As the largest violence against women charity in London, we see first-hand the deadly combination of a national housing crisis concentrated in England’s capital with the dual pandemic of violence against women and girls and the public health crisis isolating victims at home with perpetrators.
The first lockdown inspired an outpouring of empathy and support for victims and survivors of domestic abuse, as the media, the public and politicians reflected in horror at the thought of being trapped at home with an abuser. With one in three women experiencing domestic abuse in their lifetime, and a quarter of children estimated to have grown up in a household where domestic abuse took place, for many people this reflection was personal.
While media and political attention has moved on, women and children we work with cannot. Because for too many there is nowhere for them to move on to.
In October 2019 we published Safe as Houses, research that found that the inability to secure a safe place to live and a fear of homelessness was keeping women in dangerous situations.
- 53% of women lose their secure tenancy after fleeing abuse
- 30% of women are turned away from safe housing six of more times when fleeing abuse
- 45% of perpetrators get to keep the shared home. Data from SafeLives (2018) shows that the perpetrator was evicted in just 3% of cases where the client needed support with housing.
- 35% of women rough sleepers have experienced abuse (St Mungos 2014), domestic abuse is the leading cause of women’s homelessness.
- 14% of rough sleepers counted in the Ministry of Housing Communities and Local Government’s snapshot data are women, but the true scale of female rough sleepers is unknown because they tend to be less visible for their own safety.
Since the start of the pandemic:
- Women are being offered unsafe temporary accommodation sharing with men in unsuitable environments – This is often the standard offer for those women who are homeless. However, women fleeing abusers, and who are often victims of sexual abuse and assault, are frightened to live with men.
- Women continue to be placed in temporary accommodation if they are able to secure housing at all – 70% of women Solace supported in 2020 had a housing need. 41% of women leaving Solace refuges are being placed in temporary accommodation (this is excluding those who have moved to family and friends which may also be temporary).
- More women are being placed in housing that is empty, when they do secure it. Survivors and their children are left to sleep on floors, left hungry and lacking facilities to prepare food. Women who leave their abuser with almost nothing are placed in housing without essentials like beds, fridges and sofas – Solace alone has supplied basic furniture for 150 women who have been provided accommodation after fleeing their abuser.
Uncertain housing and the fear of homelessness should never be a barrier to a life free from abuse. To ensure that women can access safe and secure housing, we are calling on:
The Government to seek to address the needs of women in its response to rough sleeping during the pandemic and beyond. To do this:
- The Government should use its ‘Everyone In’ scheme for rough sleepers as an opportunity to collect sex segregated data to understand the scale of women’s rough sleeping.
- The Government and councils should ensure that the ‘Everyone In’ scheme has women-only provision available in all local areas across the accommodation they use and referral processes in place for women experiencing or who disclose VAWG.
- The Government’s long-term strategy to end rough sleeping should specifically address the causes and needs of women rough sleeping.
The Government to scrap new rules that make rough sleeping grounds for refusing or cancelling someone’s right to remain in the UK.
- These new rules hand over yet additional means for perpetrators to manipulate and control women and their children and caused untold distress and confusion when introduced in the midst of a pandemic with little clarity over how and when they would be enforced. Migrant women should be guaranteed safe reporting mechanisms and accessing public services including the police, social services, and health services without fear of immigration enforcement.
The Government should provide additional funds to support survivors throughout lockdown, and a national strategy needs to be in place for when lockdown measure lift, anticipated to be in Spring 2021.
- Based on our experience so far and what we know about patterns of abuse, we anticipate a surge in need for services as restrictions lift and survivors have more opportunities to disclose abuse and seek help and advice, and that survivors will be in greater trauma with more complex mental health needs.
The Mayor of London to ring-fence 5% of social housing for survivors rebuilding their lives having taken the courageous step to move out of a home shared with an abuser, or moving on from crisis accommodation including refuge.
Find out how you can support our campaign to make sure no one has to choose between abuse and a home .