Nearly 70 percent of women in abusive relationships say their housing situation prevents them from leaving an abuser, according to the charity Women’s Aid.
The Domestic Abuse Bill now going through parliament will put a new duty on local authorities to provide accommodation for survivors.
But the chronic shortage of social housing threatens to undermine any changes to the law.
Margaret Thatcher’s Tory government gave five million council house tenants in England and Wales the “Right to Buy” their house from a local authority.
It was part of a plan to end social housing.
Some 40 years later that’s led to a housing crisis and means many of even the most vulnerable are left without a roof over their heads.
In a bid to overcome the shortages the new bill gives 75 English and Welsh local authority projects some £6 million to support victims with safe accommodation.
That extra funding amounts to just £50,000 per English council—with amounts for Wales determined by a complex formula.
But this will only scratch the surface.
Austerity cuts mean only 11 percent of homelessness services currently offer women-only accommodation—and this at a time of huge need.
Refuge, the domestic abuse charity, reported a 65 percent increase in calls to its helpline in the first week of lockdown.
Despite the demand, local authorities have only come up with 250 extra refuge beds for domestic abuse victims.
Lucy Hadley from Women’s Aid, says, “This shows why we urgently need action to ensure the national network of refuges can meet demand and is resilient in the face of crises such as the pandemic.”
The lack of safe housing for abuse victims has led to growing calls for the perpetrators of abuse to be made to leave family accommodation, rather than those they have abused.
But the lack of housing for them can further endanger their victims.
This point is reinforced by a letter organised by the Drive Project. It calls for more housing to be available for the perpetrators so that they leave the home.
The Project warns that “without a viable housing pathway for the perpetrator we risk exposing past, current or future victims to abuse.”
The letter, addressed to the government’s minister for rough sleeping and housing, questions a statement by Home Secretary Priti Patel earlier this year.
Patel said, “Perpetrators should be the ones who have to leave the family home, not the supposed loved ones whom they torment and abuse”.
Certainly victims’ accommodation needs have to come first. But sometimes that may mean them leaving the home for a place of safety.
And in most cases, if victims stay in the home, they will be left with the financial burden of running the house alone with very little government support.
The bureaucratic realities of removing a perpetrator means that lack of housing is not the only problem facing people who have suffered domestic abuse.
It’s clear that far more resources are required than the government is prepared to provide.
The Domestic Abuse Bill will fail many victims if housing, funding and support remain unavailable.