When cuts cost lives: women’s economic independence and domestic violence
It’s been a while since I’ve blogged about violence against women and a trip to the Women’s Aid AGM last week reminded me that a blog is long overdue.
Yesterday, a UK government delegation was in Geneva for the UN Convention to Eliminate all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) examination. It would be fair to say that the picture of gender equality painted by the UK delegation is markedly different to the picture I would paint. Amongst the many upbeat assertions was a claim that “No evidence had been seen to say that women’s services were being adversely affected by reductions in government spending.” And that a range of funding programmes had been put in place to support the voluntary sector. The delegation was clearly made up of “glass half full” types of people. I must be a “glass half empty” person because I struggle to recognise the picture presented to CEDAW.
To my eyes, the effect of the cuts we’ve seen over recent years has been to roll back women’s equality, earnings, employment, labour market participation, choices, and wellbeing. I’m not the only one. A long list of organisations representing women, including the TUC, submitted evidence to the CEDAW shadow reporting process via the EHRC and the Women’s Resource Centre, highlighting concerns about the impact of government policy on gender equality.
Women’s unemployment now stands at over a million. That’s obviously bad news in and of itself but the ramifications of women’s unemployment go beyond the well known links to poverty, child poverty, health and social exclusion. What’s less well known is that unemployed women are over four times more likely to be victims of domestic violence than those in employment.
It’s well documented that there’s a strong relationship between poverty and violence against women. Money worries, redundancy, debt all ratchet up tensions in the home and can be a flashpoint for violence. The poorer a woman is, the less likely she is to have the means to get out and support her kids alone. Women who are in abusive relationships are more likely to be poor as abusive and controlling partners may withhold access to family income and women who work may lose out on pay through days off sick or may lose their jobs altogether because of unexplained absences from work.
According to analysis of the British Crime Survey by Professor Sylvia Walby, women in households with an income of less than £10,000 are three and a half times more at risk of domestic violence than those in households with an income of over £20,000. According to the same research, women who found it impossible to find £100 at short notice were three and a half times more likely to be subject to domestic violence than if this was no problem.
As well as limiting women’s economic independence, the rising levels of women’s unemployment also limits women’s interaction with networks of colleagues and friends outside of the home which may lead to women suffering domestic violence being further isolated. So, with no job, no money, no union or colleagues to turn to for help, where is a woman escaping an abusive relationship going to go? A women’s refuge?
Although the UK delegation in CEDAW proudly reported that funding had been put in place to support the voluntary sector, evidence from the sector itself suggests that this funding is nowhere near sufficient to mitigate the effects of cuts. Women’s Aid has reported that on a typical day in 2011, 230 women were turned away from refuges due to a lack of space.
I’ve written before about the False Economy FOI data on cuts to domestic violence and sexual abuse services. The data collected in 2011 found that the total amount of Local Authority funding lost to the domestic violence and sexual abuse sector in England was just under £2.5 million. This represents a 31% funding cut to the sector in the space of one year.
Surely even the most optimistic, “glass half full” type person must find these figures worrying. In my experience, just saying that things are OK doesn’t actually make them OK. This holds true even if you stand up in front of a UN Committee and say things are OK. What’s needed is investment in vital services and a growth plan that supports women’s jobs and women’s economic independence. Without this, the hurdles facing women trying to escape an abusive relationship will continue to get higher and higher.