The impact of the cost of living crisis is hitting much wider than just our wallets. New research from charity Refuge has explored the ways in which domestic abuse victims are feeling more trapped in relationships with their abusers, due to the financial strain of daily life.
Refuge spoke to frontline staff who support survivors of domestic abuse – in refuge accommodation and community services – and 77% reported that survivors are finding it harder to leave their abusers, and are therefore forced to choose between remaining in an abusive relationship or risking destitution.
The problem extends past those still in abusive relationships, it is influencing decisions by those who have been abused in the past. 50% of those surveyed also reported that the cost of living crisis is leading survivors to return to their abusers.
Over three quarters of workers who deal with domestic abuse crises daily also warn of the impact of the cost of living crisis on survivors’ mental health, due to the increased likelihood of a reliance debt and benefits to cover essentials.
“It feels like survivors of domestic abuse have been completely forgotten about in this crisis,” a frontline worker told Refuge. “They are reliant on food and clothes banks, they have cancelled and cut back anything and everything they can, to be able to afford to pay their bills.”
Ruth Davison, CEO of Refuge, is calling this crisis “urgent”. “Refuge is warning, loud and clear, that survivors of domestic abuse are being forced to remain with their abusers. This puts their lives at risk,” she says.
“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.”
The charity is lobbying the government – particularly Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt – for two changes that could help victims of domestic abuse during these frightening times: an amendment to the benefits system so that Universal Credit, working tax credit and other ‘legacy’ benefits are increased in line with inflation, as well as the creation of an Emergency Domestic Abuse Fund that would help “survivors access help with the costs of fleeing an abuser”.
Survivors are coming forward to stress how the cost of living crisis is risking the survival of victims of domestic abuse.
“Simply put, I wouldn’t have been able to leave my abuser if this crisis was happening when I was trying to flee 10 years ago. I felt trapped as it was,” Abigail*, a survivor of domestic abuse, told Refuge. “It’s so difficult for survivors to speak out in the first place without having the barrier of the cost of living crisis.”
A frontline worker summarises the issue perfectly: “We need the government to really understand this crisis and take it seriously.”