Running on Empty – why we are all failing survivors

Women fleeing domestic abuse in London during the second Covd-19 lockdown, face the additional crisis of street homelessness and being placed in emergency accommodation often containing nothing more than a mattress, says Solace Women’s Aid, London’s main provider of refuge services for women and children escaping domestic abuse. In 2020, the year of the Covid-19 pandemic, 70% of women Solace is supporting have had a housing need.

Solace has launched a major triple-pronged campaign to bring to the attention of the Government and the general-public the dire additional crisis women and children face when they leave an abusive relationship.

 With a second lockdown underway in England, Solace is already seeing an increase in women contacting us who have been at significant risk due to their complex and multiple needs. Urgent lessons from the first lockdown must be implemented if we are to save and protect the lives of women and children.

Solace’s calls on the government to provide immediate and urgent funding to meet the housing needs of women and children, made even more critical during this second lockdown, to prevent homelessness, destitution, and hunger.

Fiona Dwyer, Solace CEO says “When women are placed in emergency accommodation for a night or few nights – it literally has nothing in it not even a blanket, no cups for water – just a mattress not even a bed.”

The broken housing system is failing women survivors and victims of domestic abuse and their children at all levels, re-traumatising them and prolonging their fear and ability to find safety, stability and start the journey to healing and recovery.

As a frontline domestic abuse organisation running women’s refuges and housing projects, we know from talking and listening to women that the fear of being homeless is one of the main reasons why women are unable to escape abuse.

The campaign titled ‘Empty’ highlights how women fearing for their lives face the false choice of homelessness during a pandemic or continuing to endue violence and abuse trapped with their perpetrator. This is not a choice. This is a devastating and dangerous reality for too many women and children.

Since the start of the pandemic:

Women continue to be placed in temporary accommodation if they can secure housing at all - 41% of women leaving Solace refuges are being placed in temporary accommodation.

More women are being placed in housing that is empty, when they do secure housing, women who leave their abuser with often nothing more than the clothes on their back  face the overwhelming task of setting up a new home with no furniture, no bed, no fridge and no sofa. Solace has provided basic furniture for 150 women who have been given accommodation after fleeing their abuser.

Without Solace’s intervention women would be living in empty homes.

 “We also see how the often inadequate and poor standards of accommodation that women fleeing domestic abuse are expected to move into is harming women’s mental health and physical wellbeing – creating additional trauma, insecurity, and exhaustion. The broken housing system is perpetuating further harm to victims and survivors of domestic abuse, this harm is further compounded by the pandemic” said Fiona Dwyer, Solace, CEO.

During the pandemic, two women placed in Solace refuges returned to the refuges after the accommodation they were provided was found to not be fit for purpose. Damp, run-down and empty accommodation where women do not feel safe and don’t have anywhere to sit or sleep– can never be the answer to providing support.

“It is simply unacceptable to us that this has happened. It is simply unacceptable to us that women are being failed in this way. Covid-19 has further increased the fear women have about becoming homeless when fleeing abuse – this is an additional and stressful burden woman are facing. Its beyond disgraceful that this is happening.”

Solace calls on the government to urgently and immediately lift the benefit cap on London housing, so survivors of domestic abuse can immediately access safe, affordable, and high-quality housing.

Solace calls on the government to urgently make funds available to local authorities to prioritise the housing needs of women fleeing domestic abuse and ensure they and their children are safe and housed.

Solace’s campaign ‘Empty’ is fundraising to support women by buying white goods and furniture for survivors and victims of domestic abuse to be able to rebuild their lives and create a home.  

Solace Women's Aid Briefing