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Trade Unions are key to making sure women are free from financial abuse

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Understanding how financial abuse undermines women’s economic independence helps understand how all-encompassing violence against women, girls and non-binary people can be.

Good public services, an enabling welfare state, decent work including good pay and conditions, and workplace support for victim-survivors are crucial to tackle financial abuse – and violence against women and girls more broadly. This is why they are a priority for trade unions in the UK.

What is financial abuse and why are trade unions concerned about it?

Financial abuse is an aspect of coercive control. It happens when a perpetrator uses or misuses money in a way which limits or controls their partners' actions, future choices, and freedom of choice. It rarely happens in isolation, in most cases abusers will use other abusive behaviours to threaten and reinforce financial abuse. Abuse like this can leave women unable to afford basics like food and clothing and can see them burdened with debt built up by perpetrators and without access to their own bank accounts.

Funding for domestic abuse support services has been cut over many years, leaving a fragile funding landscape and a shortage of service provision. This worsened through the pandemic.

Women’s Aid report published in 2021 found that in 2019/20, 59 per cent of local authorities in England applied real terms cut to their domestic abuse funding, leaving refuge centres under-resourced and unable to meet demand.

The same report found that in November 2020 there was a shortfall of nearly 25 per cent in the number of refuge spaces that should be available.

Then there is the triple whammy that women experience because of cuts to public services in general:

  • Women are estimated to have borne the brunt of over 80 per cent of the austerity measures introduced since 2010.
  • This is in part because women are not only more likely to work in public services and undervalued work, but they are also more likely to rely on the public services that are being cut.
  • They are also more likely to be the ones who must plug the gaps in care when service provision is cut.

Unequal, unpaid care work

We know that women end up disproportionately taking on unpaid care work including caring for children and relatives, as well as undertaking housework. Resulting time poverty and lack of opportunity reduces women’s participation in the labour market and contributes to gender pay and pension gaps. Women often must work part-time because of caring responsibilities, and in jobs that are undervalued and therefore often low paid and precarious, such as social care.

Inadequate social security

Similarly, women are most affected by welfare cuts or restrictions. Our universal credit system is one of the least generous of comparable countries, and 56 per cent of claimants are women. Its design is also problematic to women. The amount paid means claimants often struggle to make ends meet in the cost-of-living crisis. And it can undermine women’s financial independence, thereby enabling financial abuse. For example, benefit payments are made to households not individuals, meaning abusers may receive the payment. What’s more, the five-week wait for first payments and two-child limit, which restricts support to two children only, leaves many women financially reliant on abusers.

Women are the shock absorbers of poverty.

Shockingly, life expectancy for women in the most deprived parts of the UK is now lower than every other OECD country, bar one.

What needs to change

There is no one element or solution to tackling violence against women and girls. We need specific strategies to challenge male violence in all its forms and the cultures of sexism and misogyny that permit it. We also need to ensure support services have the resources they need to deliver trauma-informed services for victim-survivors when they need them.

Policy makers need to recognise the role of wider economic policy in ending violence against women and girls. Closing the gender pay and pension gap, investing in public services, increasing the minimum wage to £15 per hour, raising the basic rate of universal credit and immediately removing elements such as the five weeks wait and the two-child limit, would all contribute to supporting women’s financial independence.

The trade union movement is key to making this happen.

The responsibilities of employers through good workplace policies and practices to support victim-survivors and tackle and prevent sexual harassment in the workplace are all priorities for our members and essential to tackling violence against women.

And we use our collective voice to hold government and employers to account on the implementation of the new preventative duty on employers regarding sexual harassment and third party harassment, and ILO C190 which commits governments to creating the conditions for a world of work free from violence and harassment including gender-based violence, both of which trade unions were at the forefront of campaigning for.

This blog first appeared on Oxfam UK's website, visit the original post here.

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