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  • Elaine Power

Domestic Violence and Basic Income

Updated: May 5, 2021

Natalie’s video features her story about fleeing domestic violence with her two children, moving to a women’s shelter, and having to rely on social assistance to support herself and her children. Natalie’s story is all too common in Canada. Before the pandemic, Statistics Canada reports that on a snapshot day in April 2018, 3,565 women and 3,137 of their children were staying in shelters across Canada because of violence and abuse at home. Women and children who were Indigenous and non-permanent residents were vastly over-represented among those living in shelters. And worse, on that snapshot day, 669 women and 236 children were turned away from shelters, primarily because the shelters were full.

An unconditional and adequate basic income available to all those who need it would remove one of the major blocks that keep women trapped in abusive relationships—or from returning to their abusive partner, even after they have had the courage to leave, because they can’t afford to live on their own.

Gender-based violence, which includes domestic violence or intimate partner violence, was a pandemic — “uncontrolled, widespread and ongoing” — even before COVID-19 struck. Domestic violence has deadly consequences for some women, with a woman killed by her intimate partner every six days in Canada. Indigenous women are six times more likely than other women in Canada to be murdered. And it costs billions of dollars to deal with the aftermath of domestic violence, including costs in the health care system and justice system, lost income, damaged and stolen property, pain and suffering.

The COVID-19 quarantine, with its mandatory stay-at-home rules, created ideal conditions for domestic abuse to escalate and intensify. The first survey of agencies working with survivors of domestic violence found that violence had indeed increased and become more frequent. Stuck at home with their abusers, victims were less able to reach out for help, increasing feelings of entrapment and anxiety.

The reasons why women stay with their abusers are complex and multi-layered, but financial dependency on the partner is one important reason. Women with children who leave an abusive relationship are five times more likely to live in poverty than if they had stayed. Being a single mother with children is one of the highest risk factors for being food insecure; having to live on social assistance puts women at the highest risk of food insecurity. As the Ontario Association of Interval and Transition Houses wrote in a report, "Women who leave abusive situations continue to face impossible choices between violence and hunger, between rent and food, between their health and the well-being of their children."

Basic income holds the promise of freedom, choice, dignity, safety and well-being for women in abusive relationships and their children. Basic income is an essential component of gender equality.

If you are experiencing or have experienced violence or abuse, and would like to talk with someone for emotional support, safety planning, or crisis counselling, you can phone the Assaulted Women’s Helpline at 1-866-863-0511. It is free, confidential and anonymous. If you are deaf, deaf-blind, or hard of hearing, the Assaulted Women’s Helpline has a TTY line available at 1-866-863-7868, 24 hours per day, 7 days per week.

For more information:

Huffington Post: “Basic income would take Canada One Huge Step Toward Gender Equality”

Ontario Basic Income Network, Case for Basic Income for Women.

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