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Social security systems let down women

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Women’s Budget Group, Surviving Economic Abuse, End Violence Against Women Coalition, report, social security systems, failures, protect women and girls, abuse and violence, recommendations, government action‘This report reveals that the current system sets the scene for domestic abuse’.

Social security systems throughout the UK are failing survivors of violence and abuse when they need help the most, according to a new report launched recently by the Women’s Budget Group, Surviving Economic Abuse and the End Violence Against Women Coalition.

The report, Benefits or barriers? Making social security work for survivors of violence and abuse across the UK’s four nations, explored the links between violence against women and girls and the social security systems in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

It concluded that:

Social security is letting down women who are living with an abusive partner;

Poverty resulting from the Benefit Cap, the two-child limit or other social security cuts can leave survivors trapped with an abusive partner;

The payment of Universal Credit (UC) into a single bank account can make women more vulnerable to economic abuse;

The ‘No Recourse to Public Funds’ rule can be used by an abuser to frighten survivors to staying with them;

Social security is letting down women when they try to leave an abusive relationship;

Leaving can be difficult or impossible if the survivor has no access to benefits;

Survivors face a wait of at least five weeks before UC is paid, pushing them into hardship and further debt. Survivors claiming from a refuge service may have to wait twice as long;

Women with ‘No Recourse to Public Funds’ may find it impossible to find a refuge space that can afford to support them;

Social security is letting down women when they are trying to build a new life;

Moving to a new home may be difficult given the lack of affordable housing and reductions in benefits for housing and getting basic items like furniture given cuts to local welfare schemes;

Survivors may be sanctioned for not applying for jobs that would put them at risk, such as near the perpetrator’s home or workplace.

They may also lose benefit if their ex-partner makes malicious allegations about their entitlements.

There are differences in social security policies and strategies for dealing with violence against women and girls in each of the four nations of the UK, meaning that women in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have different experiences.

Women in Northern Ireland are particularly disadvantaged as their rights and protections are lower than elsewhere in the UK, there is no publicly-funded childcare provision and abortion is illegal.

There is also a legal obligation in Northern Ireland that a criminal offence be reported, leading to concerns from survivors about confidentiality if they disclose to DWP staff that they are being abused.

The campaigners are now calling on the government to take urgent action to ensure that women’s rights are equally protected across all four nations of the UK.

And the report outlined a range of recommendations as to how the government could rectify these issues.

Dr Nicola Sharps Jeff, Director of Surviving Economic Abuse, said: “Women’s physical safety is linked to their ability to access economic resources including an independent income and housing.

“This report reveals that the current system sets the scene for domestic abuse; in fact, paying joint claims of Universal Credit into one bank account actually facilitates it.

“The government has a duty to close down such loopholes.

“Failing to do so is contrary to the spirit of recognising economic abuse within the statutory definition of domestic abuse included in the draft bill.”

And Dr Mary-Ann Stephenson, Director of the Women’s Budget Group, said: “Social security should provide a safety net, but too many survivors of violence and abuse are being let down when they need help most.

“Women, particularly poor women, black and minority ethnic (BME) women and disabled women have borne the brunt of cuts to social security since 2010.

“These cuts, along with cuts to specialist services, are undermining the government’s commitments to tackling violence and abuse against women.”

To read the full report, click here.

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