The ongoing cost of living crisis is preventing women from leaving abusive relationships, new research from Women’s Aid suggests. And without intervention, charities say more women will be left in “dangerous situations” in the months ahead.
Almost three quarters (73%) of women who live with their partners and have financial links with them said that the cost of living crisis has either prevented them from leaving or made it harder for them to leave.
Reasons women were unable to flee include being unable to afford ongoing living costs on a single income (69%), the immediate costs of leaving (67%), getting into debt (52%), not being able to support their children, (50%) or fear that benefits would not cover increased living costs (48%).
The survey responses were from women who are experiencing domestic abuse currently or those who have experienced domestic abuse in the past 12 months.
Two thirds (66%) of survivors told the charity that abusers are now using the cost of living increase and concerns about financial hardship as a tool for coercive control.
Over a fifth (21%) of survivors said their abuser used the crisis to justify controlling their access to money, including reducing the money they are given for essential items. Women also talked about ex-partners using the crisis to justify reducing child maintenance payments.
The survey also uncovered how the cost of living crisis is making life hard for those who do manage to leave, with just under a quarter (24%) saying they’ve used food banks after escaping an abusive relationship.
Commenting on the findings, Dr Nicola Sharp-Jeffs, the founder and CEO of Surviving Economic Abuse (SEA) said it is “impossible to separate physical safety from economic safety”.
“A lack of financial stability prevents women from leaving an abuser, it prevents women who do manage to leave from rebuilding their lives safely and it is why many feel they have no choice but to return,” she added. “The cost of living crisis will only force more victims into these dangerous situations.”
The survey results also found evidence that that cost of living crisis is further isolating survivors.
More than two thirds (67%) of survivors said 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. More than four out of five (83%) respondents said the cost of living crisis had a negative impact on their wellbeing or mental health.
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. While living with the trauma of abuse, they said they are also worried about paying bills (74%) and being able to afford food (61%).
Survivors told Women’s Aid 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, as well as housing funding options to enable women to escape domestic abuse.
Because of this, the charity is calling for:
An Emergency Domestic Abuse Fund to support survivors of domestic abuse and to meet the increasing demand for refuges and rising costs of delivering safe care;
A reduction in energy costs for all refuges during the cost of living crisis, for example by extending the remit of Warm Home Discount Scheme to include refuges;
Better provision of legal services for survivors; reducing the impact of legal aid costs for survivors; fairer access to legal aid and other advocacy services; interest-free loans for legal support where necessary.
Farah Nazeer, chief executive of Women’s Aid, said: “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 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.”
Help and support:
If you, or someone you know, is in immediate danger, call 999 and ask for the police. If you are not in immediate danger, you can contact:
- The Freephone 24 hour National Domestic Violence Helpline, run by Refuge: 0808 2000 247
- In Scotland, contact Scotland’s 24 hour Domestic Abuse and Forced Marriage Helpline: 0800 027 1234
- In Northern Ireland, contact the 24 hour Domestic & Sexual Violence Helpline: 0808 802 1414
- In Wales, contact the 24 hour Life Fear Free Helpline on 0808 80 10 800.
- National LGBT+ Domestic Abuse Helpline: 0800 999 5428
- Men’s Advice Line: 0808 801 0327
- Respect helpline (for anyone worried about their own behaviour): 0808 802 0321