Inquiry finds Universal Credit increases victims’ vulnerability

Move to single household payments was “retrograde” and “damaging” say MPs

Government must split household payments for couples claiming Universal Credit to enable victims of domestic abuse to more easily leave their abuser, according to a report from a Home Affairs Committee inquiry on domestic abuse.

The introduction of digitally-administered Universal Credit saw in single household payments, after “the importance of independent resource for the main carer had been recognised for decades,” said the report. 

It described the move to single household payments as “retrograde” and “damaging.”

The call to split Universal Credit payments is one of several issues that the committee is calling on government to address in its draft domestic abuse bill, due for publication later this year.

The Home Affairs Committee, led by Labour MP Yvette Cooper, heard evidence from witnesses that the single payment can also make some victims more vulnerable to abuse and more likely to stay with an abuser.

The report says: “We are concerned that some of government’s welfare reform policies are making it even more difficult for victims to leave their abusers and establish financial independence and there is evidence that the default single household payment can reduce the autonomy of some women.”

One witness, Dr Nicola Sharp-Jeffs, founder and director of Surviving Economic Abuse, said economic abuse and coercive control were linked to an increased risk of homicide because victims tended to stay with abusive partners for longer when they cannot afford to get away.

Other witnesses to give evidence included Councillor Simon Blackburn, Chairman, Safer and Stronger Communities Board, Local Government Association; Professor Jane Callaghan, Stirling University and deputy chief constable Louisa Rolfe, National Police Chiefs’ Council.

The report welcomed the inclusion of economic abuse in the government’s proposed statutory definition of domestic abuse.

Nearly 2m people a year in England and Wales experience domestic abuse.

Sam Trendall

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