‘I think he will kill me:’ Women say domestic abusers are using the cost of living crisis for coercive control

One woman unable to leave her abuser said: “Sometimes I think he will kill me.”

The cost of living crisis is having a “staggering” impact on women experiencing domestic abuse, with three-quarters of victims saying they are “stuck” and unable to flee.

From worrying about how to pay for essentials and the fear of getting into debt, to being used as another method of control by abusers - the crisis has made it harder to get away, leaving victims’ trapped.

A recent survey by Women’s Aid has revealed spiralling bills have created extra barriers to escaping violent men, with 66% of respondents saying financial issues are being used to coerce partners.

While frontline staff at the charity Refuge reported that three quarters of domestic abuse victims they spoke to were resorting to using food banks for essentials.

The situation has become especially dire without the resources to help them get out, and the fear of what might happen to them.

Charities have called for an emergency fund to be put in place to help survivors, as well as an immediate reintroduction of the £20 Universal Credit uplift and better provision to legal support.

But how has the cost of living crisis affected those trying to flee domestic violence, and what can be done to help?

The cost of living crisis has made it harder for those experiencing domestic abuse to flee their abusers.

How has the cost of living crisis affected domestic abuse victims?

The Women’s Aid survey found 73% of women living with and having financial links to their abuser said that the cost of living crisis has either prevented them from leaving or made it harder for them to leave.

Between June and July, the charity surveyed 137 women who experienced domestic abuse in the pasty year. The majority of respondents were from England, with 42% of those replying aged 31-40 years old.

Among the reasons women were unable to leave included being unable to afford ongoing living costs on a single income, the immediate costs of leaving and not being able to support their children.

Farah Nazeer, chief executive of Women’s Aid said:“The current cost of living crisis has been devastating for survivors of domestic abuse.

“We know that domestic abuse and economic abuse go hand in hand with abusers often controlling every aspect of a woman’s life.

“The soaring energy and food costs, coupled with stagnant wages, will leave many women more vulnerable to abuse.”

The majority (96%) said the crisis had a negative impact on their financial situation.

The survey also found that two thirds (66%) of survivors said that abusers are now using the cost of living increase and concerns about financial hardship as a tool for coercive control. 

While more than a fifth (21%) of survivors said their abuser used the crisis to justify controlling their access to money, including reducing the money they are given for essential items.

While Ruth Davison, Refuge chief executive officer, said the charity’s frontline staff had reported that survivors were being pushed into debt.

A survey with the charity’s frontline staff found 75% said the cost of living crisis means that survivors of domestic abuse needed to use food banks for essentials.

While almost all (92%), reported that it is pushing survivors into debt or further debt and 73% said financial issues were increasing barriers to women leaving their perpetrator.

She said:“The cost of living crisis is having a real and measurable impact on the women Refuge supports.

“We have long been aware that lack of access to money can be a significant barrier to a woman’s ability to flee their abuser or seek specialist support.

“The degree to which our frontline staff are now hearing that women are balancing the danger of living with their perpetrator and the struggle of managing alone is staggering.”

What have victims of domestic abuse said?

Accounts of women trapped in abusive relationships have been released by West Midlands Victims’ Commissioner Nicky Brennan.

The comments were made as part of surveys for victims and support providers being carried out to monitor how hard rising bills are impacting them. Although the surveys are open until 25 August, some comments have been made public.

And the responses released show just how dire the situation has become for some women, with one making the heart-breaking comment: “I have no idea what is really going on inside this prison…no one comes, no one helps. I don’t even know if anyone knows I’m alive here.”

While another said: “All I want is for me and my children to be safe and not feel like I am begging for support.”

Another spoke of her fear about what her abuser might do, saying: “I cannot leave my abuser I am stuck. No money, no place to go. Sometimes I think he will kill me.”

Ms Brennan said: “We have already heard from many women who are in a desperate situation and the cost of living crisis is making everything worse.

“More and more women are not able to raise the funds to escape their abusers and I want to use the findings of these surveys to lobby government for more support, be it direct, through support services or through more refuge space.”

Will the situation improve?

The dire economic situation looks set to continue - and it may mean the devastating consequences of the cost for living crisis will be longer-term for domestic abuse victims.

Farah Nazeer said urgent action was needed, saying the crisis was set to deepen, she said: “We are quickly approaching the winter months where the crisis will only get worse. Survivors have suffered enough, having been trapped in their homes during Covid: they must be offered the help they need to support their children and to be free from abuse.”

Meanwhile, Stowe Family Law also recently conducted a survey on how the cost of living crisis and as part of it looked at how it was impacting relationships.

Around one quarter of those polled revealed they are remaining in their current relationship for fear of not being able to afford life on their own.

Shanika Haynes, senior associate, said: “Financial tensions and pressures can be one of the factors behind abusive behaviour in relationships.

“The pressure caused by the cost of living crisis in the UK has a considerable impact on people in abusive relationships.

“This is not only because the risk of physical, emotional and financial abuse increases exponentially, but also because people may not think they can  afford to leave the financial security of their abusive partner.

She added: “There has been a worrying increase in people facing difficulties in attempting to leave their abuser/abusive relationship.

“I expect to see this worsen over the next six months given we are expecting another increase in energy bills imminently.”

Shanika Hayes from Stowe Family Law.

What is needed to help improve the situation?

Women’s Aid has called for an Emergency Domestic Abuse Fund to support survivors and to meet the increasing demand for refuges as well as the rising costs of delivering safe care.

The charity also wants to see a reduction in energy costs for all refuges during the cost of living crisis, as well as  better provision of legal services for survivors.

As part of this it is calling for a reduction in the impact of legal aid costs for survivors and fairer access to legal aid and other advocacy services as well as  interest-free loans for legal support where necessary.

Ms Nazeer said: “This crisis is having an unprecedented impact on women and children and requires urgent action. While the government has made some positive progress in this area, more must be done. We urge the Government to provide an Emergency Support Fund for Survivors to offset the impact of the cost of living crisis. We also ask that the Government offers discounts on energy bills to domestic abuse services that provide lifesaving support.”

While Refuge’s Ruth Davidson added: “Refuge supports the call of Women’s Aid Federation England for an emergency fund to be put in place for survivors of domestic abuse, and for the £20 Universal Credit uplift to be immediately reintroduced for all claimants, as a first step towards ensuring survivors of domestic abuse are able to flee and access the specialist support they need and deserve.”

What help is available?

There a range of charities which offer support to those experiencing domestic abuse.

Free support services like Refuge’s National Domestic Abuse Helpline are available 24/7, Women’s Aid, and Victim Support are among those offering help.

Ms Hayes said: “It is important to remember that there is help out there for those who need it.

“There are many charities dedicated to supporting victims of domestic abuse, many of whom will be able to provide support to those with financial worries.

With regard to legal provision she said: “At Stowe Family Law, we have specialist domestic abuse solicitors who can advise on the legal options you can take.

“A family lawyer can advise survivors in relation to where they stand with regards to securing a financial settlement if the parties were married or cohabiting. They can also discuss whether Legal Aid is available.”