From the TUC

Universal Credit: its impact on women experiencing financial abuse

12 Mar 2015, by in Equality

This afternoon at TUC Women’s Conference, Women’s Aid CEO, Polly Neate, will launch a new TUC and Women’s Aid report on women’s experiences of financial abuse and how the introduction of Universal Credit will affect women in abusive relationships.

We can’t say for sure how prevalent financial abuse is – there are no official statistics. However, we do know that financial abuse does seem to be a common experience for many of the women that Women’s Aid support. It’s often just one element of a whole set of abusive behaviours, including sexual abuse, physical abuse, and emotional abuse. 

What this report set out to do was to explore the experiences of those women who experienced financial abuse and to consider how the new Universal Credit system might affect women in financially abusive relationships. Women’s Aid researchers carried out focus groups and interviews with women survivors of abuse as well as a survey.

The survey found that:

  • 76% of respondents agreed that their partner kept financial information from them
  • 57% of respondents agreed that their partners used them as a source of money
  • 54% of respondents agreed that their partner monitored their work activities
  • 71% went without essentials and 41% had to use the children’s birthday money or savings to buy essentials
  • 61% of survey respondents were in debt and 37% had a bad credit rating as a result
  • 52% of survey respondents living with an abuser at the time of the survey agreed with the statement that they had no money so could not leave Some interviewees were threatened with losing their children or deportation if they left
  • For many, financial abuse continued after separation, often concerning child maintenance

Numbers only tell you part of the story. To get the full story you need to read the quotes from the interviews and focus groups. Be warned, they make for tough reading. Some women talked about how their partner used their non-EU migrant status against them and told them they couldn’t claim benefits and withheld their passports and other documentation. Several disabled women talked about how their partners withheld their disability benefits from them.

“I’m disabled. He takes my mobility equipment so I can’t go out to my friend’s house for a cup of tea.”

Another woman was denied access to sanitary products.

“He refused me money for sanitary supplies, so I couldn’t buy any.”

Other women explained how their abuser blocked their access to their own earnings.

“I had a weekend job and got money paid into my account each week. He took my bank card off me. I was given a daily £10 allowance for everything I needed during my pregnancy, including all our food shopping.”

Others were not given any money for children as they were expected to be able to pay for everything with their Child Benefit.

“He’d say ‘You get child benefit. It’s enough for your baby. The government look after her. I don’t need to pay’. But often he’d spend that money or I’d have to give him some so he could go out”

Other women reported being used as unpaid labour and living off a tiny allowance.

“I worked for his business full time seven days a week, but I wasn’t paid. I was given £30 a week to run the house. He said I was doing it for the family.”

 The report highlights some of the potential difficulties with the new Universal Credit system. In particular, the report points to the payment of Universal Credit to just one person in a household as problematic in relationships where there is financial abuse. This is something which has been flagged up time and time again by a range of organisations including the Women’s Budget Group.  Women interviewed as part of this report expressed concern about the single payment per couple, which they felt would go into their partner’s account, giving the abuser more money to control. Concerns were also raised about the change to monthly payments which may give the abuser access to a larger amount of money on pay day than at present. As one woman put it “He’ll wake up one morning with £1500 in his account and piss off with it, leaving us with nothing for weeks.”

The report makes a series of recommendations for various government departments, for statutory agencies, and for banks. Raising awareness of financial abuse and offering training to frontline staff is an important first step but the report also calls for changes to the way Universal Credit is administered. Key recommendations for the Department of Work and Pensions include:

  • Giving consideration to paying the elements of Universal Credit relating to children to the main carer, to signal that payment is intended to support the family;
  • Establishing procedures to facilitate disclosure at key points in the Universal Credit claim process;
  • Allowing claimant choice of frequency of Universal Credit payments

There are a lot of recommendations but they’re relatively simple and cheap to implement. The cost of not implementing them will be immense for women living with financial abuse.