Vulnerable women in Oxford are skipping medical appointments due to Cost of Living Crisis, study finds

New joint research from Oxfordshire Sexual Abuse and Rape Crisis Centre (OSARCC) and the Women’s Budget Group (WBG) has revealed that women living in Oxfordshire with lived experience of domestic violence and/or sexual abuse are missing vital medical appointments due to the rising cost of living.

These findings are part of a new joint report released today by OSARCC and WBG that sheds light on the specific ways in which women who are survivors of domestic violence and/or sexual abuse in Oxfordshire are impacted by the cost of living crisis.

  • Survivors report that they are unable to afford certain kinds of medical treatment, including dentist and optician appointments, physiotherapy, and essential therapeutic counselling as the rising cost of living has forced them to cut back.
  • The financial barrier to accessing counselling not only affects women survivors’ ability to recover from traumatic experiences, but also their wider social and professional lives and their financial resilience. It is estimated that the national impact of violence against women and girls on the economy equates to a loss of £37 billion each year.
  • The study further suggests a deterioration in women’s diet quality, with respondents describing skipping meals, eating smaller portions, less nutritious food, and eating food that didn’t need to be refrigerated or cooked in an energy-intensive way due to the rise in both energy and food prices, negatively impacting their overall health.
  • Demand for specialist services has increased steadily over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic and the cost of living crisis, with the waiting list for OSARCC’s free-to-access counselling sessions growing to well over 300 in 2023.
  • At the same time, these services themselves are facing increased costs and reductions in funding, with OSARCC being forced to close their volunteer-run Listening Service and the waiting list for counselling and group services to new referrals.
  • The benefit of services like OSARCC to wider society is significant, generating between £5 and £11 of savings to the state for every pound invested.

Women who participated in the study told OSARCC:

“… I don’t have the resources to begin counselling, and the NHS options have 2 year waiting lists or closed waiting lists.”

(Survey respondent)

“I don’t go to the dentist or the optician. I have a huge filling that has dropped out, I can’t afford that.”

(Renee, 46-55, separated parent of 3 children, working full time)

Together OSARCC and WBG call on Oxfordshire councils to:

  • Support women’s incomes by maximising the impact of current welfare assistance schemes across Oxfordshire councils, including household support funds. This can be done by ensuring a cash-first approach and ensuring that policies/programmes adhere to best practice as per guidelines on the GLA’s Cost of Living Hub.
  • Ensure that employment and skills training programmes account for and address barriers to employment in their offering, including customised support for people with experience of domestic abuse. These programmes should make a particular effort to connect residents with employers who pay the local living wage.
  • Establish an Oxfordshire Women’s Commission similar to the commission set up in Bristol to improve ways of meaningfully engaging with representative groups of women in all policy areas, during all stages of decision making.

They call on the Government to:

  • Commit to long-term grant funding for specialist VAWG service provision, including ring fenced funding for ‘by and for’ services for minoritised women and ensure availability of therapeutic interventions for survivors of gender-based violence, and recognise that this would have a long-term positive benefit to the economy as survivors regain their ability to work and take part in society.

Dr Yasmeen Arif, Drop-in Facilitator at OSARCC and report co-author, said,

“Alongside immeasurably long waiting lists, time-consuming and expensive journeys to health centres, and a lack of childcare to enable them to get to appointments, women survivors are also contending with the impact of traumatic experiences. Instead of recognising these structural barriers women face in accessing vital health services, from dental and eye check-ups to essential high-level needs like therapeutic counselling, women are often treated like the problem for looking for medical help.

“We need to stop individualising what are structural problems with underfunded and understaffed public services and invest in our social infrastructure, because women need – and have a right to – compassionate services that treat them with dignity and respect.”

Emma Thackray, Research and Data Officer at WBG and report co-author, said,

“This report not only shines a light on how women living in hidden pockets of poverty in seemingly affluent areas like Oxfordshire are bearing the brunt of the cost of living crisis, but also on how survivors of domestic and/or sexual abuse in particular have been made even more vulnerable during this crisis and the toll it’s taking on both their mental and physical health.

“It’s high time policymakers take these gendered impacts seriously and listen to what vulnerable women have to say about their lived experiences. The key message is crystal clear: We need to put more money into women’s pockets by restoring social security and improving access to quality paid work, and invest in crucial local services to ensure that survivors get the support they need to recover from the trauma of being subjected to male violence.”

Read the full report here.


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