Women’s Aid releases new findings which show that the cost of living crisis is creating extra barriers to women fleeing abuse: 73% of women living with and having financial links to their abuser say that the cost of living crisis has either prevented them from leaving or made it harder for them to leave. Reasons women were unable to flee include being unable to afford ongoing living costs on a single income (69%), the immediate costs of leaving (67%), getting into debt (52%), not being able to support their children, (50%) or fear that benefits would not cover increased living costs (48%).
To ensure survivors’ voices are heard in responses to the cost of living crisis, the Women’s Aid research team issued a survey in June 2022 to find out what women survivors are experiencing, and what they want to see happen.
Abusers are using the cost of living crisis as a tool for abuse
Two-thirds (66%) of survivors told us that abusers are now using the cost of living increase and concerns about financial hardship as a tool for coercive control. Over a fifth (21%) of survivors told us their abuser used the crisis to justify controlling their access to money, including reducing the money they are given for essential items. Women also talked about ex-partners using the crisis to justify reducing child maintenance payments.
The crisis has further isolated survivors
More than two-thirds (67%) of survivors told us they were forced to spend more time at home because they were not able to afford activities outside the home or because they had to work more to make ends meet. More than four out of five (83%) respondents said the cost of living crisis had a negative impact on their wellbeing or mental health.
Women experiencing domestic abuse are worried about paying for essentials
Almost all survivors (96%) responding had seen a negative impact on the amount of money available to them as a result of cost of living increases, with a quarter (24%) saying they’d needed to access food banks. While living with the trauma of abuse, they told us they are also worried about paying bills (74%) and being able to afford food (61%).
Economic abuse creates an uneven financial playing field and adds to the pressures that survivors face
Women living with their abuser are often financially dependent on them too. In our survey, 27% of women in this group told us they had limited or no access to money, due to limits imposed by the abuser. Economic abuse, along with increased financial hardship as a result of the cost of living crisis, means it is even harder for women to leave, recover and rebuild their lives after abuse.
Survivors tell us they want to see more direct financial and practical support to help them through the crisis, such as mortgage holidays and support with paying for bills and essential items, as well as housing funding options to enable women to escape domestic abuse.
Farah Nazeer, chief executive of Women’s Aid said: ‘The current cost of living crisis has been devastating for survivors of domestic abuse. Women’s Aid surveyed women who have experienced domestic abuse in the past year and the majority (96%) said the crisis had a negative impact on their financial situation. We know that domestic abuse and economic abuse go hand in hand with abusers often controlling every aspect of a woman’s life. The soaring energy and food costs, coupled with stagnant wages, will leave many women more vulnerable to abuse.
‘Women have told us that they are being trapped because of their dire financial situation, two-thirds (66%) of survivors told us that abusers are now using the cost of living increase and concerns about financial hardship as a tool for coercive control. Women who live with their abuser are often financially dependent on them, almost three quarters of this group (73%) said that the cost of living crisis had either prevented them from leaving or made it harder for them to leave.
‘This crisis is having an unprecedented impact on women and children and requires urgent action. While the government has made some positive progress in this area, more must be done. We urge the government to provide an Emergency Support Fund for Survivors to offset the impact of the cost of living crisis. We also ask that the government offers discounts on energy bills to domestic abuse services that provide lifesaving support.
‘We are quickly approaching the winter months where the crisis will only get worse. Survivors have suffered enough, having been trapped in their homes during Covid: they must be offered the help they need to support their children and to be free from abuse.’
Dr Nicola Sharp-Jeffs OBE, founder and CEO of Surviving Economic Abuse (SEA) said: ‘It is impossible to separate physical safety from economic safety. A lack of financial stability prevents women from leaving an abuser, it prevents women who do manage to leave from rebuilding their lives safely and it is why many feel they have no choice but to return. The cost of living crisis will only force more victims into these dangerous situations.
‘We saw how the coronavirus pandemic provided another tool for abuse. Abusers used the situation to their advantage, establishing or increasing control over their partner’s finances and taking advantage of the financial instability caused by the worsening economic climate. This research shows the same is happening again. With the effects of the pandemic still ongoing, and the cost of living crisis yet to hit its peak, the compounded impact will be catastrophic for victim-survivors of economic abuse.
‘We need urgent action from the government. We support Women’s Aid’s call for an Emergency Support Fund for Survivors as well as discounts on energy bills and improved access to legal services. This cannot wait – the lives of victim-survivors are at risk.’