Economic abuse is a major cause of homelessness for women
7 August 2017
With 7-13 August marking Homelessness Week 2017, there is no better time to talk about how economic abuse, a form of family violence, can lead to homelessness. Through our various services, Good Shepherd sees many women who are being economically abused by their partner, and our Restoring Financial Safety: Legal responses to economic abuse research report highlights how economic abuse contributes to women’s poverty and risk of homelessness in Australia.
When we met Jennifer* earlier this year, she was living on her friend's lounge room floor with her young son Elijah*. In the four years since her marriage ended, she had received no financial support from her ex-husband to care for Elija and was no longer able to cover her rent and expenses. She also had a $25,000 debt to her name.
This debt was not hers alone. While they were together, Jennifer and her husband Stephen* decided to buy a car and share the cost equally. Stephen suggested Jennifer sign the loan papers for the car as he had a damaged credit rating. Jennifer was pleased with their decision; it felt like a win-win situation.
Two years later, Jennifer and Stephen separated. While Stephen showed no signs of economic abuse during their relationship, he used money as a way to control Jennifer once their relationship had ended. He refused to contribute to their combined car loan, leaving Jennifer to pay his share even though he kept and used the car for himself. By refusing to give back the car, Stephen also denied Jennifer the opportunity to make money from its sale and ease the financial burden that she was carrying.
Jennifer’s story is just one example of economic abuse. When we meet with women across Australia, common warning signs of economic abuse include:
- Their partner insists, or strongly encourages, that all the bills are signed in their name
- They are in debt for something their partner has ownership of
- Their partner tries to stop them from working or studying
- They are given a meagre allowance to take care of the household bills and then made to feel guilty if this money is spent in the “wrong” way
- Their partner makes them feel silly or unable to be trusted with money in subtle (or not so subtle) ways
As we raise awareness of the risks of homelessness this week, let’s remember to consider women who are experiencing or at risk of poverty at the hands of a financially controlling partner.
*Names have been changed to protect privacy.
If you are experiencing family violence, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Safe Steps on 1800 015 188.
If you are experiencing financial stress, contact Money Help’s free phone financial counselling service on 1800 007 007 from 9:30 – 5pm weekdays.