Today’s statement from the Chancellor was an opportunity for the new Government to recognise the acute needs of women and girls experiencing abuse, but disappointingly this was not taken. As one of the largest providers of services for survivors of male violence, we urgently need to see support for survivors of domestic abuse who are once again at the sharp end of a national crisis.
In addition to action on the spiralling energy costs, we were looking for the new Government to:
Return Local Housing Allowance to being linked to actual market rent levels
Reintroduce the Universal Credit uplift by increasing rates by £20 per week over the winter
Lift the benefit cap and two-child limit for Universal Credit for domestic abuse survivors.
Introduce an Emergency Domestic Abuse Fund to support survivors of domestic abuse through this crisis period, to pay for essential items and energy bills, as recommended by Women’s Aid.
Review existing funding streams to support violence against women and girls and provide uplifts that recognise the increased costs for survivors, frontline staff, and services.
We welcome the cap on energy bills that the Government announced earlier this month, which for many domestic abuse survivors will be a welcome relief from the anxiety of soaring bills.
However, many domestic abuse survivors are already scrimping for every penny, skipping meals, using foodbanks, and accruing rent arrears, so there are no corners left to cut. Analysis by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that families on means-tested benefits will see a gap of at least £450 between cost increases and income.1 Despite promises to increase living standards in Britain, there was nothing in today’s announcement to support those on low or no income.
The Government needed to step in with increases in social security and housing benefit in line with inflation, but instead made life harder still with more punitive announcements on Universal Credit. People working less than 15 hours at the minimum wage or equivalent will now be forced to prove they are looking to increase their hours or lose their entitlement.
Many survivors of domestic abuse experience economic or financial abuse, which leaves women and children destitute or reliant on their ex-partners when they flee abusers. Survivors we work with who are unemployed or working less than 15 hours often do so for many reasons: dealing with trauma often as a result of years of abuse, creating security for their children who may have had to move school or nursery or navigating complex systems to get legal advice, open bank accounts, search for a home.
Domestic abuse is the biggest cause of homelessness for women and recovery is an uphill struggle. The lack of social housing means most homeless households, including survivors of domestic abuse, are increasingly housed in the private rented sector, which is becoming completely unaffordable in London.
As we saw in the early Government responses to the pandemic – the Government rarely considers the impact on domestic abuse when launching broad brush policies. The lack of sufficient welfare funds coupled with the housing crisis and the economic situation is already seeing a rise in homelessness which needs to urgently be addressed.
Charities and public services cannot continue to deliver the same levels of service with budgets based on 2021 prices, or often funding levels that were awarded pre-pandemic. We are pleased that charities will receive relief on their energy bills, however domestic abuse services need support to continue providing live saving and life changing services.
Judith Banjoko, Interim CEO said
“Unless the Government looks again at social security and brings in the protections for private renters promised in the long-awaited renters reform bill, I fear that fewer women and children will leave dangerous situations and more will return to abusers when they cannot make the sums add up.
“Whenever there are crises and disasters, including economic ones, male violence against women goes up. Domestic abuse isn’t caused by these crises, but they do exacerbate it and provide survivors with fewer options.
“At Solace, like other violence against women and girls’ charities set up to support women and help them stay safe, we are seeing the impact of increases in living costs on the women we support, our services and staff. We cannot provide the same level of service to higher numbers of women at the same levels of funding. We need emergency funding from the Government to keep going through this period. Women’s lives depend on it.”
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Solace Women’s Aid is a charity registered in England and Wales. Charity number 1082450 Company number 3376716