30 Aug 2022

The energy price cap will prevent women from leaving abusers

The current cost of living crisis is having a significant impact on women who have experienced domestic abuse. Women’s Aid carried out a survey in July to look at the impact of the crisis on survivors of domestic abuse in the past 12 months. The survey showed 96% said the cost of living crisis had a negative impact on their financial situation.

Domestic abuse and economic abuse go hand in hand; abusers can control every aspect of a woman’s life and make it impossible to find safe and secure housing. Two-thirds (66%) of survivors told us that abusers are now using the cost of living increase as a tool for coercive control e.g., to justify further restricting their access to money.

Economic abuse is far-reaching: survivors tell us about abusers controlling access to their bank accounts, preventing them from working or making it harder to work, or using their credit cards without permission. Many women are likely to accrue debt because of this which can have a negative impact on their credit rating, creating another barrier to finding permanent housing. Debt makes getting a mortgage or pulling together enough for a rental deposit unmanageable.

In our survey, survivors explained that they were prevented from fleeing by the stark reality of not being able to support their children (50%), getting into debt (52%), or concerns that benefits wouldn’t cover increased living costs (48%). The recent announcement that the typical household energy bill will rise to £3,549 this winter, will have a devastating impact on many women. With inflation estimated to rise further, survivors are already struggling to pay for basics. We found that almost all survivors (96%) responding had seen a negative impact on the amount of money available to them because of cost of living increases with a quarter (24%) saying they’d needed to access food banks.

“Everything has gone up in one go. Everything.”

Services that support women and provide safe housing accommodation, from refuges to community-based services, are already under significant pressure. COVID-19 put an already overstretched sector under a significant amount of demand – and this has not gone away. One member service recently told us that:

“We have just renewed our energy costs with our bulk supplier and the costs have increased by 300%. We built a 45% increase into our budgets, but the 300% increase has completely blown our financial plan for this year.”

They went on to describe the impact this could have on women seeking safe accommodation: “We would normally pass increases on to our residents in the refuge…but this would not be affordable - it would stop victims from moving into refuges.”

Other services are struggling to support their staff to feed themselves and their families. Another member service said: “We have had to provide a wellbeing table with food for staff so if they are making difficult choices at home at least at work they can eat two meals.”

This crisis is having an unprecedented impact on women and children and requires urgent action. While the government has made some positive progress such as the Tackling Domestic Abuse Plan and clear commitments in the Domestic Abuse Act, a failure to act on the cost of living crisis could risk meaningful change for survivors of domestic abuse.

At Women's Aid we are urging the government to:

  1. Provide an Emergency Support Fund for Survivors to offset the impact of the cost of living crisis
  2. To offer 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 – we must act now to ensure women have the support they need this winter, a safe roof over their head, and a life free from abuse.

Written by Lizzy Dobres

Lizzy is a policy and practice manager at Women's Aid