Cost Of Living Crisis Poses A “Catastrophic” Threat To Domestic Abuse Victims, Campaigners Warn
The rising cost of living and the end of the £20 Universal Credit uplift could mean domestic violence victims “feel forced to stay with perpetrators”, campaigners have warned.
Labour MP Jess Phillips said the financial hit facing many households over the next year could have a “catastrophic” impact on many women’ ability to leave abusive partners.
“One of the main problems that rarely gets discussed, especially about women leaving their apartments and leaving refuges, is their ability to maintain financial independence,” she told PoliticsHome.
“It's a massive reason why women end up returning – a massive reason why people don't leave in the first place is financial instability.”
According to a report by the Resolution Foundation published in December 2021, rising energy bills, high inflation, tax hikes and the end of the £20 Universal Credit uplift meant households faced losing £1,200 in 2022.
Ruth Davidson, CEO of domestic abuse charity Refuge, said fresh financial pressures were already putting victims and survivors in “precarious situations”.
“The rising cost of living as we enter a new year is concerning,” she told PoliticsHome.
“Last year Refuge campaigned against the decision to scrap the Universal Credit uplift and were hearing from survivors of domestic abuse in precarious situations forced to choose between heating their house or feeding their family.
“The £20 weekly uplift was a lifeline for survivors, which has now been cut and with soaring utility and food bills we know that many have been pushed into poverty.
“Finances can often be a barrier to leaving and Refuge is concerned some women may feel forced to stay with perpetrators.”
Campaigners also highlighted the particular challenges of economic abuse, when an abuser restricts a person’s ability to acquire, use and maintain money or other economic resources.
A 2020 report by Refuge found that one in six adults had endured some form of economic abuse from a partner, and 80% of survivors had experienced emotional, sexual or physical abuse in addition to economic abuse.
On average, survivors of abuse are £3,272 in debt as a result, with a quarter of survivors having debts of over £5,000, the report claimed.
Alan Collins, a partner in the abuse team at Hugh James Solicitors, told PoliticsHome that other long-term effects of the pandemic such as disrupted schooling and pressures on the NHS, alongside rising cost of living, were likely to put pressure on at-risk families.
“They will do so in a number of ways: first through increased pressures in the home when limited incomes are stretched further leading to a fraying of tempers; second by making those most vulnerable financially dependent further on the perpetrators; and thirdly by limiting access to those who can provide advice and support.”
Yanoulla Kakoulli, Senior Solicitor at Stowe Family Law, said the rising cost of living had “compounded an already challenging situation” as previous lockdowns often worsened “pre-existing abuse and violence patterns”.
Reported cases of domestic abuse rose by 6% in the year ending March 2021 compared to the previous 12 months, with 613,929 incidents reported in England and Wales.
“Access to funds is critical when it comes to leaving an abuser. Without financial support, it is very difficult, sometimes impossible, to escape,” Kakoulli told PoliticsHome.
“The continuing pandemic and rise in living costs are particularly concerning for lower-income families and those in poverty who find themselves trapped in abusive relationships.
“More financial support and housing is urgently needed to help victims, particularly when trying to flee an abusive home.”
Phillips said the government needed to ensure a “joined up approach” to ensure it was both helping victims and ensuring future policy decisions didn’t further impact those affected by domestic violence.
“[The government has] a strategy that they claim to be cross departmental, but it doesn't feel like that.
“What they want is small things to amend. They want law changes to be announced like sentencing or changes to the way that things are handled in courts. These are sticking plasters.
“There needs to be an enormous fundamental rethink about what affects victims of domestic abuse and how we alleviate that.”
She continued: “There's a cost of living crisis coming down the road. Everybody knows that the government knows it. Everybody knows it. So what is the planning for that? What are they putting in place to alleviate that cost of living crisis, meaning that women will have to return to violent partners?”
A Government spokesperson said: “Domestic abuse is a devastating crime and we recognise that economic abuse can limit victims’ options to escape and access safety.
“Under the landmark Domestic Abuse Act, for the first time in history, there will be a wide-ranging legal definition of domestic abuse which incorporates a range of abuses beyond physical violence, including economic abuse.
“Alongside this, we have announced new measures in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill which will give victims of domestic abuse longer to report offences to the police, so that abusers do not evade justice.”
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