Tackling child poverty - progress report 2023-2024: annex B - focus report on other marginalised groups at risk of poverty

A focus report looking at other marginalised groups at risk of poverty. It provides an evidence review on barriers across the three drivers of poverty and available evidence on what works.

Victims/Survivors of domestic abuse

Domestic abuse can take many different forms. It can be physical abuse, but it can also include coercive and/or controlling behaviour. Examples below are not an exhaustive list, but provide an idea of what form controlling and coercive behaviour may take. Abuse that has the effect of:

  • Making someone dependent on or subordinate to the abuser
  • Isolating someone from their friends, relatives or other sources of support
  • Controlling, regulating or monitoring someone’s day to day activities
  • Depriving someone of, or restricting their freedom of action e.g. controlling their phone/communication access or access to money
  • Frightening, humiliating, degrading or punishing someone e.g. abusive name calling, playing mind games that causes someone to doubt their sanity[49]

The vast majority of domestic abuse reported to the police is experienced by women and is perpetrated by men. Four in five (81%) incidences in 2022/23 involved a female victim and a male suspected perpetrator.[50] Therefore, this chapter considers the issues that affect women victims/survivors of domestic abuse.

Leaving an abuser often does not mean the end of the abuse nor security or safety for the victim/survivor. Leaving a perpetrator is a time of increased risk of serious violence, and a time when a woman is statistically most likely to be killed by her perpetrator.[51] Abuse, often in the form of threats, stalking, economic abuse, or physical violence, often occurs post separation.[52] It is likely to have long lasting impacts for the carer and their child(ren).

Research highlights that women living in low income households may experience particular challenges, and have fewer safety nets around them, in order to survive through domestic abuse.[53] Further, fleeing abuse can put women at risk of falling into poverty. Women experiencing domestic abuse often become lone parents, with limited capacity to earn independently and are likely to report financial challenges and ongoing financial abuse from their former partner (for example, withholding child support contributions).[53]

Figure 3: Barriers and what works for victims/survivors of domestic abuse
Info graphic

Graphic text below:

What barriers do they face?

Income from employment:

  • May be prevented by their abuser from working
  • May face abuse from the perpetrator while at work
  • May face difficulties in sustaining employment due to the long-lasting trauma of domestic abuse

Cost of living

  • Economic abuse can impact on credit ratings and lead to long term economic instability
  • Coercive control and limited access to financial resources can make people feel unable to leave a relationship
  • High risk of homelessness

Inform from social security and benefits in-kind

  • Shame and stigma in accessing support
  • Due to distrust and a fear of speaking to professionals, available support may not be accessed

What works?

  • A whole system approach to ensure that women and children victims/survivors are supported holistically
  • Preventing abuse before it happens through a whole system, gendered approach and through preventative education
  • For those experiencing domestic abuse, financial support to leave a relationship with an abusive partner

Who are they?

There were 61,934 incidents of domestic abuse recorded by police in Scotland in 2022/23. However, domestic abuse is an under reported and often hidden crime. It is estimated that only one in six (16%) partner abuse incidents are reported to the police.[54]

Victims/survivors of domestic abuse strongly overlap with lone parents, also a group primarily made up of women, who are also a family group already identified as at greater risk of poverty. For example, in 2022/23 4,859 of homelessness applications were due to reasons of domestic violence of abuse. This equates to 12% of all homelessness applications during this period.[11] Further, homelessness trend data from 2009-2019 show that over half of women making a homeless application for reasons of domestic violence or abuse are single parents.[16] This means that not only do victims/survivors of domestic abuse have to face the challenges of being a lone parent, the gendered aspects of poverty and being high at risk of homelessness (see the section on homelessness), but they also navigate the barriers and challenges facing them as a result of their experiences of abuse.

In particular, gendered assumptions are critical in shaping women’s vulnerability to domestic abuse. This includes:

  • Incorrect assumptions that access to household incomes and resources are equally shared by both partners
  • Situations of financial dependency which can put women at risk of poverty if they leave, including whether benefits are received as a dependent or in one’s own right
  • Gendered expectations regarding women’s caring responsibilities which limit employment prospects
  • Situations where male partners prevent women from working, claiming benefits, or leaving the house[53]

Additionally, findings from the Scottish Crime and Justice Survey report that around a third of respondents who experienced abuse from a partner had children living in their household – with 71% noting the children were present (in or around the house or close by) during the most recent incident.[1],[55] However, it is important to note that children are not simply witnesses to the violence but they do also experience the abuse, control, and fear.[56]

What barriers and challenges do victims/survivors of domestic abuse face in relation to child poverty?

This section considers the barriers and challenges victims/survivors of domestic abuse experience in relation to child poverty.

Challenges faced when aiming to increase income through employment

Experiencing domestic abuse can impact on job stability. A 2019 report from Women’s Aid highlights the economic impacts that domestic abuse has for women who experience abuse or who have survived it. One in five women were prevented by their abusive partner from having paid employment, while one in three women experienced domestic abuse while at work or college. This was found to jeopardise their job or ability to complete their course and had a negative impact on future employment opportunities.[57]

Greater support required in order to sustain employment. Even after leaving an abusive partner, some women may struggle with the consequences of long term trauma arising from the abuse they have experienced. This can make sustaining employment challenging.[58],[59],[60]

Challenges faced when aiming to increase income through social security

The right support at the right time. Informal and formal support for women who have experienced domestic abuse has to be available and accessible at the time of need, particularly when leaving an abusive relationship. Accessing services may be difficult for women due to reasons of self-protection, shame and fear for others, including their child.[61] This can be compounded by a distrust of individuals with a fear of opening up to, and or speaking to, someone new or unfamiliar to them.[62],[63],[64] This means that women may not access the support available to them, such as social security benefits or emergency funds (e.g. Scottish Welfare Fund). This is a particular challenge for migrant or asylum seeking women who have limited access to support services and many social security entitlements[65] (further consideration of this can be found on the section on families seeking asylum).

Challenges in reducing costs of living compounded by the cost of living crisis

Previous focus reports has shown that many low income families entered the cost of living crisis already in a very vulnerable position. We know that lone parents are particularly vulnerable to increased costs of living and suffer negative impacts compared to most other types of households.[1]This is further compounded for women with experiences of domestic abuse who often have no or limited ability to reduce their costs of living.[66] For example, a recent report from Women’s Aid in England found that in 2022/23 four in five survivors did not have enough money to pay for essential items for them and/or their children (80%) and needed to access foodbanks (79%).[67]

The long lasting impacts of domestic abuse on finances. While in abusive relationships, women can experience economic abuse. This can take many forms, but it involves the perpetrator restricting the woman’s ability to acquire, use, or maintain money or other economic resources.[68] Women can be forced to take out debt or be tightly restricted in accessing joint money.[66] This can have a long term impact for survivors of domestic abuse. For example, research conducted by Refuge highlights how over a quarter (26%) of survey respondents with experience of economic abuse had a negatively impacted credit rating.[69] This means that after leaving an abusive relationship, the survivor can face further economic instability. More fundamentally, a lack of access to money, high levels of debt, and a low credit rating can be a barrier to victims/survivors leaving an abusive relationship and living independently.[69]

A feeling of limited options in times of crisis. There are examples of perpetrators of abuse using the ongoing cost of living crisis as a tool of coercive control to further limit access to financial resources by way of checking spending, denying access to money, or decreasing the money available to buy household essentials.[66] Similar findings were found during the COVID-19 pandemic where restrictions placed women in the situation where they felt unable to leave the abusive relationship.[70] Times of social and economic crisis make it easier for perpetrators to exercise control and make it more difficult for women to leave the household and relationship, with many support services for women observing that periods of lockdown placed women at greater risk, while also reporting an escalation of abuse for some victims during these periods.[71]

What do we know works to support survivors of domestic abuse?

Specifically on the links between poverty and domestic violence, research highlights that policy solutions to tackle domestic abuse must be aimed across the whole system.[72],[73] Experiencing domestic violence can impact on many aspects of a person’s life. Impacts can be wide, and therefore a whole systems approach is needed to ensure that women[74] and children[75] victims/survivors are supported holistically, and for perpetrators to be held to account.

A pilot fund, Fund to Leave, was set up to provide women experiencing domestic abuse with a payment for essential items which they may need when leaving a relationship with an abusive partner. The pilot ended on 31 March 2024 and Scottish Government are now working closely with delivery partners to evaluate the fund with a view to understanding how effective it is at preventing women’s homelessness as a result of domestic abuse. This will help to inform the next steps.

However, there is also a need for primary prevention, in preventing abuse before it happens.[76] This approach is evident in Equally Safe, a Scottish Government strategy commitment to eradicate violence against women and girls (VAWG). This Strategy refers to a whole system and gendered approach to prevent and tackle all forms of VAWG with the understanding that it is only by working together nationally and locally to create system change can the human rights of women, children and young people be realised.

Recent research in the Scottish context points to greater preventative education for young people regarding respectful relationships and a need for greater support during times of economic crisis, such as during the COVID-19 pandemic and the cost of living crisis.[77] Recent policy actions in this area include the development of a framework to be used at a whole school level to prevent and respond to gender based violence.


Email: TCPU@gov.scot

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