Domestic Abuse: Surviving Economic Abuse

Intro

You are listening to Relationships Shouldn't Hurt, a podcast brought to you by Central Bedfordshire Council. During this series, you'll be able to hear us talk all things domestic abuse and raise awareness of the support available to those affected.

Episode

Tracy

Hello and welcome to Relationships Shouldn't Hurt. Today's podcast is all about economic abuse. I'm Tracy Mintern, I work for Central Bedfordshire Council, and I'm here today with Christina Govier from Surviving Economic Abuse. Hi, Christina.

Christina

Hi.

Tracy

So we're going to talk about economic abuse, as I said, but I'm going to give you a few statistics. These statistics came from Surviving Economic Abuseís Economic Justice Project evaluation. So this is quite scary, 95% of domestic abuse victims experience a form of economic abuse. 60% of economic abuse victims are coerced into debt, and the average debt is £4600 and 44% of debt is priority debt. Collectively, victims have an annual bill of £23.5 million. Christina, those stats, I just, I am flabbergasted reading them. I don't know how that makes you feel.

Christina

Yeah, absolutely. I think what we know from looking at those statistics is that economic abuse and particularly coerced debt is a problem which affects so many victims/survivors of domestic abuse. I think traditionally, you know, domestic abuse has been thought of as the physical and the sexual abuse. But what we see from looking at the Economic Justice report is that, you know, domestic abuse isn't just the physical and sexual, emotional, psychological, it's also the economic abuse which has that huge, long lasting impact. And, you know, things like coerced debt can impact someone for a number of years. So it's not just something that you can leave and walk away from.


 

Tracy

A lot of people talk about financial abuse, and that doesn't quite, that feels almost one dimensional. Whereas we know the economic abuse, as you said, is huge and people can't just walk away from it. What would you say is the difference?

Christina

Yeah, so both the terms economic and financial abuse are often used interchangeably. But as an organisation, we prefer not to do that. And the reason being is that economic abuse describes a broader set of behaviours than financial abuse. So when we're thinking about financial abuse, we often, our minds jump to things like money, control of people's finances specifically. So actually, the money we spend day to day. But when we think about economic abuse, it's much broader than that. So economic abuse concerns the exploitation of any resources that have any economic value. So that can be things, from utilities to cars to property, it doesn't just concern the finances. And so while those terms are used interchangeably, we see economic abuse as that overarching term and financial abuse is a subset of economic abuse. And economic abuse will be the term that will be used in the upcoming Domestic Abuse Bill, which is going through Parliament at the moment, and economic abuse will definitely describe that broader range of behaviours. So when a victim/survivor does, you know, have issues with their mortgage as a result of what's happened, that will be considered economic abuse, it's not just about money.

Tracy

Thank you. A lot of the statistics that we see suggests that more women are victims/survivors of economic abuse. But men are affected, too. Is that a fair comment?

Christina

Absolutely, so at Surviving Economic Abuse we recognise that anyone can be a victim or survivor of economic abuse, and anyone is at risk of this type of behaviour. However, there are some particular groups in society who experience additional inequality and additional disadvantage, so women would be part of that group. We'd also see LGBT+ survivors, those people who might experience a disability might be at an increased risk of experiencing economic abuse as well.

Tracy

Do you have many older survivors/victims coming forward?

Christina

Absolutely, in terms of economic abuse can affect anyone of any age group. However, we don't always see as many survivors coming forward from older age groups. That might be because they're not aware of the support that's available for them, they might not feel represented in that support. But what we do know is that this isn't a crime which, specifically, you know, is restricted to one age group. It definitely impacts all age ranges.


 

Tracy

Something that you just said, you mentioned the word crime, and I think that's really interesting because an absent parent not paying child maintenance can have a huge impact on the victim/survivorís ability to pay bills. So we are talking about crime here, aren't we?

Christina

Yeah, so what we are talking about here are behaviours which would be considered under the coercive and controlling behaviour legislation. So whilst economic abuse itself isn't actually a crime, it would be defined under the coercive and controlling behaviour legislation, which does look at behaviour around financial products or economic products. So it's not, it's definitely not something that's just restricted.

Tracy

Thank you. You've mentioned coerced debt. So could you go into a little bit more detail about what that is please? Because I'm sure some of our listeners won't know what that is.

Christina

Yeah, absolutely, it's one of those terms. So when we say coerced debt, what we mean is debt where someone has forcibly put that into someone else's name. So, for example, that might be a victim/survivor is pressured by the abuser, that could be using direct threats and direct intimidation, or that could be more subtle, that could be more covert. So it could be, you know, that implied threat that victim/survivors know so well when they're experiencing domestic abuse. That implied threat that you have to go along with this, you can't say no. So victim/survivors talk about being pressured to take out a credit card or being forced or pressured to give the abuser the account details so that they could make that application for a credit card online. So when we talk about coerce, we really mean forced. That's what we're talking about here. But I think it's really important to remember that again that force might not be obvious. So your partner doesn't have to physically, you know, actually say to you, I'm not gonna let you do this or if you if you don't give me this, this will happen. It might be that implied threat, which, as I said, victims/survivors live with every day.

Tracy

So your role within Surviving Economic Abuse is banking expertise. So, looking at say, mortgages and bank accounts, how would we recognise that somebody is being economically abused? And what would you recommend they do to reduce that if they can?

Christina

Yeah, so my work has really looked at how banks and building societies can better support victims/survivors of economic abuse. And so some of the most common things to look out for when it comes to bank accounts might be a victim/survivor might not have access to a joint bank account. They might be named on the account, but do they have a card? That's the kind of thing I would be looking for. Also, you know, some abusers might use bank accounts to monitor the activity of a victim/survivor, so they might use the account to, you know, question transactions. Ask why someone was in a certain place at a certain time using the bank account as a form of surveillance, and the other way is that people might access someone's account without their knowledge in order to make some of the transactions we talked about earlier. So that could be, you know, taking out a product, taking out a credit card in someone's name. But that could also be accessing someone's bank account and making unauthorised transfers, for example, across to another account. So those are some of the things we see. When it comes to mortgages, the pictureís very complex, so some of the most common challenges we see with mortgages are around a joint mortgage. So when you're in a joint mortgage, both parties have a say so in what happens. But unfortunately, when domestic and economic abuse has occurred, what we often find is an abuser may deliberately not pay the mortgage, not agree to certain changes about the mortgage in order to result in the property falling into repossession. So those are some of the key challenges we see around mortgages and banking specifically. In terms of what someone might be able to do if they were experiencing some of these things, I think the first thing to know is that you're not alone. This isn't something that you are going through alone. It might feel very much like that, but support is available and, you know, the first thing I would say is to reach out for that support where itís safe to do so. So that might just be speaking about the issue with someone close to you, reaching out to a family member or a trusted professional. And I know we're going to go into a little bit more detail around that, but I think it's really important that someone does reach out for support, because support is out there. There are people who do understand this type of abuse. There are people who will listen to you and can start sign posting you in the right direction.

Tracy

Do you think it's more difficult to ask for support around economic abuse, but money and finances it can be quite a complicated area, and sometimes actually admitting that you haven't got enough. And it's not your fault because it could be a woman, for example, who is in a full-time job, her money is being so controlled that she doesn't have that money and itís that sense of you feel responsible and you feel ashamed? How do we overcome that, so we encourage people to come forwards?

Christina

Yeah, absolutely, I think as a society, we're not great about talking about our finances, weíre not great about talking about money. And I think, you know, what I want people who might be listening to this experiencing economic abuse to know is that you aren't alone. This is something that, you know, as a charity we've worked very closely with institutions like banks, like the Police to train them so that when you do reach out to them, you are met with that empathy, that understanding about what you've been through. Absolutely. There's a lot of shame attached to, you know, disclosing this type of thing. But what we aim for is that institutions who you might come in contact with as a result of experiencing economic abuse have that understanding and empathy. What we really try to do as an organisation, that Surviving Economic Abuseís work with the institutions that you might come in contact with as victim/survivor, so that might be the bank, that might be the Police, that might be insurers, that might be a whole host of financial institutions. And what we really do is to we train them, to ensure that when someone does reach out with an experience that they're met with empathy and understanding of this particular issue. I think it just goes, is worth to say that, you know, whilst economic abuse might be sometimes seen as a lesser form of domestic abuse, that's absolutely not how we see it at Surviving Economic Abuse. Economic abuse can be as dangerous as other forms of domestic abuse, and what we do know is that 95% of victims experiencing domestic abuse will be experiencing a form of economic abuse. So the two go hand in hand. And just like the cases with domestic abuse, you should be met with support, understanding and empathy.


 

Tracy

Do you think because of the economic abuse and the fact that they are sort of intertwined with the relationship that is abusive, that makes it more difficult for people to leave?

Christina

Absolutely. We know at Surviving Economic Abuse that economic abuse in particular, and particularly the ongoing economic abuse which occurs post separation, can be one of the key reasons that people return to the relationship. So some of those barriers that exist in terms of, if you've been experiencing economic abuse, you might not have any cash today to actually get that bus, to get to the refuge or the support service which you are aiming to go to. In terms of other ways it might impact you, you might not be able to, you know, your credit might be so damaged as a result of someone coercing you into debt that when you go to rent a private rented property, you are unable to access that because of your credit score. And so there are so many ways that the economic abuse puts barriers in place for victims/survivors who are looking to leave, but also for those who have recently left in terms of re-establishing their economic security. And moving on from what happened. Again with benefits, unfortunately systems like universal credit, where there's a single payment to a household inadvertently can facilitate economic abuse. So when someone, you know, when there's one payment to a household and an abuser is economically abusive, they might decide to control that, they might decide how that money is divvied up, and what you might end up with is someone not actually seeing any of that universal credit which they are entitled to. What we also see with benefits is forcing someone to perhaps seek a council tax discount, perhaps to lie to the council and being forced to do that by the abuser. But we also see abusers misusing benefits, so we also see times where abusers might demand that someone provides them all the child benefit, or demand that certain benefits are transferred over to their name, or that the money once received in the victim/survivors account is transferred over manually. And again that's all part of economic control and the abusers wish to control all that economic resource in the household.

Tracy

I guess it doesn't matter what sort of level people are at in terms of whether they're working and earning millions or they're claiming benefits. Economic abuse is economic abuse. It's across the board, isn't it? It will affect you and cause damage, and long-term damage as you've said.

Christina

Yeah, it definitely isn't restricted to one group of people or one income level. Unfortunately, we see economic abuse happening across income levels, across professions, there is no particular victim in the same way there's no particular abuser. But what we do know is that economic abuse effects a large, large percentage of those experiencing domestic abuse.

Tracy

I mentioned earlier about paying maintenance for children. That's another way of controlling a victim/survivor who's got children. Do you come across a lot of that at Surviving Economic Abuse?


 

Christina

Yeah, interestingly, actually, this is one of the most common things that we actually hear about from victims/survivors at the moment. So maintenance is one of the key ways that abusers seek to maintain control post separation with economic abuse. So when all those other ways they were immediately controlling someone fall away, the Child Maintenance Service, unfortunately, is used by abusers to do that. So that might look like not paying agreed maintenance, something that we're seeing recently is using the Covid pandemic to reduce maintenance payments or stop maintenance payments altogether. Similarly, what we've seen is abusers disguising income or reorganising their income in order that when they are assessed by Child Maintenance, that they have a lower payment to make. I've seen examples of even when maintenance agreements are in place, either denying to pay it, as I mentioned, or withholding it or paying at a later date, causing that ongoing disruption for someone awaiting that payment.

Tracy

It's a big question, really, what would you recommend a person does if they're experiencing economic abuse?

Christina

Yeah, that's the big question, really, isn't it? And I think again, as I said earlier, what I really want anyone listening to this to know is that you aren't alone. I know that experiencing economic abuse is really, really isolating, as are other forms of domestic abuse. But that support is out there and is available and so I'd always encourage someone to consider contacting organisations like 24-hour domestic abuse helpline, Respect run the Men's Advice Line or Galop, who run the LGBTQ+ support line. So contacting a service where you can actually talk through what's happening to you and if that's not the stage youíre at, reaching out for support with someone close to you or speaking to a trusted professional. And I think as well, some of the other things that I would recommend are on our website we have over top 20 resources for victims/survivors, which are specifically written explaining what is economic abuse? All the things I've been talking about today, what does coerced debt really looked like? We have over 20 resources on our website specifically about that, so I'd really encourage someone to have a look at those resources. At the end of all of those resources is a list of organisations who can support you with that particular matter and just being aware, you know, your local domestic abuse organisation, you might be able to contact them and seek support there. We also have a financial support line for victims/survivors of domestic abuse, which we run in partnership with an organisation, Money Advice Plus, and so there are also details of that available on our website should someone want some specific tailored advice around coerced debt and economic abuse.

Tracy

Thank you. And just in case anyone's wondering, there is a website for Surviving Economic Abuse, and having looked at the resources, they are amazing and they're so easy to read and understand. There is also a website for Money Advice Plus. So if you've been affected by economic abuse, please contact any of the services that we've mentioned. There are details of the different agencies that can support you locally and nationally on the Bedfordshire Domestic Abuse Partnership website too. Thank you so much, Christina, for your time today. And, unbeknownst to our listeners, some of the technical issues that we have right at the beginning, really appreciate your time. Thank you so much for joining us.

Christina

Thank you, Tracy. It's been a pleasure.

Outro

Thank you for listening to Relationships Shouldn't Hurt. If you or someone you know has been affected by domestic abuse or the issues raised in this podcast, you can contact the 24-hour National Domestic Abuse Helpline on 08082000247. You can also find lots of information about domestic abuse on our website, and if you're in the Bedfordshire area, you can find local support services on the Get Help page of this website. If you are in immediate danger, please call the Police on 999.