18 March 2021: The government’s proposal to allow women escaping domestic violence to access up to $10,000 of their superannuation acknowledges the significant need survivors have for unrestricted money to support their wellbeing. Given the prevalence of economic abuse among victim-survivors of domestic and family violence, access to money is vital.

The invidious choice between poverty and instability, or violence and abuse is hardly a choice at all. But for too long victim-survivors have been asked to carry the burden of costs for the abuse they experience; a burden which further impacts their children.

On an individual level, can we in good conscience tell a woman who has lost everything and is trying to escape a controlling and abusive partner that she can’t access her own money? That’s a dynamic which all too closely replicates the abuser’s behaviour whereby she’s long been told she doesn’t know what’s good for her.

But on a broader level, we can and must do better. The superannuation proposal is designed as a ‘last resort’ source of funds. What does it say about us as a society that we can do no better in her time of crisis than offer her access to her retirement savings? Really?

Surely there are ways we can financially support women (and men) leaving domestic violence, without increasing their financial stress. Why is the perpetrator not being asked to pay? Why don’t we have a better safety net for victim-survivors? Why aren’t support services better funded?

The early access provisions to super through COVID-19 have already impacted people’s retirement savings and we know that some victim-survivors were coerced into withdrawing super.

On current figures, 80 per cent of Australian women will retire with insufficient superannuation for a comfortable life in retirement. For a 30-year-old, that $10,000 withdrawn now could mean $30,000 less at retirement – increasing pressure on the Age Pension. Already, one in four women will retire with no super at all. Women’s super hardly seems the best pot of money to be targeting here.

The Government’s most effective financial response to COVID was its JobKeeper provision to keep people employed when their jobs were at risk through no fault of their own. Three and half million full-time employees were receiving $1,500 a fortnight for months. Why not give victim-survivors of domestic violence $10,000 when they need it? They are similarly facing financial hardship through no fault of their own with flow-on effects to productivity and the economy. We are talking about smaller numbers of people and smaller amounts of money, albeit ongoing.

Direct cash payments – with safeguards to protect from abusers – would help victim-survivors in the short-term and reduce the burden to the public purse over the longer term. This would differ from the operation of current pots of crisis money for people escaping domestic violence which are inadequate and often have rigid criteria attached making them inaccessible, burdensome and humiliating.

If we are to support people who want to escape an abusive partner, we need to provide real choices. We need to provide a better safety net. We need to hold the perpetrator accountable. We need to provide avenues for redress. And we need to provide resources to rebuild. Survivors know their needs best. It’s time for society to trust survivors and support them to regain their independence.