The Cost of Covid-19: Economic abuse throughout the pandemic – on employment and education

“He has been deliberately damaging my work property”

Like many in the violence against women and girls’ sector, we were immediately concerned going into lockdown about the impact this would have on economic safety. The isolation arising from measures to address the pandemic, alongside the economic uncertainty it created, has led to a context in which abusers have unprecedented opportunity to control and dominate.

With support from the Standard Life Foundation, we were able to undertake a rapid review to learn more about how women’s lives were changing.

The Cost of Covid-19: Economic abuse throughout the pandemic was carried out in the summer of 2020 to examine the impact of the government-enforced lockdown and social distancing measures on victim-survivors of economic abuse.

One of the key themes was that abusers were using the pandemic as a means to start or escalate sabotaging their partner’s ability to work or study.

Out of 500 respondents, 45% of victim-survivors and 47% of frontline professionals  reported that perpetrators are deliberately sabotaging a woman’s ability to work and study – an explicit form of economic abuse – now that they are spending more time at home due to lockdown orders, furloughing or job loss.

‘With both people working from home the abuser has been able to disrupt and control my work and time and ability to work and study in an unprecedented way, than if we were both physically going to an office.’ (Victim-survivor)

Respondents to the survey (98% of whom were aged 26-65) reported multiple ways perpetrators attempted to inflict control and sabotage a victim’s working or study arrangements. These included:

  • A frontline professional reported that a perpetrator had been calling his victim’s employer to tell lies about her in order to jeopardize her employment.
  • Several women reported deliberate damage to, or hiding of, essential work equipment such as phones, laptops and Wi-Fi routers.
  • Many women said that the additional time at the house with the perpetrator led to constant interruptions and demands on their time, as well as extreme levels of stress and anxiety that made working very difficult.

‘His bombardment, abuse and control has triggered my anxiety, making it difficult to work.’ (Victim-survivor)

A particularly common response was how perpetrators used childcare arrangements to negatively impact a victim’s ability to work or study, noted by 66% of frontline professionals and 33% of victim-survivors. Respondents reported that perpetrators would refuse any responsibility, forcing some women to miss meetings, turn down job opportunities or reduce hours and therefore pay.

‘I am about to be un-furloughed. I have asked him to look after the children so I can return to work. He has refused to do so.’ (Victim-survivor)

‘We’ve got a client who gets up very early in the morning because he sabotages her work by not looking after the kids. And she gets up really early to try and get her work done.’ (Professional)

Based on these findings, SEA urges employers and educators to do the following:

  • Ensure staff are trained in domestic abuse, including economic abuse, so that they can respond effectively to cases – including within the pandemic context
  • Develop and effectively implement comprehensive policies on domestic abuse, including economic abuse, that reflect any variations in normal practice during the pandemic
  • Offer flexibility to support staff and students experiencing economic abuse throughout the pandemic that enables them to maintain their work and studies
  • Make regular contact with staff and students throughout the pandemic as part of their health and safety/safeguarding responsibilities, and be ready to signpost them to support where needed
  • Provide enhanced packages of support to victim-survivors of economic abuse throughout the pandemic