Women forced to choose between abuse and homelessness

Report reveals that the main barrier to leaving an abuser is fear of losing a tenancy.

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Women in the capital are being forced to choose between remaining at the hands of abuse or face homelessness, according to a new Solace Women’s Aid report.

Published today (16th October), Safe as Houses looks at how an increased fear of homelessness is keeping women in dangerous situations – with almost half saying that fear of losing their tenancy had been a barrier to leaving their abuser.

Nearly one in three women are said to make six or more approaches to seek safe accommodation, only to be turned away – with two out of three of those surveyed said to have had a negative experience of their Local Authority’s housing services.

According to the report, which was launched at a City Hall conference hosted by the Mayor’s Office for Police and Crime (MOPAC), domestic abuse offences in London increased by 63% between 2011 and 2018.

In 2018 there were 29 domestic homicides, up from just nine the previous year, and reports of rape and sexual assault increased by over 20% last year.

“One year on from the implementation of the Homelessness Reduction Act (2017), Solace, set out to investigate the impact of the legislation,” said the report.

“So far, the insights in the report show the Act has failed to deliver the hoped-for improvements for women seeking safety in London.”

Solace has said that, according to their own findings, women escaping abuse who receive specialist support are more than twice as likely to be housed by the Local Authority.

On reports, Fiona Dwyer, CEO of Solace, said: “The Safe as Houses report reaffirms our long-term commitment to putting housing at the top of the agenda for women fleeing violence and abuse.

“It evidences the need for radical change but also offers solutions to improve the situation for women fleeing abuse in London.

“Last year we supported 22,816 women, children, and men across all our services, providing us with a deep body of evidence and important insights from our users and staff, who tell us that lack of safe housing is the number one barrier to leaving.

“This is why we are calling on London change-makers to commit to three key actions that will materially improve the situation of all survivors made homeless through abuse.”

Following reports, Solace is calling for several commitments, including:

  • London homes are allocated to women fleeing abuse (At least 5% of Local Authority social housing lettings, plus 5% of all permanent new social homes built in London, are allocated each year to women and children made homeless through abuse)
  • Every London borough ensure women made homeless from abuse are made a priority for safe, secure, suitable housing
  • Every London borough puts in place strategies to ensure a clear pathway for women threatened with homelessness or made homeless due to abuse

Deputy Mayor for Housing and Residential Development James Murray has since expressed concerns following the report’s release, adding that it is “appalling that vulnerable women are forced to stay in dangerous situations because they are afraid of becoming homeless”.

“At City Hall, we have given extra priority to tenants who are survivors of domestic violence to move, and we are funding 200 homes specifically to help them and former rough sleepers move on with their lives,” said Murray.

“We will work with councils to do all we can, but the government must also step up and give us the funding and powers we need to build enough safe and secure homes so no woman ever has to stay in an abusive environment.”

Deputy Mayor of Policing and Crime Sophie Linden added: “It is entirely unacceptable that vulnerable women feel like they have to stay in an abusive environment to have a roof over their heads.

“The Mayor is absolutely determined to do everything in his power to tackle all forms of violence against women and girls.

“That is why he is investing a further £15m in services that give survivors the support they need to build a life without fear of violence, which is alongside the £10m he commits every year in programmes that deliver ongoing support for victims and fund rehabilitation projects for perpetrators of domestic violence.”

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