Left paying the price of the pandemic

“I will be in debt for the next 20 years of my life.”  

Surviving Economic Abuse (SEA) welcomes the Home Affairs Committee report published today on ‘Home Office preparedness for Covid-19 (Coronavirus): domestic abuse and risks of harm within the home’[i].

The report calls on the Government to set out a full Covid-19 cross-Government strategy on domestic abuse to cover both the period of lockdown and the period immediately after lockdown, when need for support is also likely to be acute.

The Committee recognises that domestic abuse support services need urgent and direct funding support to be able to meet the needs of victims and that one of the areas where there is need for ‘immediate and targeted assistance’ is in relation to debt (recommendation 5), something we know is one of the biggest concerns for victims of economic abuse.

SEA’s Economic Justice Project (April 2020) found that six in ten victims had been forced to take out a loan or buy something on credit when they didn’t want to, or that their partner had built up debt in their name and without their permission[ii].

“If I didn’t have enough cash to pay for what he wanted, he would give me an ultimatum – what would cost more: to buy him what he wanted or the cost of the damage he would do when he smashed everything in sight. So I got my credit card out and ended up with £3,000 worth of debt.”

SEA is urging UK Finance to work with its members to write off debt that has been coerced so that victims are not left paying the price of the pandemic for many more years to come. It is essential that Government works with all agencies to provide pragmatic and tangible solutions to address this issue.

“I was with an abusive partner for five years. Throughout the relationship he managed to get me into £30,000 worth of debt. I will be in debt for the next 20 years of my life.”  

The Project also found that 95% of domestic abuse victims experience economic abuse, where a partner uses control, exploitation and or sabotage to create economic dependency and/or instability.

Lack of access to economic resources can result in a victim staying with abusive partner for longer and experiencing more harm as a result. Economic abuse is also linked to physical safety, with women who experience it being five times more likely to experience physical abuse and increased risk of both homicide[iii] and suicide[iv]. Furthermore, lack of access to economic resources post-separation is the primary reason women return to an abusive partner. Economic stability is fundamental to physical and emotional safety.

Yet, loss of jobs and income due to the coronavirus pandemic and the economic insecurity caused, creates a conducive context for economic abuse to start or escalate.  An abusive partner might use the outbreak as an excuse to gain or increase their control over their partners economic situation, interfere with their ability to work or try to prevent them from accessing financial support that is available at this time, such as a break in mortgage payments. SEA has seen an 85% increase in website traffic since the pandemic began, and an overnight increase of 257% when the second three weeks of lockdown was announced. Similarly, calls to the national guidance service operated by SEA in partnership with Money Advice Plus has seen a 65% increase in calls overall and a 233% increase when the pandemic measures were extended.

This pandemic has highlighted the heightened risk of domestic abuse and increased public awareness of this issue is welcome at a time when it is harder than ever for victims to reach out for support. However, it is also important to consider the ongoing economic consequences of the outbreak which will undoubtedly reinforce or create economic dependency and/or instability; limiting women’s choices and their ability to access safety.

In the same week. SEA welcomes the Second Reading of the Domestic Abuse Bill, which, for the first time, recognises economic abuse in the statutory definition. SEA is calling for a vital amendment to the Bill to include post-separation abuse in the offence of controlling or coercive behaviour. This is needed as coercive control often continues post separation and victims are at a heightened risk of homicide in this period.[v] Given that economic abuse does not require physical proximity it commonly continues, escalates and, in some cases may begin after separation, creating a significant barrier for victims seeking to rebuild their lives. Coerced debt is just one example of this.

For more information on coerced debt, please see the debt section on our resources page or for more information on economic abuse and the coronavirus outbreak specifically, see SEA’s resources page.

To speak to a SEA spokesperson or case study or for more information, please email [email protected].

[i] https://committees.parliament.uk/work/184/home-office-preparedness-for-covid19-coronavirus/

[ii] http://survivingeconomicabuse.org/report-finds-that-6-in-10-domestic-abuse-survivors-are-struggling-with-coerced-debt/

[iii] Websdale, N (1999) Understanding Domestic Homicide California: Northeastern University Press

[iv] Aitken, R and Munro, V.E. (2018), Domestic Abuse and Suicide: exploring the links with Refuge’s client base and work force

[v] Home Office (2016), Domestic Homicide Reviews: Key Findings from Analysis of Domestic Homicide Reviews