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A perfect storm – the cost of living crisis and domestic abuse

21 November 2022
  • I found it quite difficult to find the words to start this blog on domestic abuse as my interest, like many others’, comes a lot from personal experience.

    These days, it seems like you have to be quite lucky not to have your own story to tell or know someone who does. It’s a challenging topic but there is a lot of power to be gained from talking about these experiences openly which we’re starting to see more and more of. This is certainly a positive thing as the statistics [opens in new window] show the scale of the problem pretty starkly:

    • Over 400,000 women are sexually assaulted in England and Wales every year and every week, 2 women are killed by their current or former partners;
    • Not only does it have a devastating effect on the individual but the cost to society is also huge - it is estimated that £66 billion has been spent on the repercussions of domestic abuse in England and Wales to date.

    This is a very concerning position as current systems aimed at supporting survivors are often fragmented and local authorities don’t always have a clear picture on where the gaps are, as shown by Audit Wales’ 2019 report [opens in new window]. These statistics don’t take away from the fact that men also experience domestic and sexual violence but it is an issue which disproportionately affects women.

    The Cost-of-living Crisis and Violence against Women

    Using finances as a means of control is a common theme in domestic abuse cases. There’s a lot of different ways this can manifest itself but some of the common behaviours include insisting a partner accounts for every penny they spend or stopping them from going to work. It’s not a big jump to assume that the cost-of-living crisis will only increase the prevalence of these issues making it harder for survivors to escape. Unfortunately, that is exactly what is already happening. According to Women’s Aid [opens in new window], 73% of women who experience abuse have found that the cost-of-living crisis has stopped them from leaving their abusers or it has made leaving more difficult.

    The cost-of-living crisis is also going to have a hugely detrimental impact on services which support survivors, particularly in the third sector. The surge in energy costs that they face is only going to adversely affect the number of people they can help. These services have already had to deal with grave staffing issues following the pressures of Covid and this will probably worsen as the cost-of-living crisis starts to bite harder. Many of the roles in this space offer salaries which haven’t kept up with the rate of inflation for many years.

    The statistics that showed the pandemic’s effect on domestic abuse cases were an eye-opener to the say the least. It’s very worrying to think that we’re likely to see a similar situation during the cost-of-living crisis where survivors are stuck at home with their abusers without the resources to escape. This equals more abuse cases, more calls to police, more resources required from healthcare providers and more pressure on local authorities and third sector organisations for support. All of this on top of a system having to juggle the increase in demand with their own rising operational costs. In essence, a perfect storm is brewing.

    As the new National Advisor for Violence Against Women, Gender Based Violence, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (VAWDASV) in Welsh Government, Johanna Robinson comments, ‘it can’t be the responsibility of a single organisation to tackle the problem - a multi-agency approach to providing support to survivors is crucial. However, some of the solutions may also need to be found in a mindset change. Keeping all that we have and increasing it to meet growing needs should always be considered first, but the cost-of-living crisis may mean that doing more with less won’t be an option anymore.”

    Sources of hope

    There is no way of sugar-coating the statistics around violence against women and nor should they be. However, there are some encouraging developments that are taking place in Wales which show that things can change. For example, South Wales is one of the first police forces in the UK to pilot Operation Soteria, a new approach to investigating rape cases in an attempt to increase currently dismal prosecution statistics.

    The Audit Wales 2019 report also highlighted some really good examples of multi-agency work such as Swansea’s One Stop Shop project which brings representatives from the council and third sector under one roof. This cohesive system makes it a lot easier for survivors to navigate the system of support.

    Taking action

    Hopefully, you have made it to the end of this blog post without clicking the exit button at the top of the screen in despair!

    As well as public bodies who will need to consider the effects discussed, there are things that can be done on an individual level as well…

    • Question your own level of knowledge on the subject – do you know what the signs of domestic abuse are [opens in new window] and would you know how to start a conversation about it?
    • Ask your organisation if they have any staff training on the subject and if not, could this be implemented?
    • White Ribbon Day [opens in new window] is also approaching on 25 November 2022 which encourages all men to take action against violence against women. There are some great resources on their website for anyone wanting to take an active part in ending violence against women.

    It may seem like an impossible problem to solve but action that helps even one person is always worth investing in and with decreasing public resources, it is all the more important for individual action to be taken.

    About the Author

    Lauren Goulder is a member of the Research and Development team. She is currently completing a one-year placement with Audit Wales as part of the All-Wales Public Service Graduate Scheme. She will be returning to Welsh Government in 2023 to finish the programme.