Wednesday 11th September
Today, national domestic abuse charity Women’s Aid launch the No Woman Turned Away report 2019 which shows that the charity has supported 309 women who were left with nowhere to turn as they fled domestic abuse.
In the last year, 136 (44%) of these women sofa-surfed, 42 (14%) stayed in local authority emergency accommodation, 22 (7%) slept rough and 12 (4%) stayed in a B&B, hostel or hotel.
Women like Alya are faced with a stark choice between homelessness or returning to their abuser:
“I have no benefit, nothing, and I cannot apply for indefinite leave … My only chance is to go back to him.” – Alya
While waiting for a refuge space, 59 women (19%) experienced further abuse from their perpetrator. The report describes the insurmountable financial difficulties that survivors face when fleeing domestic abuse, with many women struggling to feed themselves and their children, and pay for the phone calls and transportation required to reach a safe place to stay.
Most survivors reported an immense negative impact on their own and their children’s wellbeing, and how this compounded the trauma they experienced from their abusers. Some survivors reported suicidal feelings linked to the stress of trying to find a safe place to stay. Of the 17 women who were interviewed in depth, two attempted to kill themselves.
Women’s Aid’s Annual Audit (2019) found a shortfall of refuge bed spaces of 1,715 in England. The report also found that 57% of domestic abuse service providers were running an area of their service with no dedicated funding, and 31% reported that, since 2014, they’ve had to make staff cuts due to reduced funding.
“By the end of it I was just broken and there’s just pieces of me … I don’t know whether my perpetrator was worse or this was worse … I’d come from one thing and got dumped into another hellhole.” – Mumtaz.
“I have no money at all, for my daughter, for her food, for her clothes, it’s getting colder day by day.” – Emira.
Adina Claire, Acting Co-Chief Executive of Women’s Aid, said:
“It’s scandalous that, in 2019, women fleeing domestic abuse still face the terrifying prospect of either returning to their perpetrator or facing homelessness. We are facing a chronic shortage of bed spaces in specialist refuge services, and this is causing unimaginable suffering for women at a time when they are most in need of support.
“Survivors fleeing domestic abuse should not have to sofa-surf. Our report tells the story of women who have endured unsafe living arrangements, overcrowding, broken friendships and further abuse while sofa-surfing. Hostels or emergency accommodation are not appropriate either – women recovering from domestic abuse need the specialist, holistic support that domestic abuse refuges provide. It goes without saying that survivors should not have to sleep rough, yet, for the third year running, we found that this is still happening, even to pregnant women and children.
“Our research shows that BME women are far more likely to face homelessness as a result of domestic abuse. We cannot let this continue. At Women’s Aid we firmly believe that every survivor should receive the right support, the first time they ask for it. To deliver this, we need sustainable funding for life-saving services in every community, including the very specialist services led ‘by and for’ BME women which have been hit hardest by budget cuts and poor commissioning decisions.
“As it stands today, a survivor’s access to support services is dependent on her immigration status. We are calling on the government to deliver a domestic abuse bill that guarantees access to support for every survivor, including women with ‘no recourse to public funds’.
Earlier this year Theresa May promised a landmark legal duty for councils to fund support for survivors in refuge and safe accommodation, and we strongly urge Boris Johnson to deliver on this pledge. It is also crucial that the law is changed to ensure that all survivors escaping domestic abuse are automatically in ‘priority need’ for housing. The desperate experiences of women and children detailed in this report must end.”
Key recommendations for government:
- Provide sufficient bed spaces in specialist refuges to meet the level of demand nationally.
- Ensure that migrant women, including those with no recourse to public funds, do not face discriminatory treatment which prevents them from safely escaping domestic abuse and having fair access to services.
- Through the domestic abuse bill, ensure individuals fleeing domestic abuse are automatically considered in priority need for housing, rather than being subject to the ‘vulnerability test’.
Women’s Aid is the national charity working to end domestic abuse against women and children. Over the past 44 years, Women’s Aid has been at the forefront of shaping and coordinating responses to domestic violence and abuse through practice, research and policy. We empower survivors by keeping their voices at the heart of our work, working with and for women and children by listening to them and responding to their needs.
We are a federation of over 180 organisations who provide just under 300 local lifesaving services to women and children across the country. We provide expert training, qualifications and consultancy to a range of agencies and professionals working with survivors or commissioning domestic abuse services, and award a National Quality Mark for services which meet our quality standards. We hold the largest national data set on domestic abuse, and use research and evidence to inform all of our work. Our campaigns achieve change in policy, practice and awareness, encouraging healthy relationships and helping to build a future where domestic abuse is no longer tolerated.
The 24 Hour National Domestic Violence Helpline on 0808 2000 247 (run in partnership with Refuge) and ¬our range of online services, which include the Survivors’ Forum, help hundreds of thousands of women and children every year.