Domestic violence cases referred to a national charity have jumped by almost a fifth, raising fears that the economic downturn could have fuelled a rise in abuse.
The National Centre for Domestic Violence said it has seen just over a 19pc increase in the number of cases it is dealing with over the past three years.
As the rise coincides with Britain’s economic squeeze, it has sparked concerns that the financial pressures families are facing could have provoked domestic abuse.
“We have seen a rise in domestic violence cases being referred to us between 2009 and 2012 by just over 19pc,” said Mark Groves, operations manager at NCDV.
“It is the vulnerable sections of society that are most susceptible to physical and mental domestic abuse and this section of society are suffering the most with the financial squeeze,” he added.
“Is it because of this squeeze that we have seen domestic violence referrals rise? I can only give my view and I feel that it is.”
There are numerous reasons behind domestic violence, he explained, but financial conflict is one of them. Whilst there is always going to be this particular conflict in a relationship - even when times are good - the economic downturn over the last few years has resulted in more people experiencing financial stresses.
This brings an extra “layer” into a relationship that some people have never experienced before, said Mr Groves. If people find this difficult to cope with, it can fuel arguments and potentially violence. “It becomes a very hostile environment,” he added.
Figures from the Office for National Statistics show that incidents of domestic violence stood at 353,000 in the year from July 2011 to June 2012, up from 332,000 in the same period the previous year. The most up-to-date figures will be published in January.
= 'Domestic violence is an abuse of power' =
Sandra Horley, chief executive of domestic violence charity Refuge , cautioned against making a link between any rise in domestic violence and the downturn.
“It may simply be that more women know where they can seek help, or that Refuge’s awareness campaigns have resulted in more women coming forward,” she said.
“At present only 16pc of women report incidents of domestic violence so perhaps the silent majority are beginning to speak out.”
Irrespective of the economic climate, she pointed out that “domestic violence has been going on for centuries”.
“Factors such as poverty and unemployment may exacerbate the violence, but they do not cause it. Domestic violence is an abuse of power,” said Ms Horley.
“Suggesting that the financial climate causes domestic violence merely provides another excuse for this violent crime.”
While there may not be an explicit link between the downturn and a rise in domestic abuse, there are concerns that domestic violence services are facing funding cuts in the tough economic climate.
Yet both NCDV and Refuge argue that it makes economic sense to provide support for victims of violence.
The Home Office has indicated that the government is serious about tackling domestic abuse and has ringfenced nearly £40m of funding for specialist domestic and sexual violence support services until 2015.
= 'We need to invest if we are to save money and lives' =
The NCDV assists victims of domestic violence with securing protection against an abuser. Their staff provide legal support to get a non-molestation order. This acts like a restraining order and prevents an abuser using or threatening violence, or harassing or pestering a victim.
Mr Groves said that these applications “cost between £400 and £900 an extremely low amount considering the huge protection these orders give a victim”.
“Without a non-molestation order many victims will continue to be abused and eventually the cycle ends tragically, all for the sake of a couple of hundred pounds.”
Maintaining investment in domestic violence services is essential, added Ms Horley to save money as well as lives.
“Slashing budgets directly impacts on the lives of the most vulnerable people in society,” she said.
“And with even more women coming forward than ever before where will they go, where are the specialist services which will provide life saving and life changing support for them and their children?”
“As well as the human misery, where two women are killed every week in this country by a current or former partner, domestic violence costs the state £16bn every year in police, legal, healthcare and lost economic output costs,” she added.
“Yet we know that investment in specialist domestic violence services creates substantial long term savings. We need to invest more in domestic violence if we are to save money and lives.”