Universal Credit 'risks giving more power to domestic abusers'

By agency reporter
June 20, 2018

As Universal Credit continues to roll out nationally, women’s groups will publish a new report at an event in Parliament on 20 June 2018 which raises concerns that Universal Credit payments paid into one bank account for everyone in the household, rather than individual accounts, risk giving more power to abusers in homes where women are at risk of 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.

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:

  • Exploring different methods of making default single payments for the remaining roll out of Universal Credit so the most effective single payment model can be applied
  • Ensuring non-means tested benefits such as Carers Allowance remain payable outside of Universal Credit
  • Provide a safe space for women to disclose abuse when they are applying for benefits
  • Make more training on domestic abuse available for those working on the application and administration of Universal Credit such as Job centre staff
  • End the two child benefit cap, which has led to the infamous ‘rape clause’
  • 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

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 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.

* Read the full report Universal Credit and Financial Abuse: Exploring the links here

* The Women’s Budget Group is a network of leading feminist economists, researchers, policy experts and campaigners committed to achieving a more gender equal future. https://wbg.org.uk/


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