Report launch: Government’s commitments in Domestic Abuse Bill undermined by the social security system

Date Posted: Wednesday 12th June 2019

Social SecurityUniversal CreditViolence Against Women And Girls

Social security systems across the UK are failing survivors of violence and abuse when they need help the most according to a new report launched by the Women’s Budget Group, Surviving Economic Abuse and 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, explores the links between Violence Against Women and Girls and the social security system across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.  

Read the full report here

The report concludes that:

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

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

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

There are differences in social security policies and VAWG strategies across 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. In addition, there is a legal obligation in Northern Ireland to report a criminal offence leading to concerns from survivors about confidentiality if they disclose abuse to DWP staff.

The Women’s Budget Group is calling on the Government to take urgent action to ensure that women’s rights are equally protected across all four nations of the UK

Women’s Budget Group Director Dr Mary-Ann Stephenson 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.”

Surviving Economic Abuse Director Dr Nicola Sharps Jeff 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. 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.” 

End Violence Against Women Coalition Co- Director Rachel Krys said:

“This report should serve as a wakeup call to government that women can be put at serious risk of harm by changes to the benefits system and other policies.  There is a violence against women and girls strategy but it is clear that the Department for Work and Pensions doesn’t have this in mind when making decisions which are critical to women’s lives and safety. It is clear there needs to be an overhaul and radical re-design of the way in which our society supports women, particularly those experiencing abuse and made even more vulnerable due to their immigration status and having no recourse to public funds.”

The report will be launched in London. Find out how to book your free place here.

 Media enquiries: 

Women’s Budget Group

Thaira Mhearban: / 07838 222067/ Communications Officer

Dr Mary-Ann Stephenson: / 07957 338582/ Director

Surviving Economic Abuse

Georgia Powell: / 07833 162714/ Communications Officer

End Violence Against Women

Rebecca Hitchen: / 07960 744 502/ Campaigns Manager


About Women's Budget Group
The Women’s Budget Group (WBG) is an independent network of leading academic researchers, policy experts and campaigners. Our vision is of a caring economy that promotes equality between women and men.

About Surviving Economic Abuse (SEA)
Many women experience economic abuse within the context of intimate partner violence. It limits their choices and ability to access safety. SEA is the only UK charity dedicated to raising awareness of and transforming responses to economic abuse.

About End Violence Against Women Coalition (EVAW)
EVAW is a leading coalition of specialist women’s support services, researchers, activists, survivors and NGOs working to end violence against women and girls in all its forms.