Welfare benefits

Surviving Economic Abuse has called for change to policies around welfare benefits where they adversely affect people experiencing economic abuse. In some cases, the system actively facilitates this abuse.

See the timeline below for how we have engaged with policy around Universal Credit and the benefits system.

“Under Universal Credit, single payments to an entire household may entrench problematic and often gendered dynamics within a couple…”

  • November 2022: SEA supported Refuge as they called for urgent changes to the welfare-benefits system. These calls were partially heard and in his Autumn statement, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt announced that benefits would increase in line with inflation.
  • July 2020: Following the inquiry, the Committee published the following report: Universal Credit isn’t working: Proposals for reform. SEA’s evidence is quoted several times in the report.
  • February 2020: We contributed written evidence to the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee inquiry into the economics of Universal Credit.
  • September 2019: SEA submitted a response to a consultation on improving the social security system, by the Commission for Social Security UK, led by Experts by Experience and supported by Warwick University, LSE and Trust for London.
  • June 2019: SEA co-authored with the Women’s Budget Group and EVAW the report Benefits or barriers? Making social security work for survivors of violence and abuse across the UK’s four nations. This report was launched in Parliament in June.
  • November 2018: SEA was invited by Just Fair to attend a Town Hall event in Newham at which our Director and Expert by Experience ‘Doris’ spoke about split payments.
  • We were also invited to speak alongside the Special Rapporteur, Professor Philip Alston at an event organised by Just Fair and the Human Rights Lawyers Association which took place at Doughty Street Chambers. In his report, the UN Special Rapporteur for Extreme Poverty and Human Rights stated: “Under Universal Credit, single payments to an entire household may entrench problematic and often gendered dynamics within a couple, including by giving control of the payments to a financially or physically abusive partner.
  • September 2018: SEA spoke at the report launch in the House of Lords alongside Experts by Experience Doris and Aanya. Heidi Allen MP (Chair, Work and Pensions Committee) publicly stated that it was SEA’s oral evidence that convinced her about the problem of the one payment system because she recognised that it is also linked to women’s equality. SEA submitted written evidence on Universal Credit to the UN Special Rapporteur for Extreme Poverty and Human Rights on behalf of the National Working Group on Economic Abuse.
  • August 2018: SEA’s written and oral evidence were referred to within the Committee report (seventeenth report of Session 2017-19).
  • July 2018: SEA also raised the issue of Universal Credit within its written and oral evidence to the Home Affairs Committee’s Domestic Abuse Inquiry.
  • June 2018: SEA endorsed a report by the Women’s Budget Group on Universal Credit and Financial Abuse along with the End Violence Against Women Coalition (EVAW).
  • April 2018: SEA provided written and oral evidence to the Work and Pensions Committee Inquiry, within which it recommended a domestic abuse advisor role in each Job Centre.
  • March 2018: SEA attended an event organised by Phillipa Whitford MP in the House of Commons to express concern about single payments made under the Universal Credit system and the dangers associated with the ‘split payment’ solution. Supported an Early Day Motion tabled on the same day.

SEA has drawn out several ways in which the single payment of Universal Credit can be harmful to victim-survivors of economic abuse, or facilitate economic abuse in the first place.

“Even in situations where there was no existing economic abuse, the single payment can exacerbate gender inequalities and create the potential for abuse.”
“Denying an independent income to both parties through the single payment is regressive in that it encourages financial dependence, reinforcing the traditional ‘male breadwinner’ model and overlooking women’s right to an independent income.”

Couples can arrange split payments if they disclose domestic abuse directly to a work coach through an online Universal Credit account or over the phone. Such a disclosure is unsafe and can exacerbate abuse. SEA commented:

“This is not a realistic or safe solution for victims, as challenging the abuser’s control by making such a request could make the abuse worse.”