As I write, the latest headlines put inflation at 10.1% and the country is bracing itself for energy price hikes. The Mayor of London is warning of an increase in violence, Gordon Brown has described the situation as a crisis on the scale of the Covid epidemic and Martin Lewis, in his inimitable style, has called it a ‘financial cataclysm’. Across the nation, it impacts everyone but, as ever, the most vulnerable are the hardest hit.
At Restored, we walk alongside women who have been subjected to domestic abuse and we are seeing the very real impact this cost of living crisis is having on them.
When we think of domestic abuse, it’s easy to think of black eyes and bruised arms, but the reality is that it comes in many forms. At its heart is coercive control: where the abuser uses whatever tools they have at their disposal to control their partner. That might be the use of or threat of physical or sexual violence, or it might be a constant belittling - emotional abuse, isolating them from friends and family, making them doubt their sanity - psychological abuse, and it might be controlling finances - economic abuse.
Economic abuse itself can take many forms. An abuser might take out credit cards or other debts in their victim's names and run up enormous debts. Other survivors report that their abuser made it difficult for them to work; sabotaging attempts to do so, or banning it altogether. Other survivors tell of being given no access to any finance and being totally dependent on their partner.
Using the Cost of Living Increase as a tool for control
Recent research by Women’s Aid showed that two-thirds of respondents said that abusers are now using crisis and concerns about financial hardship as a tool for coercive control in and out of relationships. A fifth of survivors said their abusers are using it to justify controlling their access to money. Women who have left their abusers are saying that the crisis is being used to justify reducing child maintenance payments; control doesn’t always end when the relationship does.
"67% of survivors told Women’s Aid that they had to spend more time at home either because they could not afford outside activities or because they had to work more to make ends meet. When your home is not a place of safety, the reality of this is horrifying."
The real impact on victims
Whilst we may all share a concern about feeding our children and paying the bills, the reality for those living with an abuser is that the impact goes much further. Just as the Covid lockdowns added to the isolation of abuse, the cost of living crisis is having the same effect. 67% of survivors told Women’s Aid that they had to spend more time at home either because they could not afford outside activities or because they had to work more to make ends meet. When your home is not a place of safety, the reality of this is horrifying.
Whilst life at home worsens, it is simultaneously becoming harder to leave. Survivors already face a myriad of barriers to leaving, but the cost of living is a very real one. 73% of survivors told Women’s Aid that the crisis has made it harder or impossible to leave and that they could not afford to support their children on a single income. One woman put it like this:
“I feel like my only option to keep my kids is to go back to the marital home where he nearly killed me.”
So what can we do?
On one hand, it’s an impossible situation. None of us can single-handedly turn the nation’s economy, but what we can do, as Church, is provide community. It should be what we do best.
One of the most damaging yet overlooked effects of domestic abuse is isolation, and we can do something about that. It could be that we’re able to provide well-informed support for those leaving an abuser or provide accommodation, but it doesn’t need to be that big: the toddler groups we run, the cafés, the drop-ins, food banks, and youth groups are all opportunities to build relationships with those we meet. We can give value to those who have systematically been persuaded that they have none, and at the very least provide a free, safe place to simply be.
At Restored, we have a vision of a network of churches around the country providing a place of welcome and support to survivors of abuse, choosing to be part of God’s promise to put the lonely in families. (Psalm 68:6). We call these churches Restored Beacons; churches whose light guides survivors to safety. A beacon that calls the people of God to stand together to fix that which is broken in their communities and live out a different way.