A groundbreaking new report has strengthened the link between domestic violence and poverty in Australia, showing that women often face a devastatingly cruel choice between staying in an abusive relationship or enduring financial insecurity.
Based on previously unpublished data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) from 2016, the report explains that the lack of government support for those fleeing domestic violence means women are pushed into “policy-induced poverty.”
Of the 275,000 women who reported violence with a current partner, 90,000 revealed they wanted to separate but could not do so. For those unable to leave, 25% cited a lack of financial support as the key reason.
The figures are particularly concerning for women with children.
Sixty percent of single mothers across the country have faced previous partner abuse, compared to 17% of women on average. Over 70%, meanwhile, reported being in an emotionally abusive relationship.
For 75% of single mothers, their former partner’s cruel behaviour was the main reason the relationship ended.
"Although 60% of the single mothers who had experienced partner violence were in employment, for many, their earnings were insufficient to support themselves and their children, and they experienced considerable financial stress,” the report reads.
Over half reported their children had either “seen or heard” the violence.
This research by @SummersAnne is truly groundbreaking. Through a forensic examination of ABS data and govt payment policy she reveals how the state forces women fleeing #DomesticViolence into poverty. A must read for all policy makers. There must be action. https://t.co/3FOzsWZr1z— Verity Firth (@VerityFirth) July 6, 2022
Australia’s current system sees eligible single mothers paid AU$892 a fortnight until their youngest child turns eight.
Then, the family moves onto the unemployment JobSeeker benefit, which sits at $691 a fortnight. JobSeeker is the second-lowest unemployment benefit in the 38-country strong Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), after Greece.
Anne Summers, the researcher and writer behind the paper, says the data shows “unambiguously” that the incomes received under the existing policy are “clearly inadequate” to support single mothers escaping violence.
It is critical, she says, that the policy is reworked.
"Rather than providing security or even much of a safety net for single mothers, the system creates, and then perpetuates, poverty and disadvantage,” Summers told the Sydney Morning Herald. “We are spending millions of dollars each year on prevention and awareness campaigns, urging women to leave violent partners, but condemning far too many women to life on the edge of a financial cliff if they are brave enough to leave.”
Instead, Summers suggests the single parenting payment should be increased to the rate of a single-age pension and that the policy should be extended until the youngest child in the family finishes high school. Further data is also desperately required, Summers said, on the behaviour of domestic violence perpetrators and the impact of said violence on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders — who are currently excluded from the ABS’s domestic violence survey, held every four years.