One year after the first lockdown was imposed by the Government Solace Women’s Aid (Solace) published new findings highlighting the women falling through the gaps in a housing crisis made worse by the Coronavirus.
The highest peak in calls to our advice line since March last year was in September 2020 when schools re-opened, 138% higher than the quietest period during the first lockdown in April.
70% of survivors in our services have a housing need; 43% have experienced financial abuse, affecting their access to financial resources and economic independence.
37% of our frontline staff said housing departments had required proof of physical violence in most or all homelessness applications their clients have made over the last three months.
Women with no recourse to public funds made up half of all referrals turned away from the crisis refuge we run in partnership with Southall Black Sisters between May and November 2020.
Solace supports the Step Up Migrant Women campaign calling for the Government to adopt amendments to the Domestic Abuse Bill to extend its provisions to migrant women. We are also calling for:
the Government to clarify the interaction of the duties in the Domestic Abuse Bill and the existing housing and homelessness duties and make clear in statutory guidance to local authorities that survivors’ self-determined assessments of their needs and risks must guide them;
The Mayor of London to ring-fence a minimum of 20% of any funding for ending rough sleeping for women, to ensure street homeless women can access safe and suitable women-only accommodation with specialist VAWG support where needed; and
Local authorities to ring-fence a minimum of five per cent of social housing lettings, plus five per cent of all permanent new social homes built each year to women and children made homeless through domestic abuse and violence against women and girls.
Fiona Dwyer, Solace CEO says
“The women we work with face an uphill battle on three critical fronts making it harder to keep them safe, help them recover and lift them out of poverty. Becoming homeless is terrifying for women and children, compounded by increasing food insecurity, services that are over stretched and a housing system that fails them. Migrant women face further challenges, and our crisis refuge has to turn away almost half of all women referred, leaving them homeless and at risk. The Domestic Abuse Bill needs to deliver real change backed by resources to support the most vulnerable of women. Our latest housing report paints a picture of the worst kind of gatekeeping which women further endure when trying to access safe and suitable housing.”
Speaking at the launch event, Florence Eshalomi, Labour MP for Vauxhall said,
“Even before the pandemic, domestic violence was a major cause of homelessness. In the year ending June 2019, almost 24,000 people were homeless in England directly as a result of domestic abuse. For every woman who reaches out and asks for help we have got to remember there are many more who continue to suffer in silence. Tragically, sometimes that means they suffer in silence until it is too late.”
Neil Coyle, Labour MP for Bermondsey and Old Southwark said,
“This report shows the surge in support and awareness of higher incidents of domestic abuse over the last year. I think the Government owes an apology, because it should not take a global pandemic and lockdowns in our country for the Government to recognise that there were people affected who needed protection of this nature.
“We already had the evidence, research by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Ending Homelessness showed almost 2,000 households - almost entirely women - were denied long-term accommodation because of gatekeeping and artificial thresholds”
Sarah Michael, survivor and Solace Ambassador said,
“My mother experienced very serious domestic violence at the hands of my father. He didn't give her any money and she couldn't pay the bills so we were illegally evicted and made homeless when I was 16. My mum didn't know what to do or where to get help and she committed suicide a few weeks later because they took everything we had.
“I was forty when I started to experience domestic violence. Because I'd experienced violence as a child I thought it wasn't as bad as that. He did lots of the typical things including putting me in debt. He's had nothing to do with me or my children for 15 years but I'm still paying off the debt he took out in my name.
“I now work in a school and I also volunteer for Solace’s advice line. During covid I have been talking to women whose partners were using lockdown against them to control them. Even though we're not in as strict a lockdown now opportunities to get help are limited. At school we don't have wrap around support, there's no after school clubs or breakfast clubs where women might get a chance to speak to the teacher and at the end of the day when they collect children parents can't speak to anyone, they have to wait outside. We're losing these children from school who we can't help.”
Pragna Patel, Director of Southall Black Sisters said,
“The legal duty placed on local authorities to fund refuges and safe accommodation is meaningless for migrant women who remain excluded from housing. It is particularly significant for us because at least 60% or more of the women who contact us are subject to gender-based violence and have insecure immigration status. Some are dependent on their partners or spouses for their immigration status while others have arrived through other immigration routes, but most are subject to no recourse, a central plank of the hostile environment policy.
As a consequence, many of the women we see are forced to rely on charity and handouts from strangers and that itself exposes them to further risks of other forms of exploitation and harm. We're seeing higher rates of destitution, poverty, indebtedness and trauma and mental illness amongst abused migrant women and children.”
Notes to editors
Solace launched the report on Wednesday 24th at 19:00, with Fiona Dwyer, Sarah Michael, Florence Eshalomi MP, Neil Coyle MP and Pragna Patel, Southall Black Sisters Director.
The full report is available on our website here