An SNP MP will today (Wednesday) announce plans to bring forward amendments to the UK Government’s forthcoming Domestic Abuse Bill – to tackle the increased risk of financial abuse under the Universal Credit system.
Speaking at a House of Commons event, hosted by a coalition of women’s and domestic abuse organisations, Dr Philippa Whitford MP will say the move to introduce separate payments as the default is ‘crucial’ to protect women’s financial independence.
The proposed reforms would ensure that Universal Credit is paid to individuals, rather than into a single household bank account, as the current situation makes it easier for perpetrators of domestic abuse to exert financial control – leaving victims isolated and unable to leave an abusive relationship.
The SNP’s Health spokesperson will urge the UK government to back the reforms “without delay”, after a report from the Women’s Budget Group (WBG), Surviving Economic Abuse (SEA), and the End Violence Against Women Coalition (EVAW) highlighted how the current default payment of Universal Credit to a single bank account could increase women’s vulnerability to financial abuse.
Commenting, Dr Philippa Whitford MP said: “The UK government must finally listen to the overwhelming evidence from women’s groups, who are clear that Universal Credit needs urgent reform to tackle the increased risks of domestic abuse.
“Financial Abuse affects one in five women and the current system, of paying Universal Credit into one bank account per household, makes it easier for perpetrators of domestic abuse to exert complete financial control – leaving women isolated; with no money to socialise with friends and family or to leave an abusive relationship.
“It is simply not good enough for the UK government to continue to side-line this issue. They must get behind these crucial amendments and introduce separate payments, as the default, to ensure that women have financial independence.
“The SNP government fully supports the introduction of separate payments, and is in discussion with the DWP to enable such payments to be made in Scotland – but domestic abuse and financial coercion is an issue that affects women right across the UK, and the simplest and most effective way to resolve this flaw is for the UK government to reform the underlying system.”
Dr Marsha Scott, CEO of Scottish Women’s Aid, said: “Scottish Women’s Aid lends our full support to Dr Philippa Whitford MP’s amendments, research suggests that 89% of all women who are abused by a partner, experience financial abuse as part of domestic abuse.
“Ensuring that women have equal access to Universal Credit supports women’s financial independence and reduces the ability of perpetrators of domestic abuse to control their partners and their children.”
Rachel Krys, Co-Director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition said: “Women’s groups have pointed out that Universal Credit payments made into one bank account for everyone in the household, risks giving more power to abusers in homes where women live with domestic violence, and is creating a new state-based barrier to seeking safety and change.
“We are supporting the amendments for separate payments to be made the default to give women more protection, and want to see a clear timetable in place to work out how payments should be split.
“The UK government says it is committed to changing the response to domestic violence across the board, we therefore urge them to look urgently at the evidence on what a single UC payment might do and think again.”
Dr Nicola Sharp-Jeffs, Surviving Economic Abuse, said: “Paying Universal Credit into one bank account sets the scene for financial abuse. Access to an independent income is also vital in order to leave an abusive partner.
“The UK government must reflect this understanding by making separate payments the default position, thereby closing down opportunities to abuse and removing barriers to leaving.”
Mary-Ann Stephenson, Director of the Women’s Budget Group said: “We know that income is not always shared equally in households, and that lack of independent income can make women vulnerable to financial abuse.
“Up until now payments for housing, job-seeking, and children have been separate. Combining them into a payment into a single bank account risks giving abusive men even more power and control over their partners.
“It may send more money than ever straight to the wallet and not to the purse, undermining women’s economic independence and their ability to leave abusive relationships.”