The DWP is ’empowering abusers’ through its incompetent changes to the benefit system

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Tracy Keeling

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is ’empowering abusers’ through its incompetent changes to the benefits system. But it’s by no means the only department that’s doing so.

Facilitating abuse

The Work and Pensions Committee has carried out an investigation into the impact of Universal Credit on domestic violence. It found that, as it stands, the new benefits system “could put claimants living with domestic abuse at risk of harm”.

Under Universal Credit, claimants receive one payment per household rather than individual payments for each person. But this leaves the door wide open for economic abuse of claimants. In its recent Domestic Violence Bill, the UK government described [pdf p46] this category of abuse as follows:

Economic abuse goes beyond purely financial abuse and can involve behaviours that control a person’s ability to acquire, use and maintain economic resources – threatening their economic security and potential for self-sufficiency.

Despite the government’s acknowledgment of this as abuse, however, the committee found that it is actually ‘facilitating’ this abuse. The committee said it:

heard evidence that, for a minority of claimants, single household payments of Universal Credit can make it easier for perpetrators to abuse and control their victims.

The committee’s findings follow a previous report, where it concluded that DWP staff received inadequate training in dealing with claimants experiencing domestic violence.

Facilitating abuse, again

But the DWP is not the only department accused of facilitating abuse. Women’s groups, including Southall Black Sisters, Latin American Women’s Rights Service, and the End Violence Against Women Coalition (EVAW), raised alarms in May about the Home Office also doing so. Rachel Krys, co-director of EVAW, said at the time:

The public are rightly outraged by the devastating impact the hostile environment immigration policy has had on the lives of the Windrush generation. The same policy is also leaving many women at risk of violence and exploitation, scaring them away from seeking help and making it harder for them to access life-saving services.

Abusers are weaponising the policy, using that fear, saying, ‘if you leave me, if you go for help, if you draw attention to yourself, you will be deported’.

Meanwhile, extensive government cuts have left women who do seek help with nowhere to go. As The Bureau of Investigative Journalism reported in 2017, refuges turned away over 1,000 vulnerable women and children in a six-month period; because refuges say they now only have a “bare-bones service”.

Making matters worse

Two women on average die each week in England and Wales due to domestic violence. And according to [pdf p6] domestic violence charity Refuge, one out of five adults in Britain has “experienced financial abuse in a current or past relationship”.

The UK government has a responsibility to lessen the risk of abuse. Instead, it’s implementing policies that make the risk greater. Its incompetence, and apparent disregard for the most vulnerable people in the country, is truly astounding.

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