The Work and Pensions Committee has warned that single household payments of Universal Credit could put claimants living with domestic abuse at risk of harm as they enable perpetrators to take charge of potentially the entire household budget, leaving survivors and their children dependent on the abusive partner for all of their basic needs.
In its Universal Credit and domestic abuse report the Committee says that the Department of Work and Pensions must give serious consideration to any policies that might offer some protection to survivors of abuse and deliver fairer payments to households. It adds that Government must ensure its wider determination to tackle domestic abuse is reflected and embedded across all Departments, with policies that encourage equality and deter abuse.
Heidi Allen MP, Committee Member, said:
‘One of the key improvements of Universal Credit over legacy benefit systems is the way it seeks to proactively support individuals. So it can't be right that payments are made by default as a single block to a household. In the 21st Century women deserve to be treated as independent citizens, with their own aspirations, responsibilities and challenges. Good Government develops solutions that are dynamic and responsive to the individual as well as offering value for the tax payer, so I urge the DWP to show what I know to be true - that it can deliver both.’
Rt Hon Frank Field MP, Chair of the Committee, said:
‘This is not the 1950s. Men and women work independently, pay taxes as individuals, and should each have an independent income. Not only does UC’s single household payment bear no relation to the world of work, it is out of step with modern life and turns back the clock on decades of hard won equality for women. The Government must acknowledge the increased risk of harm to claimants living with domestic abuse it creates by breaching that basic principle, and take the necessary steps to reduce it.’
Refuge, the national charity for women and children experiencing domestic violence, has welcomed the report. Its Chief Executive, Sandra Horley CBE, said:
‘We are hugely encouraged that the Committee has recognised Refuge’s argument that single Universal Credit payments represent a real risk for survivors of abuse. We now urge the Government to follow through and make the necessary amendments to protect women and their children from economic abuse. It is essential that the system does not roll back years of hard-won women’s equality, limiting their financial independence by handing the purse-strings to the ‘man of the house’ and putting women and children at risk.’
Read the report in full here.