When the country first went into national lockdown in March 2020, we knew at SEA that an agile response was essential. Part of that response was this rapid review of the safety needs arising for victim-survivors of economic abuse. Little did we think that measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19 would still be in place over a year later.
Through a survey and a series of interviews with victim-survivors and the professionals supporting them, SEA heard how abusers used the conducive context created by the virus to establish and/or
extend their control over the economic resources available to their current and former partners. In the words of one victim-survivor, ‘He has used Covid-19 to his advantage.’
This situation compounded existing economic inequalities, as Covid-19 safety measures had a disproportionate impact on women. The victim-survivors we spoke to reported being furloughed, having their hours or work reduced and losing their jobs — all at a time when many faced increased household costs, such as food and heating. Savings were used up and loans and credit were taken out. Women and children went hungry.
In addition to this, we discovered that 8% of respondents to the survey had plans to leave before
the first lockdown but were prevented from doing so. Others indicated that they had left shortly before the pandemic began and found the process of rebuilding their lives even more challenging. Unsurprisingly, some were thinking about going back.
In fact, the high numbers of respondents who were no longer in a relationship with nor living with the
perpetrator, served to illustrate just how prevalent economic abuse is post-separation. This reinforces
the significance of the work SEA has successfully undertaken over the same period to ensure post-separation abuse is made a criminal offence via the Domestic Abuse Bill.
Seven in ten of the professionals we surveyed reported that the number of victim-survivors of
economic abuse coming to their organisation for help had increased since the start of the outbreak. With nearly two-thirds of women surveyed planning to seek support around child maintenance, a third
planning to seek money or debt advice and one in five women planning to seek help around welfare
benefits at the end of the first lockdown, we can only assume that demand has increased still further, and cases will inevitably be even more complex as a result.
Certainly, the follow-up interviews which took place during the second lockdown revealed that victim-survivors were facing ongoing challenges. SEA saw a 65% increase in calls to the national financial support line for victims of domestic abuse (run in partnership with Money Advice Plus) and an 85% increase in website traffic at the start of the pandemic — this high demand shows no signs of abating.
At the same time, the banks and building societies that SEA works with have shared that customer disclosures of domestic abuse are increasing. In a context where, for many, it will not have been safe to contact a specialist domestic abuse service, the pandemic has illustrated that customer vulnerability teams can offer an alternative pathway to support. Indeed, despite all of the obstacles that the
pandemic has brought, it has also been a time where we have seen extraordinary innovation in
responses to economic abuse. SEA hopes that which we can embed and build on these responses as
standard going forward. As one victim-survivor so aptly stated, responses to economic abuse should
be the same ‘whether it is national emergency or a personal crisis.’
As the world recovers from the impact of Covid-19 and we look to move forward, SEA will continue
to centre the voices of victims-survivors, more determined than ever to ensure that economic safety for women and girls is a priority for all.
Dr Nicola Sharp-Jeffs, OBE
CEO, Surviving Economic Abuse
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