'Housing and domestic abuse conference the start of something great.'
Policy and practice research officer Yoric Irving-Clarke takes a detailed look at an event to explore domestic abuse and housing as part of Alison Inman's presidential appeal.
Make a note of Friday 23 March 2018 in your minds! This was the date of one of the most important conferences this year – and hopefully the start of an ongoing annual event. Current CIH president Alison Inman brought together a group of leading academics and practitioners working in the field of domestic abuse for this (hopefully) inaugural Bringing Together Research and Practice conference. She even persuaded Savills to give us a room, food and drink, free!
The programme was a wide ranging one starting with the big picture of how we measure domestic abuse nationally – and why that matters; to presentations from across the policy and practice spectrum from government, police to individual organisations and initiatives making a real difference at the front line.
Professor Sylvia Walby opened the day with a fascinating discussion on the gendered nature of abuse and how measuring domestic abuse matters. A strong case made that it’s the number of incidents that matter rather than the number of victims in gaining a true picture of the nature and extent of domestic abuse and that this impacts the nature and scale of our response – also good hear some political and sociological theory being applied. Katie Ghose (CEO of Women’s Aid) then spoke about the work that Women’s Aid do and the threat posed by changes to short-term supported housing funding and the need for a funded, holistic solution to dealing with domestic abuse – a consistent theme.
Tamsin Stirling and Bonnie Navarro both spoke about the experience of dealing with domestic abuse in Wales. Tamsin gave a broad overview of policy and legislation in Wales that deals with abuse. This extends well beyond the Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015 to legislation around housing, renting, provision of social services and well-being. No one present could have failed to be moved by Bonnie Navarro’s passionate and emotional presentation that took in the negative and long term impact of abuse on children and young people and how in Wales they are using police and crimes data to drive and target their response where it is most needed. Both Bonnie and Alison (rightly) paid a poignant tribute to the excellent work of Carl Sargent AM in Wales. Prof. Nicole Westmarland spoke in more detail about the devastating long term impact of abuse on children and called for the sector to work with both perpetrators and survivors to ensure that women and children are safe.
The afternoon session focused on practical responses to abuse opening with Prof Aisha Gill making the case for specific BME services – the case for these services has been made year on year, yet we are still having to do so. Prof Gill stated that women’s services are suffering in a “tsunami of cuts” and the situation for BME women is “beyond depressing”.
In a change to the programme Penny East from SafeLives spoke about how we (and landlords) see and treat women who are being abused. Drawing on the intensely personal, Penny spoke about her own experiences of coercive control from her partner and how her landlord and letting agent had treated her as a “problem tenant” rather than a victim of abuse. The joint tenancy she had signed was used a method of control by her abuser even after she had left leading to homelessness and a high level risk to her well being. Powerful and emotive.
Next it was great to hear from two current PhD researchers, Kelly Henderson and Ruth Weir, both studying different aspects of abuse. Kelly’s research focusses on the response of housing associations to domestic abuse. Her presentation outlined gaps in practice from policies, highlighted how abuse can be identified from repairs and arrears data and made the case for working with both victims and perpetrators to end the cycle of abuse. Ruth then presented her work using geography and mapping of abuse in Essex and how this can be used to fill gaps in services in rural and high mobility areas – where services are not so available.
In the last session proper of the day Guddy Burnett (DAHA) told the story of how the Domestic Abuse Housing Alliance came to be and spoke about how we need a whole housing approach to abuse including the private rented sector, reciprocal arrangements between social landlords, specialist housing options/refuge services, sanctuary schemes and perpetrator management programmes. Louise Steele (Standing Together) spoke about the Housing First pilot that she is managing and how this creates a solid, secure basis for women to escape abuse and receive specialist support – I’m sure we all look forward to the results of the pilot.
Finally, it fell to Dr Beth Watts (Heriot-Watt) and myself to close the day with our reflections on the various presentations and where we go from here. For myself, it was heartening to hear great academic research is being conducted into domestic abuse and housing (even if it is in Criminology departments and not housing). There are lots of practical policy steps that housing organisations can take now to work with victims of domestic abuse; not least having a specific domestic abuse policy and changing tenancy agreements to make abuse a specific breach of tenancy. The other thing that struck me about the day was that domestic abuse was a personal issue for so many of those speaking (myself included).
Beth summed up the day with her view a “water-tight case” had been made for the role of housing in dealing with domestic abuse. She also made the case and a plea for the inter-disciplinary conversation we started here to continue – I’m looking forward to doing so and attending the 2019 conference.
- If you want to know more see #DAHousing18 on Twitter
- To find out more about Alison Inman's presidential appeal click here