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Victims of economic abuse left without support

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Written by: Emma Lunn
26/01/2022
Economic abuse leaves victim-survivors without the financial skills needed to escape an abuser and move forward, as well as debts which can take many years to pay off.

According to charity Surviving Economic Abuse (SEA) victims are left with an average ‘coerced’ banking debt of £4,607, while 83% are left with low financial knowledge and confidence.

Data from one of SEA’s banking partners and from a national casework service run by Money Advice Plus (MAP) shows that domestic abuse survivors need help managing their finances. On leaving an abuser, many victim-survivors have little experience of dealing with financial matters independently, with some not having used an ATM for several years.

Lack of money knowledge and confidence also impacts victim-survivors accessing MAP and SEA’s casework service. The data shows that prior to receiving support from the service, 83% of victim-survivors with a banking debt who were supported by the service showed low levels of money knowledge.

At the point of accessing the service, 51% of victim-survivors with problems linked to banking products gave themselves a money confidence score of five or less on a scale of one to 10.

Forcing or coercing someone into debt is a common and destructive form of economic abuse and in MAP and SEA’s casework, seven in 10 of the victim-survivors supported had a banking debt. A total 193 banking debts were identified with a combined value of £889,000 – making the average debt £4,607.

One victim-survivor of economic abuse told SEA: “He controlled what I wore, what I ate and drank, who I saw, who I spoke to, my social media, my telephone, our bank accounts, my credit card. He controlled how much sleep I had. He made it near impossible for me to sustain a full-time job, yet he refused to work. He trashed my property. He tracked and traced my every move. I was so brainwashed at the end of the relationship; I didn’t know who I was anymore.”

SEA is highlighting the way economic abuse can continue to damage survivors’ financial safety long after they have separated from the abuser. Abusers often leave survivors with coerced debt and ‘de-skill’ a victim, leaving them without the knowledge and confidence they need to make financial decisions independently after separation.

This viewpoint is supported by SEA research from 2020 showing that three-quarters of victim-survivors report that their partner kept important financial information from them, while six in 10 victim-survivors report that their partner told them how they must spend money, rather than letting them make their own decisions. Three in 10 victim-survivors reported being stopped from having or accessing a personal/joint bank account.

In anticipation of the new Domestic Abuse Strategy due to be published by the government, SEA is calling for ministers to recognise how economic abuse traps victims and makes it hard for them to escape and rebuild their lives after abuse.

The charity wants the government to prioritise economic safety and place it at the heart of their new strategy, as well as the National Statement of Expectations for Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) Services, so that survivors can be given the support they need to escape from abusers and rebuild their lives.

Dr Nicola Sharp-Jeffs OBE, founder and CEO of Surviving Economic Abuse (SEA), said: “Economic abuse is an insidious and often invisible form of control, one which can trap a victim in a relationship with an abuser and leave them feeling like there is no escape.

“Even when someone manages to leave, the harm caused by the abuser – the debt, the bad credit, the financial insecurity, lack of financial independence, knowledge and confidence – follows them around for the rest of their lives, preventing them from moving on safely. We need the government to follow up on their recognition of economic abuse within the Domestic Abuse Act passed last year by taking urgent action to tackle this important problem and put economic safety front and centre of the new Domestic Abuse Strategy.”

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