28 Nov 2022

Women are being trapped by the cost of living crisis

The current cost of living crisis is trapping survivors of domestic abuse and bringing services that support them to their knees.

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.”

While the government has made some progress in the Energy Price Guarantee, charities are still being left in the dark about support for the next financial year. A failure to act on the cost of living crisis risks undermining the meaningful change for survivors of domestic abuse promised in the landmark Domestic Abuse Act.

At Women's Aid we are calling on the government to implement the following:

  • An Emergency Support Fund, administrated through specialist domestic abuse services, to support survivors of domestic abuse though this crisis period to pay for essential items and energy bills
  • Urgent, practical support for specialist domestic abuse services
    • A guarantee to provide services with support with energy bills until the crisis is over.
    • Ensure charities can be flexible in how they support staff facing financial hardship.
    • Government guarantee that no specialist domestic abuse services, including services led ‘by and for’ black and minoritised women, will close during this period due to financial problems.
  • Measures to reduce the impact of legal aid costs for survivors; creating fairer access to legal aid and other advocacy services and interest-free loans.

  • Abolition of the No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) condition for survivors of domestic abuse and extend eligibility for the existing Domestic Violence (DV) Rule, to ensure all women with insecure immigration status get support.

  • An exemption for survivors of domestic abuse from the benefit cap: this is a huge barrier for women with children when fleeing abusers.

We are now in the winter months when this crisis will worsen – 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 

Updated November 2022

This blog was originally published in August 2022 and has been updated by the author in November 2022 to reflect changes in government legislation.