Opinion

Domestic abuse is escalating in the cost of living crisis. We need urgent change

This International Women's Day, Refuge calls for change to protect survivors of domestic abuse from the cost of living crisis

domestic abuse

Change is needed to protect women in the cost of living crisis. Image: Unsplash

It is safe to say that, over the last few years, everyone has been impacted by the cost of living crisis in some way. While there have been lots of conversations across society about the impact of the crisis, there is one group of people who are often overlooked in these discussions. This International Women’s Day, it is important that we recognise the impact that the cost of living crisis is having on survivors of domestic abuse, and question what changes need to be made.

The cost of living crisis has had, and continues to have, a significant impact on survivors of domestic abuse and is hindering their ability to live a life free from fear. Survivors are being impacted in multiple ways and at various points of their healing journey.  

The increased cost of living has meant that, devastatingly, many survivors are having to make the impossible decision between staying with an abuser and the risks that come with that or potentially facing homelessness and destitution. This reality is amplified further for women with additional barriers, including those who are living with disabilities, or those who have no recourse to public funds. No one should ever have to make the choice between safety and financial devastation, but sadly, the cost of living crisis means that many women are being forced to.  

As well as putting survivors in impossible positions, the cost of living crisis is frighteningly creating opportunities for perpetrators to escalate abuse. Perpetrators are calculated and always find ways to manipulate situations to facilitate abuse. Frontline staff at Refuge have reported that perpetrators are increasingly withholding funds from survivors, accruing debt in their name, and restricting a survivor’s ability to work, making it harder for women to leave abusers and having a long-lasting impact on survivors who do flee and rebuild their lives after experiencing domestic abuse.

In order for survivors of domestic abuse to be supported through the cost of living crisis, we need to see firm funding commitments from the government. As it stands, there is currently a deficit in what the government provides and what service providers such as Refuge need. The landmark Domestic Abuse Act of 2021 placed a duty on local authorities to provide safe accommodation to survivors, but the £127m allocated for 2023/2024 as part of the act, falls far short of the estimated £189m needed to adequately fund safe accommodation services in England.  

Community-based services, another essential lifeline for survivors, are underfunded too. While 95% of the survivors Refuge supports accessed services in the community, data from The Domestic Abuse Commissioner’s Office showed that less that 50% of the survivors who wanted to access community-based services were able to in 2022.  

The Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) sector has been chronically underfunded for decades. Despite pressure from the sector, and constant campaigning, government after government has overlooked the financial needs of services that support women and girls and continually made weak and inadequate funding commitments that simply do not reflect the demand on them.  

Earlier this week, Refuge and other specialist VAWG organisations, sent a letter to the chancellor of the exchequer, Jeremey Hunt, and the justice secretary, Alex Chalk, urging them to give the VAWG sector the much-needed cash injection it needs in the Spring Budget.

The coalition called for the government to provide a total of £427m annually for specialist domestic abuse services in England – including £238m ring-fenced for community-based services and £189m ring-fenced for accommodation-based services. We also called for a separate, national ‘by and for’ ringfenced funding pot to provide long overdue investment for specialist services for deaf and disabled, LGBTQ+, Black, minoritised, and migrant women, including those with no recourse to public funds, so that women who are marginalised don’t have to face additional barriers to accessing support.  

In this general election year, it is important that survivors of domestic abuse are not ignored or overlooked. Refuge urges all parties and candidate to include women and girls in their campaigning plans, and for strong sustainable funding commitments to be made. Domestic abuse is not an individual issue but a societal one that we all need to come together to overcome.

While International Women’s Day is a time for celebration, it is also a time for reflection. It is important that we use the opportunity that this day presents to amplify the voices of survivors and inform society of the impact that the tough economic climate is having on them. No woman or child should feel they have to choose between safety and freedom, but without adequate funding for support services such as Refuge that is the message that is sent to survivors of domestic abuse.  

Refuge’s message to survivors is clear – you are not alone; Refuge is here for you; we will be there for you when there is nowhere else to turn. Our message to the government is just as loud; this issue cannot be ignored. On average two women in England and Wales are killed by their current or former partner each week. One in four women will experience domestic abuse in their lifetimes. Fund these services. The cost of not doing so is often women’s freedom or their lives.

Abigial Ampofo is the interim CEO of Refuge.

Do you have a story to tell or opinions to share about this? We want to hear from you. Get in touch and tell us more.

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