Domestic abuse survivors are living in temporary accommodation without enough money for bedding, homeware or even a kettle while they wait for Universal Credit, says Solace Women’s Aid, as it calls for donations to its emergency winter appeal.
The organisation, which works in partnership with Southwark Council to help women fleeing domestic abuse into safe housing, has seen surging demand since March 2020.
The number of domestic abuse victims referred to its services soared by nearly a quarter over summer 2020, and has remained high throughout the latest lockdown.
The charity says it needs help to cover the costs of basic items for women and children who often leave their abusers with nothing but the clothes on their backs and then face a wait for Universal Credit. Some do not even have proper beds to sleep in.
Between July and September 2020 there was a 22 per cent rise in referrals to its advocacy service compared to the same period in 2019. Overall, last year was the charity’s busiest year in Southwark since its programme began in 2014.
Mariel (not her real name) fled her abusive partner with her children during the pandemic but had no money and was waiting to access benefits.
Solace used emergency funding to help her pay for bedding, towels, plates and glasses for their new home – all in place the day she arrived.
Since the pandemic, the charity’s emergency fund has already helped over 200 families with similar grants to help them get by – and feel at home.
Many have experienced financial abuse in the past and need support to become independent again. These grants are often the first time they can buy something for themselves.
“Winter is isolating and stressful at the best of times and it can be a time that many of us dread,” said Simrin Bakshi Choudhrie, a patron of Solace.
“For the women and children Solace supports, this winter in particular will be one of their toughest ever.
“Trying to survive cold weather restrictions, the pandemic-imposed restrictions and domestic abuse while in lockdown, is beyond comprehension, pushing women and their children into even more vulnerable and dangerous situations.
“As patron of Solace, I have heard directly from women about what their realities truly look like and why the services we run are needed more than ever.
“I urge you all to support our emergency winter appeal, so we can reach out to many more women and children who are suffering and give them the life-saving support they deserve and need.”
One woman told Solace that money it provided for a microwave ‘made all the difference’ to her family during the latest lockdown while living without her own kitchen.
“We can now eat something hot everyday. It’s helping keep the children warm and full,” she said.
Another described leaving her partner and moving into a damp temporary accommodation without, at first, even a kettle.
“Not being able to make myself a hot drink made me feel cold and completely alone,” she said.