Government urged to scrap single Universal Credit payments in calls for tougher action to tackle domestic abuse

The new Government Bill should put an end to single Universal Credit Payments recommends the Home Affairs Committee in a report published today.

Having taken written and oral evidence from a range of women’s groups, including Surviving Economic Abuse (SEA), the Committee concludes that some of the Government’s welfare reform policies are making it harder for victims to leave.

Single household payments under Universal Credit facilitate economic abuse and control. The Committee describes single payments as a “retrograde and backward step” and supports calls that split payments for couples should be the standard instead.

It notes written evidence from SEA which states that the arrangement for requesting payment to be split in cases of domestic abuse is “fundamentally flawed”. However sensitively and carefully a request for split payments might be handled, actively challenging the control exerted through domestic abuse is dangerous.

When EEG member, *Doris* requested a split payment she recalls,”All hell broke loose, and it was not just on one occasion. You’re punished repeatedly. It a woman tries to get her payment separated off, she will suffer the consequences like I did when I did that.” 

SEA Director, Nicola Sharp-Jeff says: “Given the new focus on economic abuse within the proposed statutory definition it is important that this is not undermined by other Government policies such as Universal Credit.

The fact that Universal Credit is paid by default as a single payment to the household enhances economic inequality. If we are going to ensure that we have economic equality, we need to recognise how households function. We are, I would hope, well beyond the ‘breadwinner’ model so we need to recognise that in practice. Separate income is vitally important.

If you are saying on one hand that economic abuse is important and that we need to address it, yet on the other we have Government policies that are undermining that principle then there is not a consistent response across Government. We need to be looking at separate payments of Universal Credit to each party as a default position.”

The Committee also welcomes the Government’s plans to include economic abuse in the statutory definition of domestic abuse, something that SEA advocated for when the new Government Bill was first announced. Economic abuse is associated with an increased risk of homicide since it prevents victims from accessing the economic resources they need to leave an abusive partner and live independently.

The importance of maintaining economic stability is further recognised by the Committee within its recommendation that Government should consult on introducing paid domestic violence leave for victims of abuse.

In her oral evidence to the Committee, Dr Nicola Sharp-Jeff’s (SEA’s Director) also called for the Government  to establish a fund for victims of domestic abuse. Given that crisis loans and social loans are no longer available, a financial package like this would help victims of abuse rebuild their lives.

The charity further agrees with the Committee that, in light of the Lords Select Committee on Financial Exclusion’s recommendation, there should be a statutory duty of care for financial service providers. The Government should look at options for strengthening the current voluntary code of practice on financial abuse, to include the possibility of introducing a duty of care to protect victims of financial abuse.

Read SEA’s full written evidence here.