Advertisement
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. 

Advertisement
Advertisement

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.

Pleasebuy this week’s magazine from the online shop ortake 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 withour new online map.

Thank you all so much for your ongoing support.

Advertisement

Every copy counts this Winter

Your local vendor is at the sharp end of the cost-of-living crisis this Winter. Prices of energy and food are rising rapidly. As is the cost of rent. All at their highest rate in 40 years. Vendors are amongst the most vulnerable people affected. Support our vendors to earn as much as they can and give them a fighting chance this Winter.

Recommended for you

Read All
What it's like being a doctor in our broken NHS
NHS Crisis

What it's like being a doctor in our broken NHS

History haunts modern life, but will we ever learn from it?
History

History haunts modern life, but will we ever learn from it?

Three things the government can do to end homelessness
Opinion

Three things the government can do to end homelessness

Media literacy is the only thing standing in the way of the next Andrew Tate
Bejay Mulenga

Media literacy is the only thing standing in the way of the next Andrew Tate

Most Popular

Read All
Lauren Layfield: 'Normal men, innocent men' and me
1.

Lauren Layfield: 'Normal men, innocent men' and me

Here's when people will get the next cost of living payment in 2023
2.

Here's when people will get the next cost of living payment in 2023

Where to find grants for furniture and carpets in 2023
3.

Where to find grants for furniture and carpets in 2023

Scotland aims to cut car use by creating '20-minute neighbourhoods' in net zero push
4.

Scotland aims to cut car use by creating '20-minute neighbourhoods' in net zero push