Opinion

Domestic abuse: The hidden housing crisis

'The fear of violence and abuse in women's own homes remains a terrible reality' writes Lizzie McCarthy, a senior policy and research officer at Women’s Aid

International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women is going to be different this year. Marches to reclaim the night as a safe space for women have been postponed, women’s rallies cancelled, and events to discuss the work needed to stop violence against women have moved online. 

The fear of violence and abuse in their own homes, however, remains a terrible reality for many women. This fear has been heightened as opportunities for escape and support are narrowed under lockdown restrictions and perpetrators manipulate the context caused by the pandemic to assert control.

Women often tell us at Women’s Aid that they have to weigh up the impossible dilemma between staying in a home where they are at risk of harm or leaving to face homelessness. 

Homelessness and rough sleeping is a reality for many survivors of domestic abuse. In the year ending January 2020, just under 40 per cent of survivors supported by the specialist practitioners in Women’s Aid’s No Woman Turned Away project had been ‘sofa surfing’ with friends or family and 7 per cent had been forced to sleep rough.   

Our recent research on housing and domestic abuse found that of those survivors surveyed who were in a relationship with an abusive partner at the time, nearly 70 per cent reported that their housing situation and concerns about future housing were stopping them from leaving. 

One survivor summed up her situation as “horrible, living in fear with an abuser but safer with one than on the streets…”

Survivors taking part in our research also told us of their anxieties of potentially having to live in unsuitable shared accommodation with strangers while recovering from the trauma of experiencing domestic abuse. 

This included the possibility of having to share housing with men after leaving a relationship with an abusive man. For those survivors temporarily living with friends or family, living conditions were often overcrowded as well as unsafe because their relative’s or friend’s address was usually known to the perpetrator. 

Specialist women’s refuges are vital parts of the response to domestic abuse. A refuge is more than a roof over someone’s head. General homeless hostels are rarely suitable for women fleeing domestic abuse. In contrast, specialist refuges offer expert holistic support that enable women escaping domestic abuse to feel emotionally safe, and recover from the trauma of abuse. 

Women’s Aid is calling for secure, sustainable funding for specialist women’s refuges, including those delivered by and for groups of women in demographic minorities. This needs to sit alongside sustainable funding for wider specialist domestic abuse services including community-based support, which is critical for supporting women both in and out of refuge. 

We welcome that the Domestic Abuse Bill, currently going through Parliament, includes positive change such as ensuring that all domestic abuse survivors will automatically get priority need status when going to their local authority for help with housing. It is important that this change is accompanied by specialist training for local housing teams on domestic abuse. 

The Bill must also include measures to ensure that ‘local connection’ rules for accessing refuge and other forms of housing are eliminated, in recognition that survivors often need to cross local authority boundaries to be safe from their abuser. Most urgently without reforms to ensure migrant women – who are denied recourse to public funds – can access housing and financial support, they will continue to face unacceptable ‘choice’ between homelessness/destitution or remaining with the perpetrator. 

Domestic abuse is a crucial housing issue and we must empower all survivors by providing safe and suitable housing options to escape and recover from men’s violence and abuse.

Lizzie McCarthy is a senior policy and research officer at Women’s Aid.

Big Issue vendors need your help now more than ever. More than 1,000 vendors are out of work because of the second lockdown in England. They can’t sell the magazine and they can’t rely on the income they need.

The Big Issue is helping our vendors with supermarket vouchers and gift payments but we need your help to do that.

Please buy this week’s magazine from the online shop or take out a subscription to make sure we can continue to support our vendors over this difficult period. You can even link your subscription to your local vendor with our new online map.

Thank you all so much for your ongoing support.

Support the Big Issue

For over 30 years, the Big Issue has been committed to ending poverty in the UK. In 2024, our work is needed more than ever. Find out how you can support the Big Issue today.
Vendor martin Hawes

Recommended for you

View all
Homelessness has exploded since I slept on the streets. Here's how to end it once and for all
people experiencing homelessness also face stigma
Matthew Torbitt

Homelessness has exploded since I slept on the streets. Here's how to end it once and for all

BBC Breakfast's Naga Munchetty: This is how we stamp out teenage misogyny and sexism
Naga Munchetty

BBC Breakfast's Naga Munchetty: This is how we stamp out teenage misogyny and sexism

We need more women MPs – but we can't just expect women to stand for election. We must act
Lyanne Nicholl

We need more women MPs – but we can't just expect women to stand for election. We must act

Purists might baulk, but Sam Smith headlining BBC Proms opens a pathway to classical music
Sam Smith arrives for the 2023 BRIT Awards ceremony at The O2 arena in London. Image: Andy Rain/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
Claire Jackson

Purists might baulk, but Sam Smith headlining BBC Proms opens a pathway to classical music

Most Popular

Read All
Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits
Renters: A mortgage lender's window advertising buy-to-let products
1.

Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal
Pound coins on a piece of paper with disability living allowancve
2.

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over
next dwp cost of living payment 2023
3.

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know
4.

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know