03/10/2016 05:25 BST | Updated 29/09/2017 06:12 BST

We've Got To Start Joining The Dots Between Poverty And Abuse

As the early days of the Prime Minister's term in office have seen her repeatedly return to the theme of inequality now feels like an opportune time to reflect on the wide variety of ways in which inequality is still a very real and daily part of many women's lives. More likely to experience abuse and violence from those who are supposed to care about them, more likely to be poor, more likely to be in low-paid and insecure work, more likely to have caring responsibilities on top of financial ones. It's perhaps unsurprising that women are also more likely to suffer mental health problems, and more likely to attempt suicide than men.

Today, Agenda is launching research which reveals the extent of how these forms of inequality combine for the most excluded women in our society. We've looked at the impact of the two forms of inequality perhaps most damaging in the lives of vulnerable women: poverty and abuse. And the results are deeply concerning.

Firstly: poverty and abuse are intertwined for women. A woman in poverty is more than twice as likely to experience almost every kind of violence and abuse as a woman not in poverty. We'v

Rape, as a child or an adult; having a partner threaten to kill you; or having a weapon used against you: those are more common if you're poor. And the more extensive the abuse and violence you have experienced - the more forms of abuse you experience, the more times in your life you experience it - the more likely you are to be poor. These links are much stronger for women than for men, just as women are much more likely to experience abuse than men are.

So what impact does this have on women's lives? For the approximately 1 million women in England who have experienced the most extensive abuse and violence and who live in poverty: it's pretty shocking. Extraordinarily high rates of mental ill-health combine with difficulty finding a job, insecure work, homelessness, and attempted suicide.

These are women for whom suffering often starts young. One in ten spent some time in care, and 21% ran away from home as a child. Many will have carried trauma will them throughout their lives; a barrier to education, employment, financial stability, health, positive relationships and successful parenting. One thing these women tell us repeatedly is that few of the many professionals they have worked with recognise this trauma, or attempt to help them address it. They move from crisis to crisis without ever getting the help they need.

And we know what they need. We have some world-class specialist support in this country for women facing complex problems, but the services which provide it are few and far between and often struggle for funding. Women are often turned away from general support services, either because their needs in any one category don't meet thresholds, or because their overall needs are too complex. We've got to make sure both types of services are adequately resourced to meet women's needs.

This must start at the very top. We are calling for a cross-government approach to improving life chances for women who face the most extensive abuse, poverty and disadvantage. We need leadership and strategic thinking to break the links between these issues.

As part of this, central and local government must make sure specialist services providing holistic support are properly funded and commissioned across the country.

And we've got to start recognising these women; those missed opportunities for support can't continue. 'Routine enquiry' (asking women and girls whether they have experienced violence and abuse) needs to become standard practice across a range of health and support services and be accompanied by proper help for those who disclose past or present experiences of abuse.

If we want to ensure that women's life chances aren't narrowed by gender, that girls born today won't face the limitations and closing off of opportunities caused by the combination of poverty and abuse, we've got to start joining these dots.