William Eichler 22 October 2018

Universal Credit ‘retrograde’ step in tackling domestic abuse

Single household payments under Universal Credit are a ‘retrograde and backward step’ which makes it difficult for victims of domestic violence to escape their abuser, according to MPs.

A report from the Home Affairs Committee has criticised the Government’s flagship welfare reform, arguing the default single household payment for UC makes it difficult for abuse victims to have financial independence.

The committee welcomed the Government’s plans to include economic abuse in the statutory definition of domestic abuse. However, it said UC payments should be split for all couples in England and Wales, in line with the approach taken in Scotland.

‘Universal Credit is making it much harder for women to maintain financial independence or to leave abusive relationships and the Government’s insistence on a single household payment is a serious retrograde step,’ said the committee chair Yvette Cooper MP.

‘Separate family payments to ensure some independent income for the parent at home caring for children have been a feature of the welfare system ever since the introduction of Family Allowance for very good reason, and they are still part of the Scottish system today.

‘If the Government is serious about tackling economic abuse, it needs to urgently rethink.’

The Home Affairs Committee also insisted that national refuge funding should be included in Whitehall’s Bill on Domestic Abuse.

‘Unpredictable and short-term’ funding streams have led to a serious lack of bed-space in safe accommodation for victims of domestic abuse, according to the committee’s report.

Women’s Aid reports that 60% of referrals to their refuges are refused due to lack of bed spaces. On average 90 women and 94 children are turned away from refuges every day.

‘Shockingly many refuges are turning away 60% of their referrals due to lack of space,’ said Ms. Cooper.

‘We urgently need more refuge places – provision should be a requirement on local authorities, backed by national ring fenced funding.’

Responding to the report, Cllr Simon Blackburn, chair of the Local Government Association’s (LGA) Safer and Stronger Communities Board, said domestic abuse was an issue councils took ‘very seriously’.

‘However, as this report highlights, the ability of councils to fund services for victims is constrained by pressures on their budgets, with local authorities increasingly being forced to prioritise spending for those at immediate risk of harm, rather than on earlier support services to address harmful behaviours, including domestic abuse,’ he said.

‘With local government facing an overall funding gap of almost £8bn by 2025, any legislative changes in the Government’s forthcoming Bill must be matched with adequate resources and funding, which the Autumn Budget needs to address.’  

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