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Government blasted for glaring omission from women's summit

·4-min read
Prime Minister Scott Morrison, aerial view of Australian houses, older woman looks out window sadly.
Homelessness advocacy groups have warned the Women's Safety Summit is unfulfilled without a greater focus on housing. (Images: Getty).

Every year 7,690 women in Australia are forced to return to violent partners as they have nowhere else to go, and it’s an issue the national Women’s Safety Summit must address, advocacy groups have said.

The National Summit on Women’s Safety, taking place on 6-7 September, will hear from experts on the need to support women’s financial security upon leaving an abusive relationship, however advocates believe the summit needs a stronger focus on housing.

“You simply can’t talk about women’s safety without talking about safe and affordable homes. Women and children in danger need a safe haven and it is incumbent on the Commonwealth Government to address this crisis,” the spokesperson of homelessness advocacy group Everybody’s Home Kate Colvin said on Monday.

“Thousands of women across Australia are currently having to choose between staying in a violent home and homelessness. That is unacceptable.”

Around 9,120 women become homeless every year after leaving abusive relationships, as they are unable to find long-term housing.

And homelessness services record 39,000 people asking for support every year after experiencing violence, but only 1,133 can find long-term housing.

It costs the average Australian woman $18,000 and 141 hours to leave a violent relationship, analysis performed by the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) in 2018 found.

A single woman on JobSeeker receives $620.80 a fortnight, while a single woman with a dependent child or children receives $667.50.

“Without further funding for social housing and an improvement in social security payments, the Federal Government cannot begin to address domestic violence in an adequate way. We need those changes to be made urgently,” Colvin said.

The Government must invest in affordable housing

Everybody’s Home is calling for the Federal Government to invest urgently in new social and affordable housing, and to increase social security.

It argues that this investment will not only save thousands of women and children from homelessness, but also deliver a real economic benefit.

Everybody’s Home is joined by some 230 other organisations in calling for the prioritisation of housing.

Peak welfare group the Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS) and the ACTU are both signatories to a major statement arguing the Government must also set a target to end homelessness for women and children and other survivors fleeing violence.

However Women's Safety Minister Anne Ruston told ABC radio that housing is a state and territory responsibility

"This summit cannot be and will not be a talkfest," she said.

"We need to make sure that we use it very wisely as an important platform so that we can shine a light on those terrible statistics."

An investment in 16,800 extra social housing units set aside for women escaping violence would cost $7.6 billion, however would create 47,000 jobs and deliver economic benefits of $15.3 billion, modelling by Equity Economics has found.

Additionally, by giving victims a safe place to flee to, there would be $122.5 million made in savings due to women not returning to a violent partner, and another $257 million due to lowered costs on the homelessness system.

There are currently 436,000 social housing dwellings across Australia, housing more than 800,000 people. 

However, that's out of pace with the broader housing sector and Australia's needs, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare found in June. 

It found that social housing had fallen from 4.7 per cent of homes in 2010 to 4.2 per cent in 2020. Most (62 per cent) of these residents are women.

$1.1 billion Budget push a 'down payment': Prime Minister

Speaking at the summit on Monday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the $1.1 billion investment announced in the 2021 Federal Budget should be considered a "down payment" on the Government's plan to solve the domestic violence crisis. 

The funding includes a two-year emergency payment trial which will see victims eligible for $5,000 support packages including $1,500 cash payments and $3,500 in goods, while $261.4 million will be put into boosting frontline support services. 

Of that, $12.6 million will be funnelled towards emergency accommodation. 

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