The cost of living is preventing women from fleeing domestic abuse
- Almost all survivors (96%) responding had seen a negative impact on the amount of money available to them as a result of cost of living increases.
- Two thirds (66%) of survivors told us that abusers are now using the cost of living increase and concerns about financial hardship as a tool for coercive control, including to justify further restricting their access to money.
- Almost 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.
We know, and research by Women’s Aid and others shows, that many women who face domestic abuse already experience economic control by their abuser. This financial disadvantage means these women face further barriers when trying to leave, recover and rebuild their lives after abuse. The soaring cost of living compounds this crisis, making it even harder for women to escape abuse.
At Women’s Aid, we quickly saw through our LiveChat and other direct services that women experiencing domestic abuse are even more concerned about the impact this will have on their safety and their future. The Women’s Aid research team set out to ensure that survivors’ voices are heard in responses to the cost of living crisis and issued a survey in June 2022 to find out what women are experiencing, and what they want to see happen. The full results of our survey can be seen in this document.
Women experiencing domestic abuse are worried about being able to pay for essentials
Unsurprisingly we found that almost all survivors (96%) responding had seen a negative impact on the amount of money available to them as a result of cost of living increases with a quarter (24%) saying they’d needed to access food banks. While living with the trauma of abuse, they also tell us they are worried about paying bills (74%) or being able to afford food (61%).
“Everything has gone up in one go. Everything.”
Economic abuse creates an uneven financial playing field and adds to the pressures survivors face
On top of these financial hardships, which many of us face, women living with their abuser are often financially dependent on them too. In our survey, 27% of women in this group told us they had limited or no access to money at the time due to limits imposed by the abuser.
Economic abuse takes many forms and has a profound impact. During the last year, 37% of all respondents said their abuser made it difficult for them to work, or prevented them from doing so and over a third (39%) said the perpetrator refused to pay child maintenance. Economic abuse along with increased financial hardship as a result of the cost of living crisis creates an unequal financial starting point for survivors.
“[My abuser] would check accounts when I had the debit card. If I was food shopping, would ask how much I’ve spent, to see if I was truthful as he had already checked online. [They] would hide the car keys or leave the car with no fuel. [They] would not top up the gas and electric meters so I had to spend all day with no gas or electric.”
Abusers are already using the cost of living crisis as a tool for abuse
Two thirds (66%) of survivors told us that abusers are now using the cost of living increase and concerns about financial hardship as a tool for coercive control. As we saw with the Covid-19 pandemic, abusers will use any means available to exert control and create a climate of fear.
A fifth of survivors (21%) told us their abuser used the crisis to justify controlling their access to money. Women also talked about ex-partners using the crisis to justify reducing child maintenance payments.
“[The abuser] makes me feel guilty for not doing enough to contribute to rising bills. Pushes me for more money, but makes me feel guilty and like I’m neglecting him and my family by taking extra shifts.”
The crisis has further isolated survivors
Survivors talked about feeling isolated as a result of the cost of living crisis. For example, more than two thirds (67%) of survivors told us they were forced to spend more time at home because they were not able to afford activities outside the home or because they had to work more to make ends meet. When your home is not a safe place to be, the implications of this are horrifying and more than four out of five (83%) respondents said the cost of living crisis had a negative impact on their wellbeing or mental health.
“I have felt more isolated as I already cannot leave the home without permission. Not being able to afford activities means that I cannot leave at all.”
The cost of living is preventing women from fleeing
On top of existing barriers to leaving a relationship and dealing with the trauma of domestic abuse, survivors tell us that they now have a set of new barriers to face when considering whether they can escape abuse. For women sharing housing and finances with the abuser, cost of living increases have created a new barrier to leaving. Almost three quarters of this group (73%) said that the cost of living crisis had either prevented them from leaving or made it harder for them to leave.
The majority of survivors who told us that the cost of living crisis has stopped them being able to end a relationship, or made it more difficult to do so, said this was due to the immediate costs of leaving (67%) or not being able to afford ongoing living costs on a single income (69%). Some explained that they were prevented from fleeing by the stark reality of not being able to support their children (50%), getting into debt (52%) or that benefits wouldn’t cover increased living costs (48%).
“I feel like my only option to keep my kids is to go back to the marital home where he nearly killed me.”
Support services are there for survivors but also feel the impact of cost of living increases
Women’s Aid members tell us how cost increases affect them. Rising utility costs mean refuge services in particular are seeing a devasting impact on their outgoings as they look to cover increases from reserves rather than pass on to residents. This is not sustainable long-term and one member noted that refuge residents will not benefit from government measures to help with energy costs where the refuge uses a bulk energy contract, rather than individual meters. Members are concerned about not being able to afford cost of living pay increases, creating challenges with recruitment and financial difficulties for their staff. At the same time, the value of contracts are not increasing in line with these additional costs meaning they have to be met in other ways.
“We have just renewed our energy costs with our bulk supplier and the costs have increased by 300%. We built a 45% increase in to our budgets, but the 300% increase have completely blown our financial plan for this year. We would normally pass increases on to our residents in the refuge…but this would not be affordable – it would stop victims from moving in to refuges.”
What needs to happen?
That women in 2022 are having to remain with their abuser because they are afraid of not being able to provide for themselves or their children is alarming to say the least and must be addressed.
Survivors tell us they want to see more direct financial and practical support to help them through the crisis such as mortgage holidays and support with paying for bills and essential items. They want to see funding for housing options to enable women to escape domestic abuse and increase wages for the professionals working to support them.
Women’s Aid is calling for:
- An Emergency Support Fund administered by a network of specialist domestic abuse services and accessible to survivors regardless of immigration status, to support survivors of domestic abuse through this crisis period.
- Urgent, practical support for specialist domestic abuse services
- The Government to establish an independently chaired taskforce to review recruitment and retention in the domestic abuse and wider violence against women and girls (VAWG) sector. The taskforce must be chaired by a VAWG expert, and involve specialist VAWG organisations and specialist ‘by and for’ services, as well as local commissioners and funders.
- A Government guarantee to provide services with support with energy bills until the crisis is over, and that no specialist domestic abuse services will close. The government must also provide immediate clarity on how energy bill support can be accessed where there are difficulties.
- Ensure local authorities and police and crime commissioners set contracts with services to pay workers at the Real National Living Wage.
- Reduce the impact of legal costs for survivors to enable them to seek justice
- Abolish the means test for legal aid for survivors of domestic abuse.
- Fund specialist advocacy services for all survivors.
- Provide additional support to women with No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) to ensure they can access immigration advice/and support with their visa fees.
- Exempt survivors of domestic abuse from the benefit cap and end the two-child tax credit limit these are huge barriers for women with children when fleeing abusers.
- Abolish the No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) condition for survivors of domestic abuse and extend eligibility for the existing Domestic Violence (DV) Rule, to ensure all women with insecure immigration status are supported to escape abuse.
- Local authorities must prioritise supporting women with NRPF experiencing domestic abuse directly during the cost-of-living crisis – and set aside emergency funds to do so.
- The government must urgently provide clarity about what funding will be provided for accommodating survivors with NRPF, specifically the Support for Migrant Victims run by Southall Black Sisters concludes in March 2023).
Farah Nazeer, chief executive of Women’s Aid said:
“The current cost of living crisis has been devastating for survivors of domestic abuse. Women’s Aid surveyed women who have experienced domestic abuse in the past year and the majority (96%) said the crisis had a negative impact on their financial situation.
We know that domestic abuse and economic abuse go hand in hand with abusers often controlling every aspect of a woman’s life. The soaring energy and food costs, coupled with stagnant wages, will leave many women more vulnerable to abuse.
“Women have told us that they are being trapped because of their dire financial situation, two thirds (66%) of survivors told us that abusers are now using the cost of living increase and concerns about financial hardship as a tool for coercive control.
Women who live with their abuser are often financially dependent on them, almost three quarters of this group (73%) said that the cost of living crisis had either prevented them from leaving or made it harder for them to leave.
“This crisis is having an unprecedented impact on women and children and requires urgent action. While the government has made some positive progress in this area, more must be done. We urge the government to provide an Emergency Support Fund for Survivors to offset the impact of the cost of living crisis. We also ask that the government offers discounts on energy bills to domestic abuse services that provide lifesaving support.
“We are quickly approaching the winter months where the crisis will only get worse. Survivors have suffered enough, having been trapped in their homes during COVID: they must be offered the help they need to support their children and to be free from abuse.”
For further information, please contact: [email protected]