Callum Chomczuk: Domestic abuse at the heart of housing and homelessness policy

Callum Chomczuk: Domestic abuse at the heart of housing and homelessness policy

Callum Chomczuk

Callum Chomczuk, director of CIH Scotland, underlines the importance of housing for domestic abuse victims and survivors, and highlights the current 16 days of activism campaign about gender-based violence.

Statistically speaking all of us will likely know someone who has experienced - or is experiencing - domestic abuse. On average between one in three women will experience domestic abuse during her lifetime. Where gender is recorded, 81 per cent of all incidents of domestic abuse in Scotland in had a female victim and a male perpetrator.

Survivors and victims of domestic abuse - like all of us - rely on housing, and yet we know that the housing sector has much to do to help those at risk of - or experiencing - domestic abuse. In Scotland, domestic abuse is the main reason by women for making a homeless application.

Now over recent years, we have seen greater prioritisation from the Scottish Government in supporting survivors of domestic abuse. Earlier this year it announced that a national fund to leave would be introduced providing up to £1,000 to support victims leave abusive partners - ensuring that the cost of living crisis was not turning into a cost of leaving crisis. This is in addition to a commitment to include a statutory requirement for all social landlords to have a domestic abuse policy in the next Housing Bill. This is all welcome and much needed, progress.

However, we know that more needs to be done.

We are still waiting on the enactment of legislation passed in March 2021 that will give social landlords the powers to evict a perpetrator of domestic abuse - while allowing the survivor to stay in their home- if that is their choice. It has been almost three years since MSPs agreed to give social landlords the powers to support domestic abuse survivors stay in their home. It is far past the time it was done.

And while the promise of legislating for a domestic abuse policy is welcome the unanticipated delay in introducing the law means it is likely to be five years before we see the impact of any requirement take effect. How many more survivors will face homelessness fleeing dangerous situations, or worse still how many more victims will stay in dangerous situations, while we wait for the systemic change needed to enable housing and homelessness services to better support survivors.

What social landlords and violence against women organisations need is support from the Scottish Government so they can help victims before, during and after their abuse.

In the meantime, there is more the housing sector can and should be doing. Frontline housing professionals are in the unique position of being able to see behind the closed doors where abuse often takes place. Many landlords are already rising to the challenge, understanding the importance of how to spot, signpost, support, and safeguard domestic abuse victims, while being mindful to ensure abuse isn’t misidentified as anti-social behaviour or rent arrears.

But we want every housing provider to go further, to reduce housing insecurity as a factor for those experiencing domestic abuse. They can do this by developing a framework for preventing homelessness; creating a policy that supports victims right to stay in their home, reducing homelessness among women and children who are victims of domestic abuse. They don’t need to wait for the law to change - they can get ahead of it.

By working together - government, social landlords, the public, we can develop the culture change required to ensure that victims are protected and perpetrators held to account. The housing sector, along with local and national government, can ensure that every survivor receives the right response first time round. During these 16 days of activism let’s make sure that we are working to create a Scotland where every woman and child can live their lives free from fear and abuse.

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