Ending the cycle of family violence, poverty, and homelessness

Parity Magazine – Poverty and Homelessness Edition

October 2023

down arrow

This article was published in Council to Homeless Persons’ Parity: “Poverty and Homelessness” October 2023 Edition.

Authors: Tania Farha, CEO, Safe and Equal

Key contributors: Ella Longhurst, Policy and Research Officer; Kim Hay, Policy Advisor; and Melanie Scammell, Media and Communications Advisor.

Over the last few years in Victoria, we’ve seen enormous shifts in the way we respond to family violence. Eight years on from the Royal Commission into Family Violence, there have been significant improvements in areas such as risk assessment and management, information sharing and family violence legislation.

However, when it comes to improvements in recovery initiatives – specifically, economic well-being and housing for victim survivors – we still have a long way to go. 

Financial security and safe, accessible housing are two of the most critical pillars in the journey to recovery from family violence. Without them, victim survivors often find themselves trapped, unable to safely escape their perpetrator and rebuild their lives without risking poverty and homelessness. 

These experiences of family violence, poverty and homelessness are inextricably linked and cyclical, impacting a victim survivor in multiple, overlapping ways.  

For many victim survivors, economic abuse features prominently in their lives. Its prevalence is high, with some research suggesting it occurs in some form in around 50 to 90 per cent of cases. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ 2022 Personal Safety Survey1, one in six Australian women (around 1.6 million) have experienced economic abuse by a partner. This can include things like denying access to household funds, stopping a victim survivor from earning their own money, or controlling all spending and financial decisions. 

The impact of economic abuse on a victim survivor’s financial security and independence is significant and can impact them in a myriad of ways, even after separating from the perpetrator. I’ve seen many cases where a perpetrator has incurred enormous debts in a victim survivors’ name, hidden assets, or weaponised court systems to keep their victim in debt or in poverty. The impacts of this economic and systems abuse can be extreme and are not just economic – they can also impact Family Court proceedings or custody arrangements, further traumatising a victim survivor and her children. 

These tactics are so successfully weaponised by perpetrators because they keep a victim survivor in a constant state of economic distress and fear, and with no money and nowhere else to go, forces them to be financially dependent on and unable to safely leave their perpetrator. 

Financial and economic abuse thrives because of the significant economic inequity that exists more broadly for women. Rigid gender stereotypes that prioritise cis-male privilege and authority are designed to keep women and other marginalised groups in entrenched and inescapable poverty. Women continue to remain disproportionately in lower-paid occupations, and in part-time or casual work.2 They also experience significant pay discrimination, being paid less on average for the same full-time roles across every industry and occupation in Australia.3  

Concerningly, 30 per cent of retired women have no personal income, compared to 7 per cent of men.4 As a result, older single women are now the fastest growing cohort of people experiencing homelessness,5 many of whom are victim survivors of family violence. 

Unfortunately, for people who experience additional forms of structural oppression due to race, disability, age, sexuality, or socio-economic status, the risk of poverty and homelessness is even higher. The risk further increases for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, who are further disadvantaged by ongoing institutional and systemic racism and discrimination. 

The ability to achieve financial equality is an essential component of any individual’s economic wellbeing and independence, and, for victim survivors, is crucial in enabling a safe exit and long-term recovery from abuse. A key part of this is having access to safe and affordable housing options.  

However, the current state of housing in Australia is putting even more strain on people experiencing family violence, with a critical lack of suitable housing and crisis accommodation available. This is well known by our state and federal governments yet has reached crisis levels, with family violence now the leading cause of homelessness for women and children in Australia.6 

In Victoria, our dedicated refuge system can only support around 160 households, meaning hundreds of victim survivors, including children, end up being placed in unsafe and unsuitable motel accommodation, many for weeks at a time. I recall a specialist family violence service deeply concerned about a victim survivor they were supporting who had been placed in unsafe motel accommodation with her children for more than 50 days. While the service was doing everything they could to support their client, without a place to call home, there was little hope of moving beyond crisis interventions and into recovery.  

Beyond refuge and crisis accommodation, Australians across the board are feeling the impacts of a deeply unsustainable housing system – and these issues are exacerbated for people experiencing family violence. With private rental properties prohibitively expensive and a social housing system buckling under significant demand and long wait times (despite family violence being a factor for prioritisation), there is little to no access for victim survivors. This leaves many with an impossible choice: do they remain in an abusive home, or do they escape and face homelessness?  

Additionally, even if a victim survivor is supported to remain in their own home, the absence of affordable housing options can mean their perpetrator is unable to find suitable accommodation, making them more likely to attempt to return and perpetrate abuse. 

Without immediate government action and investment into bolstering the systems and structures that are meant to support victim survivors to escape abuse, develop economic freedom and recover from violence, these cycles will never be broken. 

This is not new information – our sectors have been fiercely advocating for these changes for decades. While there have been wins, we are yet to see the bold and brave long-term initiatives and investment to make meaningful and lasting change.  

What is needed? Firstly, we need to address the ongoing housing crisis in this country. We need an immediate increase to crisis accommodation capacity, mandates to support victim survivors to access affordable private rentals, ongoing investment into initiatives that enable and support victim survivors to remain safe in their homes (and housing options for perpetrators of violence), and significant investment in and prioritisation of the development of more social housing properties. 

We also need an immediate overhaul of our social security system to ensure it is respectful, accessible and inclusive. This means increasing social security payments beyond the poverty line with a particular focus on parenting payments for single mothers and those on job seeker, eliminating cruel and punitive compliance and mutual obligation measures for victim survivors, and eliminating additional barriers to accessing financial support for women on temporary visas, who are ineligible for many existing income and housing support initiatives.  

Finally, we need substantive structural change to disrupt the gender pay gap and workforce inequality, including increased wages for female dominated industries, and initiatives to support victim survivors to find meaningful and long-term employment. 

Every victim survivor deserves the right to live a life free from violence. To have that chance, they must be supported to reach economic independence, financial security, and have access to safe, long-term housing options. Otherwise, many will be forced to remain in unsafe and potentially fatal relationships to avoid a lifetime cycle of poverty and homelessness.  


  1. Australian Bureau of Statistics 2021–22, Personal Safety Australia, https://www.abs.gov.au/statistics/people/crime-and-justice/personal-safety-australia/latest-release
  2. Morgan A and Boxall H 2022, ‘Economic Security and Intimate Partner Violence in Australia During the COVID-19 Pandemic’, ANROWS, http://anrowsdev.wpenginepowered.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/01/Economic-insecurityand-IPV-during-the-C19-RR2.pdf
  3. Workplace Gender Equality Agency 2021, The ABS Data Gender Pay Gap, https://www.wgea.gov.au/data-statistics/ABS-gender-pay-gapdata#:~:text=Australia’s%20national%20gender%20pay%20gap,earned%2C%20women%20earned%2087%20cents
  4. Australian Bureau of Statistics 2020, ‘Retirement and Retirement Intentions, Australia’, https://www.abs.gov.au/statistics/labour/employment-and-unemployment/retirement-and-retirement-intentionsaustralia/latest-release#income-at-retirement
  5. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2022, Specialist Homelessness Services Annual report 2021–22, https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/homelessness-services/specialisthomelessness-services-annual-report
  6. Council to Homeless Persons 2022, Homelessness and Domestic and Family Violence, https://chp.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2022/06/Homelessness-and-Domestic-and-Family-Violence.pdf

Page last updated Thursday, January 18 2024


With the Safe and Equal monthly bulletin