This week the Victorian government announced it expects a spike in the number of women fleeing family violence and in need of crisis accommodation. The reason for the sudden increase in these numbers, according to Victorian housing minister Martin Foley, is that the publicity surrounding the royal commission into family violence in Victoria will encourage women living in violent homes to make the decision to leave.
“[The royal commission] brings attention to the biggest social issue of our time over the course of this year. I expect a spike in women considering their circumstances and making the decision to leave. It’s going to be inevitable,” he told Guardian Australia.
Domestic Violence Victoria’s policy and program manager Alison Macdonald told Women’s Agenda they also expect increasing demand on family violence services in coming months.
“This is not something we have definitive data on, but we think we can reasonablyexpect that a royal commission and the publicity that ensues will lead to aflow-on effect of increased demand on our services. We’ve already gotunmanageable demand on our system and we do expect this to increase in the near future,” she said.
Domestic Violence NSW CEO Moo Baulch told Women’s Agenda it is possible the impacts of this spike will be felt outside of Victoria as well.
“The fact that we are talking a lot more about family violence, particularly around the royal commission in Victoria, definitely means that people across communities are having more conversations about it, how it works, what it looks like and what to do about it. We don’t have specific data on whether that corresponds to people seeking support, but my gut instinct would be that itdoes,” she said.
This spike will lead to increased demand on the family violence and crisis accommodation sector – a sector that is already stretched and facing ongoing cuts from the federal government.
In his final act as minister for social services, Kevin Andrews slashed funding to affordable housing and crisis housing services in the week before Christmas. Peak bodies such as Homelessness Australia and National Shelter were defunded.
Given the importance of preparing the affordable accommodation and crisis accommodation sector for spikes like this, Minister Foley says the federal government’s recent cuts to homelessness services could not have come at a worse time.
“The system is already under pressure… If the federal government exits this space, it will only get worse,” Minister Foley said.
He said the federal government had “dropped the ball” by not realising the severe impacts of cutting funding to this sector right before a predicted spike indemand.
Acting CEO of Homelessness NSW Digby Hughes agreed the decision was dangerous given the sector is already stretched and is likely to be stretched further in 2015.
“The sector is already under pressure. Currently, in NSW, we have to turn away the same number of people we accept into crisis accommodation. The decision to make cuts to this sector right before Christmas just to save some money seems like a very poor one,” he told Women’s Agenda.
Another compounding factor in this equation is that in June of this year, an agreement between the state and federal governments around housing and crisis accommodation, called the national partnership on homelessness, will expire. Scott Morrison, now in charge of this partnership under his new portfolio of social services, will make a decision in coming months about whether to extend the agreement.
If Morrison decides to discontinue the partnership, even more homelessness and crisis services across Australia will lose funding.
Macdonald said if the federal government does decide not to continue the agreement, the impacts on the sector would be extreme.
“If that agreement wasn’t to be refunded, it would be pretty drastic for the sector. 2015, of all years, is when we need to protect a system with unmanageable demand. This would be a dangerous decision by the federal government,” she said.
Minister Foley agreed it is paramount for the government to continue the partnership funding.
“As affordable housing gets tighter, the timing couldn’t be any worse. The federal government needs to sign up [to the partnership] not just for a year, but for three years as we are getting an increasing pipeline of people coming in,” he said.
Macdonald said the expected impact of the royal commission and the defunding of crisis services will also be compounded by the fact that the number of people seeking family violence services is already steadily increasing year on year.