Surviving Economic Abuse, she is urging Jeremy Hunt to create a national emergency fund which is accessible to all victims across England and Wales. This fund would allow survivors to access £500 in order to support them to escape abuse – which must include migrant survivors with no recourse to public funds.
The Domestic Abuse Commissioner says cost of living pressures are having a disproportionate and devastating impact on victims and survivors of domestic abuse which in some cases could mean the difference between life and death.
Ms Jacobs warns that the situation will only get worse as winter approaches and that Government must act now to ensure that every victim gets the support they need to have a safe roof over their head.
“It is always difficult to leave an abuser but the cost of living crisis is making it increasingly hard for victims to find the resources to leave and we are seeing that abusers are using concerns of financial hardship as an extra tool for coercive control” Ms Jacobs said.
Victims and survivors who lack financial means face a devastating and impossible choice -exacerbated by the cost of living crisis – between leaving their abuser or staying out of fear of not being able to pay the bills or provide for their children.
In a recent survey by Women’s Aid, survivors said they were prevented from fleeing by the stark reality of not being able to support their children (50%), getting into debt (52%), or concerns that benefits wouldn’t cover increased living costs (48%).
Almost 70 per cent of the survivors surveyed said they do not have savings of £200 or more; 67.2% could not get £500 together if they needed to and 62.0% had borrowed money from family and/or friends to cover essential needs.
Research shows that women who do not have immediate access to cash at short notice are 3.5 times more likely to experience domestic abuse and will face considerable, additional barriers to leaving an abusive partner.
The Women’s Aid survey also found that three quarters (73%) of women living with and having financial links with the abuser said that the cost of living crisis had either prevented them from leaving or made it harder for them to leave.
Farah Nazeer, chief executive of Women’s Aid said: “We are quickly approaching the winter months where the crisis will only get worse– rising energy costs will leave many women more vulnerable to abuse. This crisis is having an unprecedented impact on women and children and requires urgent action. The recent energy announcement does not go far enough – and has created a great degree of uncertainty for frontline services and survivors.
“We therefore urge the government to provide an emergency support fund for survivors to pay for essentials and help them to flee, as well as clarity on how the energy price guarantee will apply to domestic abuse services, including those with communal heat networks, with assurance this support will last until the end of the crisis. Survivors have suffered enough – they must be offered the help they need to support their children and to be free from abuse.”
One of the charities that supports male victims said that they were also seeing increased demand and more pressures on the survivors that contact them.
Ippo Panteloudakis, Head of Services at Respect, said: “This is an issue that will be affecting every victim of domestic abuse, regardless of gender. Callers to the Men’s Advice Line have said that the cost-of-living crisis, particularly the price of energy, is leading to arguments and increased tension at home. More must be done to support victims as the crisis deepens”
Charity Surviving Economic Abuse has seen an increase in web traffic in recent months.
They strongly expect to see a rise in economic abuse when the crisis takes hold this winter as abusers will use victim-survivors’ economic vulnerabilities to exert further control.
Dr Nicola Sharp-Jeffs OBE, CEO of Surviving Economic Abuse said: “It is impossible to separate physical safety from economic safety. Those working with victim-survivors have told us they expect rising living costs to bring “a tsunami” of abuse as abusers use crises as an excuse to establish or increase control over their partner’s finances – putting pressure on partners to move in sooner to combat rising costs, restricting fuel access, or deliberately running up bills in partners’ names.
“Usual routes for safety or respite won’t be available because friends and family may not have capacity to support survivors during this crisis, further restricting options. Victim-survivors of economic abuse have barely had a chance to catch their breath from the coronavirus pandemic, and the spiralling living costs will put those already vulnerable at further risk. It has never been more important for the government to act and ensure victims can reach safety.”
In her letter to the Chancellor Ms Jacobs is also calling for increased funding to support survivors of economic abuse, given that we are expecting to see an increase in this form of abuse as a result of the crisis.
Services are also struggling to provide support. Many are telling us about the increased complexity of cases and heightened risk faced by victims and survivors. The hardship that survivors are experiencing is further compounded because specialist domestic abuse services are increasingly struggling to meet demand.
As a result of the cost of living crisis, already stretched specialist domestic abuse services will find it increasingly difficult to maintain a normal service for a myriad of reasons; including heightened running and energy costs, higher service demand and serious recruitment and retention challenges.
This is especially true when it comes to specialist ‘by and for’ services which are chronically underfunded at the best of times.
The frontline domestic abuse charity, Refuge, estimates that its costs to keep their services going are likely to rise exponentially in the very near future.
Ruth Davison, Refuge CEO said: “Survivors of domestic abuse are at increased risk as a direct result of the cost of living crisis. Refuge’s frontline workers are telling me that they are concerned that survivors simply cannot afford to leave their perpetrators, and that many are being forced to continue to rely on foodbanks for the basics that they need.
“A survey of 60 Refuge staff working directly with survivors in specialist domestic abuse services found that as a result of the cost-of-living increases, the survivors they support are getting into debt or further debt (92%), needing to use food banks (75%), falling into rent arrears (81%), can’t afford food for them and their children and/or skipping meals. 68% of Refuge’s frontline staff said that the cost-of-living crisis was leading to survivors ‘questioning whether they made the right decision to leave their perpetrator due to struggles to afford the basics.’ Some frontline workers reported that women have returned to perpetrators as they can’t afford to live alone or as a single parent.”
“This is a situation which the government must address rapidly and with rigour, and Refuge stands alongside the Domestic Abuse Commissioner in asking for these vital changes. Women should never have to make the impossible decision between staying with an abusive partner or face fleeing into poverty.”
The Domestic Abuse Commissioner says the Government must extend any support packages available to consumers or businesses to charities and support services. She is also asking the Chancellor to allow survivors to be exempt from the legal aid means test.
“We know that legal support can be critical for victims and survivors in order to access protection and justice but is already prohibitively expensive. Under the current circumstances victims must be able to access legal aid without any barriers,” she added.
Notes to Editors:
- Please find the recent survey by Women’s Aid here: www.womensaid.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2022/08/Womens_Aid_cost_of_living_survivor_survey_July_22.pdf
- Surviving Economic Abuse: New stats from the Financial Support Line run by SEA with Money Advice Plus are here: https://survivingeconomicabuse.org/tsunami-of-need-for-abuse-victims-sea-and-map-issue-stark-warning-ahead-of-winter-cost-of-living-crisis/
- Surviving Economic Abuse: Transforming responses to economic abuse
Please find the recent research by Refuge here: Refuge – For women and children. Against domestic abuse.
- ‘By and for services’ are organisations run by minoritized groups that provide specialist support for and are rooted in the communities they serve.