An SNP MP blasts the DWP’s flagship policy for playing into the hands of domestic abusers

The DWP logo and storm clouds

SNP MP Philippa Whitford slammed the DWP’s flagship policy – Universal Credit – for playing into the hands of domestic abusers.

“Urgent reform”

As Welfare Weekly reported, Whitford issued a damning statement about Universal Credit ahead of a House of Commons event organised by women’s domestic abuse organisations. She 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.

Financial abuse

Whitford issued her statement in response to a report from campaign groups the Women’s Budget Group, End Violence Against Women and Surviving Economic Abuse. The report describes [pdf, p1] how Universal Credit “requires couples to nominate a single bank account”. It states [pdf, p1] that the government’s rationale for this decision is that payments to one bank account:

can help couples see clearly the effect of their decisions about work on total household income.

But the report raised [pdf, p1] concerns that single payments:

could result in less equal couple relationships, and risks further financial abuse.

It specifically focuses [pdf, p2] on the:

removal of specially labelled and separately paid tax credits for children.

It argues [pdf, p2] that this reform infringes on a woman’s “bargaining power”.

“Psychological stranglehold”

These concerns are born out by personal stories. In August 2018, a survivor of financial abuse told the BBC that:

her ex-partner had exploited the child benefit system, filing claims while she was still in hospital after giving birth, and denying her access to funds.

She concluded that Universal Credit increased the risk of women being put in a “psychological stranglehold”. This provides credence to the director of Women’s Budget Group Mary-Ann Stephenson’s claim that single payments are:

undermining women’s economic independence and their ability to leave abusive relationships.

Financial independence

Universal Credit claimants can request split payments but the Work and Pensions Committee heard that Jobcentres only offer these in “very exceptional circumstances”. Additionally, claimants often have to disclose [pdf, p2] abuse to receive split payments, which many domestic abuse survivors are “reluctant to do”.

Therefore, Whitford has called on the government to stop ignoring the issue and instead:

introduce separate payments, as the default, to ensure that women have financial independence.

It’s really not too much to ask.

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Featured image via cjohnson7 – Wikimedia and UK government – Wikimedia.

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