Housing should be the least of a survivor’s worries. For too many it is the biggest.
A roof over their head should be the foundation from which women can spring. For too many survivors of violence against women and girls, it is the biggest barrier they face to getting support.
The impacts of gender-based violence can be devastating. Survivors of gender-based violence face higher rates of poor mental health, addiction, and are more likely to live in poverty.
Many will need gender- and trauma-informed therapeutic support to recover and thrive from male violence. But for too many, the simple fact of finding a place to sleep at night is getting in the way of recovery and growth.
In recent years, the evidence of a link between housing, homelessness, and gender-based violence has become undeniable. Almost 70% killings of women by men took place in the home. Almost half of homeless women has experienced domestic abuse, and a quarter has experienced sexual abuse. More than one survivor of domestic abuse a day is denied access to temporary accommodation.
Being more likely to live in poverty and on low incomes, women are hardest hit by a lack of affordable and social housing: evidence from the Women’s Budget Group shows that there is no region in England where private rented housing is affordable on women’s median earnings.
The result is too many women facing the impossible choice between staying with an abusive partner, or facing life on the streets.
Not only is housing getting in the way of survivors addressing their needs, it is even exacerbating them. Women sleeping rough are more likely to experience further violence, with many entering or staying in relationships with abusive partners, in order to stay safe on the streets. Rough sleeping women have particularly complex needs, with higher rates of poor mental and physical health. Tragically, the average age of death for a homeless woman is as low as 42.
In 2020, in the sixth largest economy in the world, this should not be happening. If Government is really committed to tackling domestic and sexual violence, it must look at the way the housing crisis is perpetuating abuse and persecuting survivors.
At Commonweal, we support specialist charitable partners to find housing solutions to social injustice, operating across a broad spectrum of social policy. A lot of this work is underpinned by the fact that a roof over your head is needed before you can address the other challenges in your life.
Since our inception, we have worked with a number of women’s organisations, to support those at the sharpest end of gender inequality.
With our current partner, Solace Women’s Aid we run two projects for survivors of violence against women and girls (VAWG). The Rhea project provides independent housing to survivors of domestic abuse and their children. The Amari project provides step-down accommodation for survivors of sexual exploitation to reach independence with support.
One of the things we’ve learnt from these partners and projects is that housing is an increasing concern for specialist VAWG charities. With the housing crisis deepening, and homelessness on the rise, many are increasingly having to provide housing support and projects, picking up the pieces where the Government is failing.
Such partnership work is vital: so that housing charities can learn how to support women at the margins, and VAWG charities can best equip their clients with the housing advice and support they need.
While survivors have a roof over their heads, specialist charities can support them in their journey into independence and freedom.
But when lack of housing is the primary need in the way of clients being able to access support and reach their full potential, we know something has gone drastically wrong in the fight for freedom from gender-based violence.
On International Women’s Day in 2020, we should be able to focus on how to progress women’s rights and well being even further. Too often women’s charities are just having to keep the crisis at bay.