Universal Credit is a Victory for Domestic Abusers – and Delaying it Does Nothing to Change That

Article by Danielle Rowley MP
Published in the Daily Mirror 17/10/18


The crunching sound of the Tories trying to put their Universal Credit juggernaut into reverse is a welcome one. But that noise should not be allowed to drown out the voices of those already suffering from the impact of Universal Credit– and who can take no comfort at all from the rollout being delayed.

The Mirror has previously highlighted the issues around Universal Credit split payments, and the fact that by default households receive one payment, into one bank account – usually one belonging to a male partner.

The consequences of that misplaced assumption of equality in 2018 can be horrendous, especially for women trapped in abusive relationships.

Refuge frontline staff have encountered many cases where the perpetrator has had a Universal Credit payment paid into their bank account, then used that money as a tool for coercive control. This includes women being given strict allowances, at times resulting in them forgoing food and basic necessities in order to prioritise feeding their children.

And research by Refuge and The Co-op Bank found that the vast majority of women financial abuse victims also experience physical, sexual and emotional abuse in their relationship.

In theory, claimants can request split payments. But imagine for a moment the monumental step making such a request would be for a woman in an abusive relationship.

Economic abuse was recently included in a proposed statutory definition of domestic abuse for the first time. So why does the Tory government insist on implementing a benefits system which experts are saying achieves for some abusers at the stroke of a key, what years of controlling behaviour had failed to do?

Single household payments are exactly what the perpetrators of economic abuse want, and our taxes are being used to hand them that victory.

Last week I led a Westminster Hall debate to ask why a Scottish Labour amendment to the Social Security Bill in Scotland on automatic split payments already had cross-party support, yet women in the rest of the UK are being denied the same simple protection against this sort of abuse. Later today my Labour colleagues and I will have another go at getting answers from ministers during an opposition day debate on the subject. I won’t hold my breath.

But the solution eventually agreed by the Scottish Parliament – albeit one the Tories and SNP initially rejected – will still have to be delivered by the same DWP computers calculating single household payments for claimants in Berwick, whilst splitting them automatically in my constituency in Midlothian.

Unlike Scottish Nationalists, us socialists are internationalists. And in this case, that means I’m not prepared to accept a system for claimants elsewhere in the United Kingdom which doesn’t deliver this very basic solution.

If we can do it for claimants north of the border then we should be doing it for everyone, everywhere.

For every mother doing without so that her children can eat. And for every woman whose safety depends on it.