Updated: Apr 18, 2021
Earlier this week the world celebrated International Women’s Day, which highlights the achievements of women today and in history. The day also aims to draw attention to the continued mistreatment of women, and we have explored that particularly for homeless women in a blog here. Another significant issue of mistreatment of women is domestic violence, which is a leading factor in women becoming homeless.
What is domestic abuse?
Women’s Aid defines domestic abuse as:
“An incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening, degrading and violent behaviour, including sexual violence, in the majority of cases by a partner or ex-partner, but also by a family member or carer.”
Abuse is much broader than just physical abuse and for example could be controlling freedoms such as restricting contact with friends and family, emotional abuse, or financial abuse.
Over the pandemic, the scale of domestic abuse has risen significantly. One London council had a 68% increase in the most serious domestic abuse cases in the months after the first lockdown. Another survey showed that 61% of domestic abuse victims reported that their abuser was controlling them more in lockdown.
How does domestic abuse relate to homelessness?
Frequently for victims of domestic abuse, the only way that they can escape abuse is by leaving their home. One survey of domestic abuse survivors found that one third had to give up their home because of leaving an abuser. Moreover, for some they will be unsafe staying with friends or family because the abuser would know their location. Then their options can be restricted to asking the local council for help, going to a refuge service, or becoming homeless. Fear of becoming homeless makes it harder for women to leave an abuser, as they recognise their safety will be compromised either if they stay with the abuser or if they are on the street.
The latest available government data (for Q3 2020) shows that for all people who required homelessness support from their local authority, 12% of those needed it because of domestic abuse. However, the experience for many victims of domestic abuse is that they are not deemed a priority by their local council, in some cases women are told by the council to return to living with the abuser. The “No Where To Turn” project estimates for the women they supported, of those who contacted a housing team 30% were prevented from registering as homeless. Frequently, councils are not following the legislation that requires that domestic abuse victims are exempt from standard homelessness regulation.
Consequently, the combination of domestic abuse and lack of support from local councils can cause these women to become homeless. A study by Crisis estimates that 61% of homeless women in Great Britain are homeless because of domestic abuse. Moreover, a study in 2015 found that 92% of homeless women had experienced a form of violence or abuse in their life. Domestic abuse is a leading cause of women becoming homeless, and to prevent homelessness requires more comprehensive support for all women suffering domestic abuse.
Once without a home, women are increasingly vulnerable to further abuse. Some find that partners who offer accommodation or protection on the street then use that power to abuse and control. A woman’s refuge service commented:
“About 70% of the women that come here are exchanging accommodation for sex, so they are hidden, they are not publicly sleeping rough. We have a number of women who are sleeping in hospitals, emergency areas, train stations, on buses, on tubes, the usual scenario.”
Moreover, the provision of homelessness support can frequently be male focused and not equipped to help women who have survived domestic abuse. In England and Wales 61% of local authorities had no homelessness services particularly designed for women. This is particularly problematic given a domestic abuser survivor’s heightened concern about being around men. One woman in research for Woman’s Aid spoke of her experiences of living in a hotel after leaving her home because of abuse:
“We were too scared to get breakfast because of all the men”
How does it impact BAME women?
Sadly, for BAME women the difficulties can be even harder. A combination of reasons means that they are significantly disadvantaged in getting the help that they need from the local council or from landlords:
They are frequently discriminated against because of race or being an immigrant
Language barrier means that their requests are dismissed, or that they are unable to access resources on the internet which explain their rights
They are more likely to have No Recourse to Public funds (NRPF). A Women’s Aid study found that 93% of women with NRPF were rejected from refuges. This is because these refuges often are dependent upon housing benefits to cover the costs, and those with NRPF are ineligible to claim these benefits. A 2019 study estimated that there were only 6-8 beds in refuges in the whole country for women with NRPF.
They are unfamiliar with the UK system and they are not aware or informed of their housing options as victims of domestic abuse.
Because of this, these women end up having to rely on their support networks for accommodation or end up sleeping rough.
However, there is some hope that more BAME women are getting the support they need. The No Woman Turned Away project was established by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government in partnership with Woman’s Aid in 2016. The project’s intention is to provide support particularly for women who face barriers in accessing accommodation in a refuge. In 2020, 43% of the women helped through the scheme were BAME, showing how traditional support is excluding BAME women.
What is being done?
The government has recently announced policy to make vital steps in supporting those who need help because of domestic abuse in the pandemic:
It is allocating an additional £125mn to local councils to provide domestic abuse services such counselling or refuges.
Those who reached out to their local council for housing because of domestic abuse are now automatically considered a priority.
In January, the government launched the Ask for ANI scheme, where women can use this code work in a pharmacy to discretely signal to staff members that they need support.
The government are aiming to implement a bill called the Domestic Abuse Bill later this year or in 2022, which will mean councils will have more legal responsibility in helping victims of domestic abuse.
These are great steps and should be celebrated, but they are not sufficient to stop all women having to choose between staying with an abuser or living on the streets.
How can you help?
The charity Woman’s Aid works to both prevent and support those who are victims of domestic abuse and run the No Woman Turned Away project. They list many ways in which you can support them including running for them, helping their campaigns, fundraising, and donating. They also publish resources if you need personal support because of domestic abuse or if you are concerned about someone else.
Clothing Collective works to provide dignity to those who are homeless by providing vouchers, so they can buy their own clothes in charity shops. For women who have previously had significant control in their lives taken away, being able to choose their own clothes empowers them whilst also giving them the clothes and support that they need. You can assist our work at Clothing Collective through following us on social media, sharing our blogs, running for us, or donating.