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New evidence shows stark link between financial hardship and violence for women – prompts calls for increased payments

New evidence of the link between financial hardship as a cause and consequence of family violence for women strengthens calls ahead of the Women’s Safety Summit September 6-7, by  Anti-Poverty Week, for increases to income support to keep women at risk of family violence safer.

“The Women’s Safety Summit needs to address poverty and homelessness,” said Anti-Poverty Week Executive Director Toni Wren.  “Living in poverty and struggling to keep a roof over their heads should not be the price women pay to leave, or the barrier that stops them.”

“Although domestic violence affects women from all communities and income levels, this study clearly shows women on very low income levels are more likely to be affected. It also shows that experiencing domestic violence directly causes increased financial hardship for those women,” said Ms Wren.

The new analysis by Queensland University as part of the Life Course Centre looked at the 2017 Women’s Health Survey, with a focus on women under 28 and found that:

  • Young women who were in financial hardship experienced double the rate of partner abuse than women who weren’t in financial hardship (25.3% vs 12.9%), and
  • 1 in 5 young women (20%) moved into financial hardship if they had been the victim of severe partner abuse in the past year, more than triple the rate for young women who were not in an abusive relationship (5.6%).

“The stark reality is that women who leave a violent relationship often have to surrender their home, the majority of their personal belongings, and financial savings,” said Ms Wren.

“Research from 2020 showed the COVID-19 pandemic is increasing the prevalence and frequency of domestic violence and coercive control and there are fears the prolonged lockdowns this year are worsening the situation,” said Ms Wren.

  • Australian Women Against Violence Alliance estimate that it costs $18,000 (on average) for a woman to leave a violent relationship and establish safety. This includes costs associated with reallocation, safety upgrades and legal and medical costs. March 2021
  • Research published in 2015 found that women were much less likely to gain any financial settlement from the partnership where violence had been a factor
  • The ABS Personal Safety Survey in 2017 found that 1 in 5 women returned to violent partners because they had no financial support, or nowhere else to go.

“Poverty is a key factor that prevents women leaving violent relationships, and prevents women who do leave from recovering from family violence,” said Ms Wren.

“Overwhelmingly women who leave violence are unemployed for some time and are therefore reliant on social security payments which are well below the poverty line.

  • There were just over 237,000 Parenting Payment Single recipients in June 2021, 95% of whom were female. There were over 93,000 JobSeeker and Youth Allowance Other single parents (DSS Demographics, June 2021.)
  • Anti-Poverty Week estimates there a total of 300,000 female single parents caring for around 575,000 children. (DSS Demographics, June 2021.)
  • A 2018 report on social security and family violence from Economic Justice Australia found “many clients reported a sense of the social security system having failed them when they most needed support“.

We have the solution to ensure poverty is not the inevitable outcome of violence for women and children

In 2020 the Coronavirus Supplement of $550 per fortnight provided to social security recipients literally transformed the lives of single parents – especially those who had left violent relationships.

The 550 Reasons to Smile campaign initiated by the National Council for Single Mothers and their Children (NCSMC) documented how being lifted out of poverty meant women had enough to leave a situation of violence and were better able to recover.

As NCSMC CEO Terese Edwards said:

The supplement is helping women get the bond together to leave a situation of domestic violence, buy a family computer so kids can home school, put healthy food on the table three times a day and make it possible to repair cars and pay for other essentials like regular medication.”  September 2020

“We call on the Ministers who attend the Women’s Safety Summit to ensure that poverty is no longer the inevitable outcome of violence,” said Ms Wren.  “This Summit would be a success if it committed to:

  • Increase income support above the poverty line
  • Fix child support compliance as non-payment is a form of financial abuse and control
  • Build more social housing so women don’t have to risk homelessness by leaving;
  • Included measurable targets in the future National Safety Plan
  • Commit to tackling gender inequality, the main driver of violence.

Link to APW Fast Fact Women, Violence and Poverty

We are grateful to our partners and major sponsor, the Life Course Centre for this new analysis. See link here.


For more, see our special 3 September 2021 eNews