People who work for a Welsh commissioner will be eligible for financial support to leave an abusive relationship, in a pioneering scheme designed to break down a key barrier that stops domestic abuse survivors escaping.
The Welsh future generations commissioner, Sophie Howe, has launched a policy, believed to be the first in Wales and possibly in the UK, giving staff suffering domestic abuse access to a grant or loan.
Howe said financial constraints were one of the biggest bars to leaving an abusive relationship and is hoping other organisations across Wales and further afield will follow her example.
In March last year, the commissioner became the first employer in Wales to offer paid domestic abuse leave to her workers, a policy since adopted by the Welsh government and at one Welsh local authority.
Under the new financial support policy employees working for Howe can apply for a cash grant of up to £500, a salary advance or a loan of up to £5,000 to help pay for anything from essential supplies to relocation costs including rent or a deposit on a home.
Howe said: “Domestic abuse has long-term consequences for victims and their children. We often think this is just a matter for police or social services but the reality is that employers have a massive role to play in helping to keep their employees safe in work and at home.”
Howe has 22 workers and hopes her scheme will encourage others to introduce similar policies. She said: “We all have a duty to help others to live free from domestic abuse, and to protect those around us from harm. If there is a barrier to safety that this money can alleviate, we will make it available – whether that be for starting a new home, to adapting an existing one, childcare or even paying for pet boarding.”
Gwendolyn Sterk, of Welsh Women’s Aid, welcomed the scheme, saying: “Violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence is everyone’s business.”
Mutale Merrill, the CEO at Bawso, which supports victims of domestic violence from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds said: “Women face enormous challenges in leaving their families and everything that is familiar to them in order to escape abuse and protect their children. They face financial uncertainty, mental dislocation, and often language barriers which complicate understanding and communication.”
The commissioner worked with the domestic abuse campaigner Rachel Williams, from Newport, south Wales, who was shot by her partner in 2011.
Williams said: “This could help so many people who are prevented from leaving a situation that could kill them. People are offered financial support for many reasons, including losing a job. Yet someone leaving a dangerous home often doesn’t know where they’re going to sleep that night.
“This sort of practical support would have given me another option. I would have left years sooner, had I not been worrying about where my children and I would go and live.
“Society puts pressure on people, especially women, to leave an abusive relationship, without always thinking about how they might be able to. You’re starting again from scratch, sometimes after years of building a home.”
The commissioner’s role is to be the guardian of future generations. This means helping public bodies and those who make policy in Wales to think about the long-term impact of their decisions.