Domestic abuse caused nearly one in six new homelessness cases in England between April and June, with numbers rising even as the overall increase in homelessness slowed, according to government figures.
Data out last week from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities shows that of 34,830 households newly assessed in early 2021 as homeless 5,590 were in that position because of domestic abuse. The number of cases attributable to domestic violence was the highest since records began in 2018 – and a third higher than in the same period in 2019.
“It is completely unacceptable that women feel they must choose between staying with an abuser or facing homelessness or unsafe and unsuitable housing,” said Sarah Davidge of the charity Women’s Aid.
“While the Covid-19 pandemic did not cause domestic abuse – only abusers are responsible for their actions – it has led to the escalation of existing abuse and closed down routes to safety for women to escape.”
Research by Women’s Aid last year found that most women living with an abuser reported that the abuse had worsened during the pandemic, with a fifth prevented from leaving by a lack of housing or refuge space.
“A sector facing a lack of sustainable funding, among other challenges, struggles to cope with the high numbers of women, and their children, who need to access their services,” said Davidge.
“Women’s Aid estimates that an annual investment of at least £409m is needed to run specialist domestic abuse services across England. The recent autumn budget missed an opportunity to direct much-needed financial support into services like this that would help more women to find safe accommodation and keep them off the streets.”
She added: “The government must prioritise the safety and security of women, and their children, who are fleeing abusive households.”
Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, said: “It is heartbreaking and shameful to see the number of people made homeless as a result of domestic abuse at its highest level on record. Those fleeing abusive relationships need suitable, affordable and safe homes, but they are being woefully let down by the housing emergency.
“Today’s mix of grossly expensive private rents, benefit cuts and a chronic lack of secure social homes can mean survivors are faced with the impossible choice of staying in a dangerous situation or becoming homeless if they leave.
“If we had enough good-quality social housing, we could provide the sanctuary of a safe place to all those fleeing domestic abuse. To stop people becoming homeless, or putting their lives in danger to keep a roof over their head, the government must invest in building the new social homes this country desperately needs.”
A spokesperson for the Local Government Association also called for more funding for social housing, and added: “The recent domestic abuse bill focuses on accommodation-based support and has not taken into consideration any wider community-based support services. “We have outlined concerns that focusing effort and resources towards the crisis end of domestic abuse services will not prevent domestic abuse in the long term. Some consideration needs to be given to the wider support available to victims presenting as homeless, which is why we are calling for investment in community-based domestic abuse support services as well as accommodation.”
A government spokesperson said: “We are investing millions into vital services to support domestic abuse victims, so those who leave their home have somewhere safe to go. This is alongside a pioneering £4.2m respite room pilot, providing safe housing and support for victims at risk of sleeping rough.”