Human Resources

Policies force women to the edge of a financial cliff if they are brave enough to leave family violence, says Professor Summers

Health Industry Hub | July 22, 2022 |
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Urgent policy changes are needed to improve support for Australian women facing extreme financial hardship as a result of domestic and family violence, reveals a new report by Professor Anne Summers.

Almost 1 in 3 (32%) Australians believe that women who do not leave their abusive partners are partly responsible for the violence continuing.

A new report has revealed the stark choice facing many Australian women who have experienced domestic violence at the hands of their partner: do they stay and risk the violence continuing or even escalating, or to leave and face the high probability of a life of ‘policy-induced poverty’?

The report, The Choice: Violence or Poverty, by renowned feminist, journalist and UTS Business School Professor Anne Summers AO, is based on never-before published customised data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

Professor Summers, who undertook the research at UTS supported by a Paul Ramsay Foundation Fellowship, said the report’s findings signalled the need for urgent policy changes to ensure that women who wanted to leave violent relationships could do so without being forced into poverty, with devasting implications for them and their children that may last for generations.

As Labor minister and survivor Anne Aly MP told the ABC’s Q and A about her experience of leaving a violent relationship, “I knew that I was leaving to lead a life of poverty, and the humiliation of walking into that Centrelink office and saying, ‘I don’t know how I’m going to feed my kids or myself,’ still sits with me 30 years on.” 

Dr Summers said it was shocking that Australian society forced women to choose between staying in a violent relationship or risking poverty for them and their children.  It was not surprising that a majority of women chose to remain in a violent relationship.

“Rather than providing security or even much of a safety net for single mothers, the system creates, and then perpetuates, poverty and disadvantage,” Dr Summers said.

“This in turn makes women more vulnerable to domestic violence, and also puts their children in a physically and developmentally dangerous situation with repercussions for the rest of their lives.

“We need to recognise that the 50% of the single mothers in my study who rely on government payments as their main source of income are living in policy-induced poverty.

“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.”

Paul Ramsay Foundation acting CEO Professor Kristy Muir said the report filled an important gap in research around domestic violence, with significant insights and implications for policy makers.

“This work delivers critical new analyses to help extend our evidence of the relationship between domestic violence and poverty, as we work with partners to fulfil our vision of breaking disadvantage in Australia,” she said.

“We know that being exposed to violence against a parent as a child can increase the likelihood of growing up to be either a victim or a perpetrator of violence. We need to ensure parents who are suffering from an abusive partner feel completely supported to escape, secure in the knowledge that they and their children will still have a roof over their heads, food in their bellies, and enough money to pay the bills.”

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