29 December 2022

The impact of the cost-of-living crisis on survivors of domestic abuse

Refuge CEO Ruth Davison and PayPlan CEO Rachel Duffey sound the alarm about the impact of the cost-of-living crisis on survivors of domestic abuse...

Refuge, the UK’s largest national domestic abuse charity, and free debt advice provider, PayPlan have been working together since 2019 supporting survivors of domestic abuse with debt. This important relationship provides support to the many thousands of survivors of economic abuse, a form of domestic abuse.  

Just a couple of years ago when we began our partnership little was known about the link between finances and domestic abuse. It was vital, therefore, that we were able to raise awareness and spread the word about the long-term impact economic abuse was having on survivors.  As many as one in five adults in the UK experience economic abuse; the majority being women, who are left in debt as a result, and it was important that we worked together to train and support those working in the financial sector to understand what economic abuse is, and how to support customers who need help.  That was 2019. Since then, a global pandemic thrust the issue of domestic abuse into the public spotlight, people empathised with the thought of being trapped in their homes with an abuser, and they understood that home is not a safe place for everyone. Refuge saw first-hand how the impact of Covid-19 escalated demand for our National Domestic Abuse Helpline, the gateway to domestic abuse services throughout the country, as calls and contacts increased by 66% in the first few months of lockdown. As demand for our services rose, so too seemingly did public understanding. 

Fast forward to now, the tail-end of 2022, in a post-pandemic world we are once again sounding the alarm. The pandemic did not cause domestic abuse, we know abuse is a societal problem rooted in power, control and misogyny, what we do know though is that the effects of the pandemic – redundancies, furlough, lockdowns – have escalated existing abuse and exacerbated already abusive behaviours. Survivors have told us that economic abuse increased when their or their partners income was impacted by furlough – the perpetrator increased their power over the household, tightening purse strings and increasing threats of violence.  

We are now in a cost-of-living crisis, the likes not seen before, and everyone is feeling the impact, with soaring energy bills and food prices, but for survivors of domestic abuse this is yet another weight to bear, and it has become unbearable.  

Refuge surveyed our front-line staff this summer and 92% of respondents said they feared the cost-of-living crisis is pushing survivors into debt or further into debt. We know the financial implications of fleeing an abuser often mean women and their children arrive at our services with very little, but we are now concerned the cost-of-living crisis is increasing barriers to leaving a perpetrator, 73% of Refuge’s frontline workers surveyed said this is the case.  Noone should be forced to choose between heating and eating, no one should be forced to stay with an abuser rather than flee to safety. We are concerned the cost-of-living crisis is costing lives. 

PayPlan have seen a steep increase in demand for their specialist debt advice, the number of referrals from Refuge to PayPlan has risen by 35% in a year from 2021 to 2022. Similarly, to Refuge PayPlan are all too aware of the barriers the cost-of-living crisis is presenting in the clients we support, and many have reported ‘divorce’ as being one of the things they cannot afford to do, many are feeling trapped with abusers or stuck in extremely unhappy relationships due to the nature of this crisis. 41% of clients PayPlan support said the cost-of-living crisis is impacting their relationships, 80% say their mental health has been impacted, 28% are putting off moving house, and 79% are cutting back on socialising because of this crisis, we know that all these factors and the isolation around them have the potential to escalate abuse.  

Without government intervention, more survivors of abuse will find themselves in difficult financial situations and further debt because of this crisis. That’s why Refuge and other VAWG charities have called for an emergency fund for survivors of domestic abuse, so the cost of fleeing is one fewer concern for them.  

For anyone experiencing difficulties at the moment, we want you to know that support is available, and you are not alone.