Universal Credit risks increasing women's vulnerability to financial abuse, say women's groups

New briefing from Women's Budget Group, Surviving Economic Abuse and the EVAW Coalition

“More money may go straight into wallet and not in the purse, leaving women and children with no income”

Following criticisms by the National Audit Office of the Universal Credit system, women’s groups publish a new report today (19 June) revealing that the current system puts women experiencing domestic abuse at further risk.

 

The Women’s Budget Group, Surviving Economic Abuse & the End Violence Against Women Coalition point out that under Universal Credit payments are made into one bank account for everyone in the household, rather than individual accounts which risks giving more power to abusers in homes where women live with domestic violence.

 

The new report, ‘Universal Credit and Financial Abuse: Exploring the links’, by the Women’s Budget Group, Surviving Economic Abuse and the End Violence Against Women Coalition, says it is critical that this huge change in the welfare system is checked for its potential impact on women who are being abused, especially when domestic abuse is known to be an extremely widespread crime (1).

 

The report argues that that the single payment could result in less equal couple relationships, and risks further financial abuse. The reduction of women’s financial autonomy could result in main carers (usually in practice mothers) losing clearly-labelled child payments, which currently are often paid separately and can provide a lifeline to survivors of domestic abuse.

 

It makes a number of recommendations including:

 

  1. Exploring different methods for each member of a couple to nominate a separate bank account, for the remaining roll out of Universal Credit, so the most effective model can be applied;
  2. Ensuring non-means tested benefits such as Carers Allowance remain payable outside of Universal Credit;
  3. Provide a safe space for women to disclose abuse when they are applying for benefits;
  4. Make more training on domestic abuse available for those working on the application and administration of Universal Credit such as Job centre staff;
  5.  End the two child benefit cap, which has led to the infamous ‘rape clause’
  6.  Consider stripping out payments for children in Universal Credit and making them non-means-tested (perhaps as an increase to Child Benefit), and return to payment to the person mainly responsible for the care of the child/ren.

 

 

“There are many problems with Universal Credit based on my experience as a single parent going through domestic violence…allowing your perpetrator [to] use the system as another means of persecuting you, no consideration is given to a person’s financial position or their emotional wellbeing. Ultimately, I was being made to jump through hoops, treated like a criminal when you are most vulnerable and expected to look for a job.”

 

“People say to me, ‘How could you let this happen to you of all people? Why didn’t you leave’. Was it really that simple? Let me leave you with this thought: Would you ever ask someone who came off a plane with terrorist why they got on in the first place? I very much doubt that you would given that it is an unforeseen and devastating life-threatening situation that no-one would voluntarily get themselves into and find it a vortex to come out of.”

 

Aanya (not her real name). A survivor from Surviving Economic Abuse

 

 

 

Mary-Ann Stephenson, Director of the Women’s Budget Group said:

“We know that income is not always shared equally in households. Combining payments for housing, job seeking and children, that have to date been separate, risks giving abusive men even more power and control over their partners. It may send more money than ever straight to wallet and not to purse, undermining women’s economic independence and their ability to leave abusive relationships. We welcome the decision of the Scottish Government to allow for separate payments as a matter of course, and call on Westminster to do the same.”

 

Dr Nicola Sharp-Jeffs, Surviving Economic Abuse (SEA), said:

“Financial abuse is just one tactic of coercive control through which abusive men gradually come to dominate their partners. As well as controlling money they commonly control access to phones, transport and even food (economic abuse). Enabling them to receive all of a household’s money direct to one bank account alone has to set off alarm bells. Where split UC payments can be made they are discretionary and temporary and require what can be a very difficult and dangerous disclosure of abuse. We need to urgently look at making separate payments routine.”

 

Sarah Green, Co-Director of the End. Violence Against Women Coalition, said:

“It is incredibly difficult for any woman experiencing domestic violence to leave a controlling and abusive partner. Paying all of a family’s income to an abuser is creating a new state-based barrier to seeking safety and change. This Government says it is committed to changing the response to domestic violence across the board and is planning new legislation. We urge the Government to look urgently at the evidence on what a single UC payment might do and think again. And while this is happening – this is the perfect opportunity to review and then scrap the two child limit, another barrier to women’s freedom and independence.”

The women’s groups will meet cross-party MP’s to discuss reforms to universal Credit for women experiencing domestic violence at a parliamentary event this autumn.

 

The Women’s Budget Group and Surviving Economic Abuse are both members of the End Violence Against Women Coalition, a coalition of over 80 women’s groups which aims to end violence against women in all its forms.

 

The full report, Universal Credit and Financial Abuse: Exploring the links, is available here

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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