Economic abuse is like an invisible chain, trapping victim-survivors with abusers.
As well the harm it causes directly, economic abuse often facilitates physical and psychological abuse by restricting victim-survivors’ choices and their ability to access safety. In this way, economic safety underpins physical safety. The abuser creates and reinforces economic dependency and/or financial instability, undermining the victim-survivor’s ability to resist coercive control and to leave and rebuild their lives independently.
We congratulate the Government for recognising and defining economic abuse within the definition of domestic abuse in the Domestic Abuse Act passed in 2021. Now, the Government must acknowledge the central role of economic abuse in enabling perpetrators to control victim-survivors and take action to tackle it.
We call on the Government to place economic safety at the heart of its Domestic Abuse Strategy due to be published in early 2022. Economic abuse must be addressed throughout the new Domestic Abuse Strategy as it is relevant to all areas of the Strategy, including prevention, pursuing perpetrators and improving systems.
As the coordinating body, Government can play a leading role by reflecting an understanding of economic abuse in the operation of public services and systems.
Further investment in training for police and professionals working within the justice system is also vital. Economic abuse often starts or escalates after separation, prolonging the harm and hardship to victim-survivors and their families long after leaving. In 2021 the offence of Controlling or Coercive Behaviour was extended to post-separation abuse, following calls led by Surviving Economic Abuse. Training and guidance should be provided to all statutory agencies to ensure they are able to recognise and respond to coercive or controlling behaviour appropriately. SEA has worked with SafeLives as part of the Domestic Abuse Matters programme to deliver bespoke training on economic abuse. The evaluation of this demonstrated the difference it makes.
In terms of prevention and early intervention, the Government should also invest in financial education for young people and address economic abuse and power used in relationships. For victim-survivors whose financial knowledge and/or confidence has been impacted by the abuser’s control, the Government must ensure economic advocacy, including financial capability programmes, are a requirement within the refreshed National Statement of Expectations for Violence Against Women and Girls Services.
Creating an emergency fund for victims would give them access to the crucial funds needed to enable them to escape an abuser.
The Government should use the Strategy to highlight the role of a broad range of sectors beyond public services as part of the coordinated community response to domestic abuse, including:
A number of financial services firms working with industry bodies, like UK Finance, are developing and coordinating innovative approaches to support victim-survivors and we would like to see these expanded across the sector to ensure consistently good outcomes for victim-survivors. Firms should sign up to the refreshed 2021 Financial Abuse Code and the Code should continue to be developed to include a wider range of protections, such as in relation to mortgages, as learning grows.
Regulators, such as the Financial Conduct Authority, have an important role to play. They can encourage and support the financial services sector to tackle economic abuse as part of the coordinated community response to domestic abuse.
Companies can invest in staff training, specialist teams and improved processes to ensure survivors get support and solutions quickly. We would like to see best practice shared so that all firms, as well as public bodies, are confident to replicate best practice, both in policies and in exception processes.
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