Since the inception of Housing for Women, we know only too well that the provisions to help victims of domestic abuse falls short on so many fronts. The past four years of vigorous debate ignited by the Domestic Abuse Bill galvanised activists who aptly highlighted the need for systemic changes. The Royal Assent of the Domestic Abuse Bill on April 29th 2021, was undeniably a step in the right direction. However, there remains a deficit in the amount needed to ensure provisions to refuge funding but may allow funding to refuges’ to become more sustainable over time, with a ringfenced amount of £125 million per year. This will directly impact the work we do here at Housing for Women for domestic abuse survivors.
The report ‘Women and Rough Sleeping’ by academics Joanne Bretherton and Nicholas Pleace from the University of York’s Centre for Housing Policy showed “horrendous experiences of women, which often includes sexual abuse, violence and stigmatisation.” Research continues to show that womens’ homelessness is underestimated– mainly owing to their efforts to remain inconspicuous. The Act has made significant strides in recognising this link, which will now see survivors given priority need status when applying for homelessness assistance. We hope that this recognition will go some way in addressing the disparity and in national statistics, research, and policy about homeless women.
Other systemic changes included reforms to legal proceedings. For far too long, domestic abuse survivors were often re-victimised during the process of seeking justice. With the banning of cross-examination of survivors by perpetrators in the family and civil courts and allowing eligibility to special measures, such as testimony via video link, more survivors will speak out over time.
Another critical area the Act acknowledges is economic abuse, which will now be included in the statutory definition of domestic abuse, broadening the scope of understanding how this leads to post-separation abuse through coercion and control. Sadly, reforms to the Universal Credit system, which is failing so many, haven’t been addressed but will undoubtedly be something campaigners continue to advocate.
The establishment of the domestic abuse commissioners office opens up a clear path to continue lobbying for support for those excluded from the Act in its current form. Once again, migrant domestic abuse survivors were overlooked. As a result, they face a myriad of systemic and societal discrimination, but they are equally, if not more, vulnerable to modern slavery and further exploitation.
So, while this is a moment to celebrate the progress made, we must also remain steadfast in fighting for better protection to support marginalised women and highlight the lack of recognition for reforms to current systemic failures.