“Why should we have to move everywhere and everything because of him?”
That question is on the front of Change, Justice, Fairness, a Scottish Women’s Aid community research project into homelessness caused by domestic abuse in Fife.
Too often, the trauma suffered by victims of domestic abuse is exacerbated when they are forced to leave their homes, often with their children. It is not acceptable that they should be forced into this situation.
It is unlikely that the event that led to them seeking help was the first incident. Safe Lives suggest that someone will endure 50 incidents of abuse or violence before getting effective help.
So you have very vulnerable, traumatised individuals, the vast majority of whom are women, having to declare themselves as homeless. That means that they are put in temporary accommodation, perhaps for short periods into bed and breakfast accommodation with no cooking facilities, where they don’t have the comfort of having their own things around them, the children don’t have their toys. They are perhaps in an unfamiliar area away from their support networks. They could get moved at any time to different temporary accommodation. That instability and insecurity piling even more distress on to them.
Those who aren’t married and aren’t named on the tenancy face a lengthy and complicated battle to gain occupancy rights if they wish to stay in their home.
The process of transferring a tenancy can also take time, during which the victim can be homeless. This needs to be sorted with greater speed. The Scottish Government needs to produce guidance that strengthens the rights of the victim to prevent them going down the stressful homeless route.
This is why I persuaded the Scottish Liberal Democrats to pass policy calling for better support for housing for victims of domestic abuse. In a very moving debate, members shared their own experiences.
We call on the Scottish Government to do more to ensure that they have the right to stay in their own home if they wish to do so. If they are to be moved, that should be done in a planned way. We recognise that the statutory homeless route is not appropriate for families who are suffering the effects of abuse.
I was surprised to learn that not all social housing providers have stand alone domestic abuse policies so we call on housing associations to do more to support people in this situation
The Women’s Aid research identified serious flaws in the way victims were treated. Women described how they had to talk about what had happened to them in an open plan office.
A third of the staff who dealt with disclosures of abuse said that they had not had any training.
Particularly troubling was the fact that the majority of service providers didn’t have any idea that the moment of leaving an abusive partner was the most dangerous for the victim.
In 2018, the Chartered Institute of Housing, working with Women’s Aid and the Domestic Abuse Housing Alliance launched the Make a Stand campaign to encourage the housing sector to do more to support victims of domestic abuse.
It’s not just about writing a policy, it’s about embedding it and making sure that one person in the organisation is responsible for making sure it works. It’s about making sure people have easy access to domestic abuse services. And it’s about putting in place HR policies aimed at supporting their own staff who may be experiencing domestic abuse. It’s changing the culture of the whole organisation and its understanding and awareness of this issue.
We also called on the Scottish Government to provide a destitution fund for those who can’t access benefits. If you are leaving an abusive relationship and you are here as an under some other form of immigration control, you may have no recourse to public funds. That means you can’t get child benefit, universal credit, and disability benefits. You can’t even access the Scottish Welfare Fund.
So if you leave, you have no way of feeding or clothing yourself. Shakti Women’s Aid in Edinburgh’s evidence to the committee was horrendous. Women described how they were having to resort to using pillowcases as nappies. That is no way to treat people who are in an incredibly vulnerable position, who were already terrified about their future being in the hands of the Home Office.
Our plans give real choice to women who are leaving an abusive situation. It gives them the chance to stay within their own homes if they wish so that their whole lives and those of their children are not thrown into even more turmoil.