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Cost- of-living crisis acts as barrier to abuse victims leaving perpetrators

The cost-of-living crisis is creating further barriers for victims of domestic abuse to leave the perpetrators, the charity Refuge has warned.

73% of Refuge’s frontline staff said that the cost-of-living crisis is increasing barriers to leaving a perpetrator, and some frontline workers report that women have returned to perpetrators as they cannot afford to live alone or as a single parent.

Ruth Davison, Refuge CEO, said: “The cost-of-living crisis is having a real and measurable impact on the women Refuge supports. We are deeply concerned about what it means for these women and their children, who are experiencing domestic abuse."

The charity found:

  • 97% of frontline staff surveyed said the cost-of-living crisis is having a significant or severe impact on survivors, with many being reliant on food banks to afford essentials.
  • 73% of frontline workers surveyed said that the cost-of-living crisis is increasing barriers to leaving a perpetrator.
  • 75% of respondents said the crisis meant survivors needed to use food banks for essentials.
  • 92% said it is pushing survivors further into debt.
  • 68% of said that it was leading to survivors questioning whether they made the right decision to leave their perpetrator due to struggles to afford the basics.

Furthermore, two thirds (66%) reported survivors are skipping meals or are unable to afford food for their children. Over half (51%) said survivors they support, who often have to re-purchase everything from technology to clothes after fleeing an abuser, are unable to afford school uniform and other basics for their children.

61% of Refuge’s frontline staff said that the cost-of-living crisis is creating opportunities for or intensifying economic abuse.

The economic conditions for survivors to leave their perpetrators are already wholly unfavourable, with finances often acting as a barrier to leaving an abuser. Perpetrators often control household income, which makes it harder for survivors to access the money they need to flee.

Economic abuse (where perpetrators limit a survivor’s ability to work or access education opportunities, and where perpetrators run up debts in survivors’ names without their knowledge or consent) is also a huge barrier to leaving.

Survivors are already facing making the impossible choice between fleeing into homelessness and poverty or staying with an abuser. With the basic cost of living rising, it is becoming increasingly difficult for survivors to flee to safety.

Domestic abuse specialists are having to adapt the way they are supporting victims and survivors, with 85% saying they are spending more time supporting survivors with debts and 76% spending more time helping survivors access essentials like food.

Furthermore, 88% of frontline workers said that the cost-of-living crisis is impacting survivors’ mental health, with some frontline workers reporting an increase in suicidality from clients.

Refuge is calling on the government to urgently reform the benefit system to help survivors The recent announcements that Universal Credit claimants will receive two payments totalling £650 over the summer and autumn are welcome, but alone will not alleviate the severe impacts of the crisis in having on survivors.

The charity is urging:

Universal Credit, working tax credit and other ‘legacy’ benefits to be increased by £20 per week.

Universal Credit and other benefit advances should be payable to survivors as grants instead of loans.

Survivors of domestic abuse should be exempt from the benefit cap.

Universal Credit should be paid by default into separate accounts when claimed jointly as a couple.

Ruth Davison said: “We have long been aware that lack of access to money can be a significant barrier to a woman’s ability to flee their abuser or seek specialist support. The degree to which our frontline staff are now hearing that women are balancing the danger of living with their perpetrator and the struggle of managing alone is staggering.

“Whilst we welcome the incoming emergency benefit payments, we urge the government to act now to ensure that this cost-of-living crisis does not cost women and children their lives,” she concluded.

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