The cost of domestic violence can’t be measured in dollars. It is measured in grief and trauma, in scars of mind and body that may never heal, in bright future darkened and in pain and fear. And it is measured in lives lost. There is no way anyone could or should attempt to put a monetary value on such unquantifiable loss.
The services we can offer to the victims on the other hand, is almost always measured in dollars. The dollars cut from federal budgets, squeezed out of state budgets, painstakingly raised by non-for-profits, and in the searing knowledge that underfunding of services is costing lives.
This is the only reason to talk about the financial cost of domestic violence, because we need to prove to government that it will cost more to not spend money than it will to spend it. It’s difficult to do because the money going out is tangible, money saved is not. In some ways it’s similar to the poker machine income. State governments see enormous revenue coming in and struggle to quantify the revenue gambling costs them – the employment multiplier of money spent on pokies is much lower than money spent on goods and services, so they are actually losing revenue that would come through GST, payroll tax, company tax and land tax.
Money spent on front-line services and preventative measures is a quantifiable amount going out of the budget, money saved on health, public housing, justice system, welfare and the loss of increased taxable earnings is much more difficult to measure.
Our Watch just released a report that estimated the total financial cost of domestic violence is $21.7 billion per year, most of that borne by the victims, but about one third ($7.8 billion) is a cost to government.
We estimate that violence against women costs $21.7 billion a year. Victims bear the primary burden of this cost. Governments (national and State and Territory) bear the second biggest cost burden, estimated at $7.8 billion a year, comprising health, administration and social welfare costs. If no further action is taken to prevent violence against women, we estimate that costs will accumulate to $323.4 billion over a thirty year period from 2014-15 to 2044-45.
7.8 billion dollars.
What could we do for front-line services with even a tenth of that? And what possible logic is there in government refusing to spend money that will make long term savings?
The cynical, and sadly probably the real explanation, is the election cycle. Hundreds of millions of dollars spent on domestic violence would save lives, protect children, heal wounds and prevent trauma, as well as saving money, but not in ways that are easy to measure for a pre-election budget or forward estimates.
Our Watch reports that
One million Australian women endured physical or sexual violence, emotional abuse or stalking in the last year.
Greens Senator Larissa Waters said in a statement:
In the 2014 federal Budget, $44 million was cut from the construction of new emergency accommodation, including women’s shelters, and this has still not been reversed.
The report shows that prevention programs can reduce violence against women, which is the tragic consequence of gender inequality.
By achieving gender equality we can prevent violence against women before it is committed and by properly funding crisis services we can ensure women are not forced to return to violent situations.
The government’s Women’s Safety Package announced earlier in the year was welcome, albeit under-funded, but it didn’t provide any additional secure funding to community legal centres, and no additional funding at all for Indigenous legal services.
The only way the federal government can be brought to address this is if they can see a short term political benefit in it, because the long-term benefit financially, and far more importantly, in the lives of all the men, women and children damaged by domestic violence, doesn’t seem to be enough to move them.
This is why we cannot let up on the pressure to act. And act now.
The National Sexual Assault, Family & Domestic Violence Counselling Line – 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for any Australian who has experienced, or is at risk of, family and domestic violence and/or sexual assault.