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Cost of Living Crisis Forcing Women to Remain with Abusers

The cost of living crisis is putting women’s and children’s lives at risk, as victims and survivors of domestic abuse are forced to choose between safety and destitution, Sian Norris reports

Photo: Lolostock/Alamy

Cost of Living Crisis Forcing WomenTo Remain with Abusers

The cost of living crisis is putting women’s and children’s lives at risk, as victims and survivors of domestic abuse are forced to choose between safety and destitution, Sian Norris reports

Women experiencing domestic abuse are the forgotten victims of the cost of living crisis, with victims and survivors feeling they have no choice but to return to their abusers as they struggle to make ends meet.

More than three-quarters (77%) of front-line staff at the domestic abuse charity Refuge told a survey that women were finding it harder to leave abusive relationships, as they are forced to choose between remaining in a violent home, or face destitution. More than half of staff confirmed the cost of living crisis is pushing women to return to their abusers. 

Abigail left her abuser ten years ago, but believes that “if this crisis was happening when I was trying to flee, I wouldn’t have been able to leave”.

At the same time, there has been a steep increase in cases of complex economic abuse, with women reporting that perpetrators are restricting access to food and heating.  

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There are multiple barriers to women seeking to leave violent relationships – including destitution and homelessness, as well as the threat of further abuse and fatal violence. A decade of austerity has made it harder for women to access emergency accommodation – one in six refuges closed between 2010-2016. Research published by Women’s Aid in 2017 found that 11% of survivors it surveyed had slept rough after leaving a violent relationship. 

Refuge has also warned that the cost of living crisis is impacting its services, with plans to raise £1 million to meet the challenges of “rising costs of running its specialist services”.

“This crisis is urgent,” warned Ruth Davison, CEO of Refuge. “Survivors of domestic abuse are being forced to remain with their abusers. This puts their lives at risk. 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 but 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”. 

One anonymous frontline worker told Refuge that domestic abuse victims had been “completely forgotten about in the cost of living crisis”.


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A Tool of Abuse

As well as creating new barriers to leaving a violent home, the cost of living crisis has given abusers a new weapon to exert against victims and survivors, with Refuge seeing a significant rise in cases of complex economic abuse. In June, July and August 2022 there was an 87% rise in such cases, when compared to the same months in the previous year. 

Abigail’s abuser controlled the household’s money and refused to allow her any economic independence. “I was completely reliant on him financially,” she said. “It was so hard. He’d made it so I didn’t have work, a social life, he never paid child maintenance and I was left in a lot of debt from him. I was completely isolated”.  

Leaving her abuser left Abigail with thousands of pounds of debt that took her years to pay back. “With the economy as it is now, I know I wouldn’t ever have been able to pay that debt back,” she explained. “I would have been forced to stay with him”.

Vulnerable Migrants Cut Out of Cost of Living Support

Sian Norris

Abusers are also weaponising the cost of living crisis to exert control over victims even after they have left – particularly when children are involved.

Women reported how perpetrators are restricting access to food and heating, refusing to pay child maintenance and thereby pushing survivors into deeper poverty, before arguing in the courts that the mother cannot provide a safe and warm home. Half of all single-parent households are now in poverty, with the majority headed by women.

“Some women are really worried about losing access to their children, they tell me that perpetrators are using this cost of living crisis to further their abuse, something we know as post-separation abuse,” explained the anonymous worker.

For migrant survivors of domestic abuse who have no recourse to public funds, the situation is even more acute, as it is for younger women who are only entitled to a smaller sum of Universal Credit than adults over 25.  

Refuge is now calling for the Government to raise benefits in line with inflation when it makes its budget announcement next week, as well as to create an Emergency Domestic Abuse fund to support victims and survivors. 

“We need the Government to really understand this crisis and take it seriously,” the worker said.

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