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Why local government needs to increase its understanding of domestic abuse

Samantha Ingamells

With the publication of the landmark draft Domestic Abuse Bill today, government experts have revealed that domestic abuse issues cost England and Wales £66 billion a year. It is also clear from examples cited in the media coverage of the legislation that the costs in terms of impact on people’s lives are also enormous.

Domestic abuse has major implications for key local government services. IMPOWER’s analysis has shown that domestic abuse is a factor in:

  • 50% of cases where children become looked after
  • 21% of cases where working age adults require long-term support from adult social care
  • 17% of cases where older people are placed in long-term nursing or residential care
  • 21% of homelessness cases which result in the award of temporary accommodation.

However, the reality is that the sector knows little about how it is impacted by domestic abuse, beyond some high-level statistics showing overall prevalence. The Office of National Statistics estimates that there were 2 million adults aged 16 to 50 who experienced domestic abuse in the last year (although most of these cases did not come to the attention of the police). There are no estimates for how many perpetrators there are, although 83% of recorded male perpetrators have at least two incidents of recorded abuse – which suggests there are around 1.2m perpetrators in England each year (but only 68,098 convictions in 2018).

But beyond this big-picture data, there are surprisingly few data sources on how domestic abuse affects the most vulnerable in our society. Disabled people are twice as likely to experience domestic abuse (based on a one-day snapshot of those accessing refuges), but according to Women’s Aid, almost no refuges and resources are set up to be accessible for them (only around 2% are wheelchair accessible, for example).

While there is no evidence to suggest that women from particular ethnic or cultural community are at any more risk of domestic abuse than others, research conducted by Sisters for Change found that BME and migrant women experience higher rates of domestic homicide.  For a variety of reasons, women from BME backgrounds are less likely to report domestic abuse to local services or the police and IMPOWER’s local project work has found that they are disproportionately more likely to be rejected by a refuge.

There is also no widely accepted prevalence data for the over 50’s age category (they are not included in the ONS data). Safelives estimates that in 2017 there were approximately 120,000 individuals aged over 65 who experienced abuse. They also found that this group were much less likely to try to access support than younger people.

Without more comprehensive and evidence-based insight the sector cannot understand the scale of the problem, who is most impacted and in what ways – and the lack of data also makes it difficult to assess the impact and effectiveness of interventions. All of which means that local authorities cannot begin to properly address this issue. There is a clear need to invest in understanding it properly, because doing so will both improve lives and reduce demand for services.


Written by

Samantha Ingamells

Delivery Director, IMPOWER



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