The Government and financial sector must increase funding to support people to overcome the economic impact of family violence, says Good Shepherd New Zealand.
New Zealand has the worst recorded rate of family violence in the OECD and Good Shepherd believes existing family violence responses would have a greater impact if complemented by services to address the harm caused by economic abuse.
“We are not setting people up for success when we provide a protection order and a safety plan but send them out into the world with no ability to sign up utilities or a rental home because they have bad credit, and thousands of dollars of relationship debt, incurred by their abusive ex-partner,” says Good Shepherd’s Head of Purpose & Impact, Nicola Eccleton.
Research finds that people are choosing between ‘violence or poverty’; the economic impact of family violence is a significant barrier for people wishing to leave a violent relationship, and to get back on their feet after overcoming violence.
The realities of joint and several liability mean many victims of violence are left repaying 100% of debt that was intended to be jointly repaid with a former partner. They are also repaying debt they were coerced into or made to take out under threat of violence.
“Victims of abuse are paying the financial costs that were incurred by their abusive ex-partner. This is an issue of justice.
“Good Shepherd NZ has been providing an Economic Harm Support Service for the past two years, helping people to navigate the economic fallout from an abusive relationship, negotiate joint debt when there is a protection order in place between the parties, and support people to access financial support.
The Good Shepherd team started this specialty service based on their own previous experiences working in family violence, and research that found a gap in services for this type of support. Agencies such as Women’s Refuge, Aviva and Shine, provide a wide range of services to support clients including access to refuges, legal support and advice on becoming safe, however, there is currently no specific funding to support people with the resulting economic harm.
“People who are dealing with abuse are making decisions about whether to pay bills or not, or whether to try and close joint accounts, based on keeping themselves and their children safe from a dangerous partner. This requires dedicated, specialist support because it is so different to financial hardship, where the safety of you and your children is not at imminent risk.
“Supporting people to overcome their financial stresses and barriers will enable clients to concentrate on becoming safe and make real progress with their family violence support workers.
Women’s Refuge, CEO, Dr Ang Jury ONZM says: “We see first-hand every day the impacts economic abuse has on women in Aotearoa. It occurs frequently, is devastating, and a major barrier to leaving abuse and building safety. We are grateful that organisations like Good Shepherd exist and regularly refer our clients to their specialist services. It can mean the difference of going back into a dangerous situation due to lack of means to support yourself and your children and beginning the journey to a violence-free life.
“Good Shepherd is pleased with the initial outcomes from the Economic Harm Support Service, which includes not only positive outcomes for individual clients, but banks and other creditors reaching out to look for better ways to support their customers and subsequently making changes to their processes for people affected by family violence.
The service is now oversubscribed with demand from the public and social workers who are looking for this specialist support for their clients. As a result, Good Shepherd has contributed more of its own funding towards this service and is calling on the government and the financial sector to contribute more to fund this service and develop others like it.
“We have invested in the continuation of this service because we believe so strongly in the impact it is having for families. We need others to join us to ensure it is financially sustainable, so that people impacted by family violence can have a realistic chance of a violence free future.”