So, as the only UK charity dedicated to raising awareness of economic abuse, we were pleased to see that the Government’s draft Domestic Abuse Bill provides for a legal definition of domestic abuse that recognises economic abuse as a distinct form of coercive and controlling behaviour. This is important because economic abuse goes ‘beyond’ financial abuse, which is already reflected in current policy. We know that abusers don’t ‘just’ seek to control, exploit and sabotage victims’ money and finances, but also their economic resources (food, transport, housing).
Many victims stay in relationships for longer than they want to because of economic barriers to leaving and will therefore experience more harm. This illustrates how economic stability and physical safety are linked. Women who experience economic abuse are five times more likely to experience physical abuse and, when economic abuse takes place in the context of coercive control, they are at increased risk of homicide.
Legally recognising economic abuse also serves to raise awareness; just two in five people know that domestic abuse can involve finances. Since research suggests that economic and psychological abuse commonly precede physical and sexual violence, this has important implications for prevention and early intervention work. Increased awareness should also translate into providing better support to victims. We are currently piloting a screening tool for economic abuse across four London boroughs. Domestic abuse professionals report that this has helped them develop a fuller picture of the economic abuse that victims have experienced.
The screening tool sits within a ‘conversation kit’ about what economic abuse is. This helps victims make connections between the abuse they experienced and their economic situation. This challenges what the abuser may have told them – for example, ‘you are bad at managing money’ – enabling them to move forward with increased confidence in their abilities.
Increased knowledge about economic abuse should help ensure that perpetrators are held to account. Police officers rank economic issues nearly bottom in terms of importance when assessing risk in domestic abuse cases, while respondents to the government consultation on the draft Bill highlighted how paying universal credit for couples into a single nominated bank account risks increasing a perpetrator’s economic control of their victim.
Local government can play an important part in reinforcing these key messages in its role as a commissioner of domestic abuse services. Councils can also encourage integrated working between domestic abuse and money/debt advice services, as well as local Citizens Advice Bureaux.
Finally, the Bill will ensure that where a local authority, for reasons connected with domestic abuse, grants a new secure tenancy to a social tenant, this must be a secure lifetime tenancy.
We are excited to be working on an innovative ‘whole housing’ pilot project across local authorities in London and Cambridgeshire that will develop the practice and knowledge of housing professionals in the private rented, privately owned and social rent sectors. This is funded by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and we look forward to working with partners, including the Domestic Abuse Housing Alliance.