Blog: Housing and domestic abuse

Published: 25 Nov 2018

Author: Gudrun Burnet
Blog: Housing and domestic abuse

Today is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. An estimated 1.9 million adults experienced domestic abuse in England and Wales in 2017. It’s so important that we keep talking about this epidemic - and that we recognise, too, the vital role the housing sector can play in identifying and responding to domestic abuse.

As the Group Lead on Domestic Abuse at Peabody, one of the largest social housing providers in London, I’m very aware of how closely related the issues of domestic abuse and housing are. Many women stay in abusive relationships due to a lack of alternative housing options or suffer sexual exploitation in return for a roof over their head. It’s also clear that domestic abuse is a big contributor to homelessness among women. A report by the homelessness charity St Mungo’s in 2014 found that nearly 50% of their female clients had experienced domestic abuse.

I’m also aware of the role the housing sector can play in dealing with domestic abuse. Housing staff work on the front line and are often in people’s homes. Contractors and caretakers can be the eyes and ears of housing estates and are in an ideal position to not only spot signs of domestic abuse, such as abusive behaviour and damage to property like punch marks in walls, but to act as someone to reach out to.

In 2014, with all this in mind, I co-founded the Domestic Abuse Housing Alliance (DAHA), a national initiative working on the housing sector’s response to domestic abuse. As domestic abuse is a global issue, I also wanted to find out what I could learn from housing providers across the world. So in 2016 I embarked on a Churchill Fellowship to learn from best practice in the USA, Canada and Australia.

Below: Gudrun speaks at the Institute of Residential Property Management’s annual seminar in May 2018

Gudrun speaks at the Institute of Residential Property Management

My Fellowship travels showed me that we need to give people suffering domestic abuse more choices, including making more housing options available to them. In 2017 I set up the National Housing and Domestic Abuse Policy and Practice Group, bringing together for the first time representatives from the UK’s homelessness, housing and domestic abuse sectors. This group seek to develop a more coordinated approach to tackling domestic abuse, and work together to influence policy and practice on domestic abuse and housing.

The group have endorsed a ‘whole housing’ approach, which was inspired by my Fellowship travels. This approach maximises the ability of these sectors to work in tandem with each other, taking into account the long-term security of the survivor, as well as managing the short-term needs of someone urgently needing to escape a situation in which they are suffering abuse. Tackling issues holistically, instead of in a piecemeal fashion, could make a real difference to people affected by domestic abuse.

Pleasingly, policy makers seem to be taking notice. In March this year I was invited to 10 Downing Street to meet Prime Minister Theresa May and then Home Secretary Amber Rudd as part of International Women’s Day. I also now meet with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) and the Home Office each month, to update them on my work and discuss national policy.

Below: Gudrun outside 10 Downing Street

Gudrun outside 10 Downing Street

Furthermore, DAHA have partnered with the Chartered Institute of Housing and Women’s Aid on a campaign called Make a Stand, which asks housing providers in the UK to make a pledge committing to specific policies and practices aimed at tackling domestic abuse. The momentum of this campaign is incredible, with 253 housing providers now signed up to the pledge.

This month I will be speaking about the findings from my Fellowship, and the impact they are having on UK legislation and policy, at a workshop with the EU Parliament in Brussels and at a conference in the Hague, as part of the Europe-wide ‘Safe At Home’ project.

The Fellowship has changed my life and I could not be more grateful for the amazing opportunity. It’s now helping me to impact policy and practice not just in the UK, but internationally too.

(1) Year ending March 2017 Crime Survey for England and Wales.

Read Gudrun’s report

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