These past few weeks we’ve seen outcry about the widespread misery caused by long delays in payment of Universal Credit, and rightly so.
Universal Credit is a new social security system that brings all household benefits into one monthly payment that is put into one bank account per household. It would appear to be a throwback to the goode olde days, when households had breadwinners (men) and homemakers (women) who were dependent on their husband’s generosity for a weekly housekeeping fund.
In amongst the justified uproar about late payments, a critical issue has escaped largely unnoticed. The design of household payments in Universal Credit is fundamentally flawed and for women experiencing domestic abuse, this flaw could be fatal.
Research suggests that 89% of women experience financial abuse as part of their experience of domestic abuse. Some perpetrators stop their partner from working. Some monitor and control her spending, take her earnings, steal her bank cards and run up debt in her name. The evidence shows that limited or no independent income puts women at increased risk of financial abuse. The single household payment of Universal Credit is a gift to abusive men; it gives them money, power and therefore control in handy monthly instalments. It gives him a legitimate and easy way to get total control total control over his partner’s income and her ability to be able to leave. A process that may have previously taken months or years of coercive and manipulative behaviour can now be accomplished in weeks.
In Scotland we have the opportunity and crucially the powers to do things differently.
The Scotland Act 2016 gave the Scottish Government powers to vary how Universal Credit is paid. This means that we can find a path that promotes women’s financial independence and equality, and importantly one that protects women. The Scottish Government has committed to considering the development of splitting the single household payment and making individual payments.
As the roll out of Universal Credit continues we know that more and more women will find themselves with no money of their own and unable to leave an abusive partner. We know this is a problem, now we absolutely have to fix it.