COMMONS

Minister questioned on Universal Credit and domestic abuse

24 April 2018

The Work and Pensions Committee questions Family Support and Children's Minister Kit Malthouse on Universal Credit (UC), domestic abuse and financial control.

Domestic abuse a cause and consequence of gender inequality

In evidence last week the Committee heard from Nicola Sharps Jeff, director of Surviving Economic Abuse, that:

"…domestic abuse is both a cause and a consequence of gender inequality.

If women do not have economic equality, what we are doing, through this system, is setting the scene for abuse.

I don't think that we can say that the system itself causes abuse—we need to make sure the accountability for that sits with the perpetrator—but there needs to be an understanding and recognition by Government that processes can facilitate abuse and that we need to be aware of that and close down those opportunities wherever possible."

Joint claims

The issue of joint claims in abusive partnerships existed in the legacy system. There are a number of concerns unique to UC, however. Overall concerns the Committee has heard so far include:

  • Under Universal Credit couples have to make a joint claim - their full, joint entitlement is combined into one monthly payment and paid into one account. That the whole monthly payment goes into one account means abusive partners can withhold significant income from survivors and children
  • Requesting split payments can put the survivor at greater risk when the perpetrator’s UC payment is reduced, and the perpetrator can request a return to single payments
  • Because of pre-conceived gender norms, payments into one account could lead to a regressive ‘purse to wallet’ effect: a wider issue of independence and equality, not limited to situations of “abuse”
  • Under the legacy system the main carer received Child Tax Credit and childcare element of Working Tax Credit. These are now incorporated in the single monthly payment.
  • Payments are made monthly, rather than weekly or bi-weekly under the legacy system, into one account. This means the abuser has control over significant income, and if the account is controlled by the abuser, the survivor and children may have no access to funds.
  • Single monthly payments include housing benefit. This can risk survivors and children losing their homes if funds are mismanaged.
  • To request additional support from DWP, such as split payments, survivors must disclose abuse to their Work Coach. They must provide written evidence of their abuse from an official
  • Eligibility for split payments is limited to ‘very exceptional circumstances’ when abuse hits crisis point. Split payments cannot be used as a preventative measure.
  • The decision to grant split payments is at the discretion of the Work Coach and DWP Decision Maker. Work Coaches may not be equipped to deal with disclosure of abuse. 
  • The policy of ‘explicit consent’ means it is very hard for representative bodies to intervene on survivors’ behalf, or signpost Job Centre Plus to abusive situations. 

Correspondence with the Minister

Last week the Committee published correspondence raising some of these concerns with the Department (PDF PDF 217 KB). The reply from Family Support and Children's Minister (PDF PDF 406 KB), Kit Malthouse, asserted that the abuse risk attendant on single payments already existed with other benefits paid that way: "this is not a new scenario … so the implication that UC will exacerbate the issue of domestic violence is completely without foundation".

The Department also maintains that because of the recognised risk to the abused partner of requesting a split payment, "the Government would not want the Committee to make the mistake of thinking that the greater use of split payments can help tackle the scourge of domestic violence".

Tomorrow the Committee will question Mr Malthouse, and Universal Credit Programme Director for DWP Neil Couling. The session will focus on the effect of single household payments under UC on survivors of domestic abuse.

Specifically, it will look at the scale of financial abuse under UC and the legacy system, whether Work Coaches are equipped for disclosure of abuse, JCP safeguarding measures for survivors,  and whether separate payments address the issue and how access to split payments could be improved.

Witnesses

Tuesday 24 April 2018, Room 15, Palace of Westminster

At 9.30am

  • Kit Malthouse, MP, Minister for Family Support, Housing and Child Maintenance, DWP
  • Neil Couling CBE, Director, Universal Credit Programme, DWP

Further information

Image: PA

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