Sunday, 16 June 2024
UK Charity Week 2024 - Sponsored by Sinclair Method UK
Sunday, 16 June 2024

Creating a sustainable route out of domestic abuse

WHILE rising homelessness and the lack of housing continue to dominate the headlines, it is worth re-examining the effect this situation has on the incidences of domestic abuse and how failure to tackle either issue effectively keeps those suffering trapped in a perpetual cycle of fear.

Official government statistics estimate that around 3000 people are sleeping rough, but this does not take into account those who are sofa surfing, camping out with family and friends, staying in hostels or emergency shelters – or simply those who prefer to stay under the radar.

The reality is that 300,000 new houses need to be built to ensure that the changing demographics of the UK population are adequately housed. That goal seems a long way off.

Non-profit family law experts Affordable Justice witness the impact that the risk and prevalence of homelessness have on women who are facing domestic abuse daily.

Many women are forced to continue living in circumstances which are, at the very least, detrimental to their health and well-being, and at the very worst keep them trapped in a situation that is life-threatening to both the woman and her children. The lack of alternative housing means that, even if they do escape into an emergency shelter, the ‘short-termism’ will only force them back into the shared home.

As a result, couples are often forced into a situation where they have to co-habit. This situation itself causes increased stress and tension within the home – a veritable breeding ground for continuing incidences of domestic abuse.

It feels at the moment that the government is merely throwing around sums of money to appease campaigners, and the latest ‘flee fund’ is just another example of this.

While the dog whistle response to the government’s announcement of a £2 million ‘flee fund’ for victims of domestic abuse should be one of applause, the fact of the matter is that this is just a gimmick that is barely a sticking plaster over the measures that are truly needed to make a real difference.

There is no denying that the £2500 sounds like a great opportunity to facilitate an escape from often terrifying domestic situations. But a few quid for food and nappies is a million miles away from addressing the real problems – the biggest of which is the severe lack of housing.

Where are all these women clutching their £2500 meant to go? £2 million will help a few hundred women at the very best. And then what?

Even if they do manage to escape – where to? They are still faced with the serious housing shortage in the UK, and the intense competition to be rehoused. That £2500 is going to burn a hole in their pockets until they can actually find somewhere permanent to rent.

The numbers simply do not add up. What is needed is a real and systematic investment in transitional supported housing for women where they can recover, recalibrate and rebuild their lives.

Having been involved in helping women fleeing from domestic abuse for the last couple of decades, I sincerely wish I could applaud this latest endeavour – but I fear it is only kicking the real issues further down the road. We are approaching a general election. Is it a sweetener, a box-ticking exercise? Or am I just being cynical?

What we need is a more holistic approach to service delivery, from supporting the woman with the process of actually making the decision to leave, and then leaving via a proven safe and sustainable pathway through to re-establishing life for herself and her children in a safe environment. In many ways, the set-up we have in Hull is a blueprint of how it should be done nationwide. Preston Road Women’s Centre is a safe haven for many women who are yet to make the decision to leave. As they draw strength and move towards a proactive decision, they are gently nurtured and supported.

Whether they come to us through the women’s centre itself, or through seeking legal advice with Affordable Justice, we can offer a proven pathway toward empowerment over their own lives, which results in a safe and permanent home of their own. And this is a pathway we are beginning to replicate throughout the uk, not just in our Hull HQ.

Our evolution and success over the last 25 years is a testament to what can and needs to be achieved on a national scale – this latest flee fund can then be utilised effectively but without the context of integrated service delivery, it’s simply another gimmick which will create more problems than it solves.


Lisa Hilder has 25 years of experience as a charity trustee and social entrepreneur, with experience as a senior manager and strategic service planner for the NHS. As a committed feminist activist Lisa helped to co-found both the Preston Road Women’s Centre in Hull and Affordable Justice. Lisa’s particular skills lie in collaborating on social investment projects, allocating funds for maximum return and benefit.


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