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New report finds economic safety for women and girls must be central to tackling domestic abuse

A new report from Surviving Economic Abuse (SEA), The Cost of Covid: Economic abuse throughout the pandemic, has revealed how domestic abusers utilised COVID-19 restrictions to restrict, exploit and/or sabotage victims’ economic resources, compromising their physical safety.

The research found that since the arrival of the pandemic, abusers controlled victims’ access to their finances, benefits, child maintenance payments, everyday necessities such as food and utility bills, housing, as well as their ability to work or study.

7 in 10 professionals said the number of victim-survivors of economic abuse coming to their organisations for help has increased in the last 12 months.

Perpetrators also developed new context-specific tactics for control during the lockdown, including hiding work equipment, wrongly informing a victim’s employer they had broken lockdown rules, or refusing to help with childcare.

The fact that 90% of victim-survivors who responded to the survey were separated and no longer living with the perpetrator illustrated just how prevalent economic abuse is post-separation. This reinforces the significance of the work SEA has undertaken to ensure post-separation abuse is made a criminal offence via the Domestic Abuse Bill.

We welcome all the amendments the Government has made to the Domestic Abuse Bill, and as lockdown measures begin to lift, Surviving Economic Abuse is calling on Government and businesses to further ensure women and girls’ economic safety remains a priority.

Economic safety underpins physical safety. The survey showed 8% of respondents had been planning to leave before the pandemic. This meant victims were forced to stay with an abusive partner for longer than they wanted to and experienced more harm as a consequence. Women who experience economic abuse are five times more likely to experience physical abuse and are at increased risk of homicide and suicide.

The research further highlights how all women must have access to a safety net when they are struggling to access basic necessities. It is vital migrant victims of domestic abuse have equal support via the welfare system, including access to refuge accommodation paid for via housing benefit. SEA is calling on Government to accept the amendment championed by Southall Black Sisters, the Latin American Women’s Rights Service and the End Violence Against Women (EVAW) Coalition and backed by the House of Lords, which would extend the Destitution Domestic Violence Concession to all migrant women experiencing domestic abuse – when the Domestic Abuse Bill returns to the House of Commons on 15th April.

KEY FINDINGS:

“He has used COVID-19 to his advantage.”

(Victim-survivor of economic abuse)

During the pandemic:

  • 79% said the perpetrator had tried to control their finances
  • 72% said because of the perpetrator’s actions, their financial situation had worsened
  • 45% said because of the perpetrator’s actions, their employment or education had worsened
  • 84% said they were worried about receiving CMS payments
  • 94% of women living with the perpetrators reported they were worried about their current access to economic resources and core necessities
  • One third said because of the perpetrator’s actions, their housing situation had worsened.
  • 57% of women said that their ability to seek help in relation to the perpetrator had been negatively impacted by lockdown and social distancing measures

Based on these findings, SEA is calling for the following measures:

An economic safety plan for women and girls

Government and business must ensure that economic safety is central to all decision making. This starts with ensuring a basic safety net and access to an independent income. From here, there must be the necessary building blocks in place to ensure sustained economic independence, such as access to welfare, prompt child maintenance payments, legal aid and paid leave.

Supporting migrant women

The Government must ensure all women with no recourse to public funds have access to the Destitution Domestic Violence Concession.

Dr Nicola Sharp-Jeffs, OBE, founder and CEO, said:

“Our research into the impact of COVID-19 demonstrates how integral economic safety is to the overall safety of victim-survivors. For this reason, government and business alike must start to make economic safety a priority when working towards ending violence against women and girls.”

Jess Phillips MP, Shadow Minister for Domestic Violence and Safeguarding, said:

“These new findings shine a light on all of the ways abusers used the COVID-19 restrictions to control their victims’ economic resources and compromise their physical safety. I’m really grateful for all the work charities like Surviving Economic Abuse are doing to highlight this important issue.”

Dr Kathryn Royal, Research Officer, Policy and Research Team, SEA, said: 

“The Cost of COVID-19 research has highlighted a number of ways that the outbreak has created a conducive context for perpetrators to economically abuse victim-survivors, including post-separation. Therefore, it is vital that the needs of victim-survivors are considered a key priority and the project’s recommendations are put into practice.”

Rebecca Graham, Programme Manager, Standard Life Foundation, said: 

“The increase in opportunities for economic abuse during the pandemic has been extremely worrying, and as this work shows, abuse often continues long after separation. While the pandemic and lockdowns have affected all areas of society, including public services, special provision must be made to ensure that the current situation does not further increase the risk to the finances and wellbeing of victim-survivors of economic abuse. There are many ways that policy makers and industry can help protect people, and the lessons learned here must be taken forward to create environments that do not inadvertently place women at risk in future years.”

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