Danielle Rowley MP: Automatic split payments for Universal Credit will help secure household income for the most vulnerable
We have a system which - from the outset - makes bold assumptions about equality of access to household income and does nothing to secure it for the most vulnerable. The results of that failure can be devastating, says Danielle Rowley MP.
The reality is that Universal Credit is deeply flawed. Just one instance – but a very important aspect – is the way in which women in coercive relationships are being pushed further away from the jobs market, and from breaking free from their abuser.
By default, a household Universal Credit award is paid to one nominated person – and however much we might think we live in an age of equality, even in this centenary year of women’s suffrage, that nominated person is usually the male partner.
A report by Engender confirms: “Women are more likely to be economically dependent than men, more likely to hold caring roles, and more likely to be subject to financial and other abuse.”
So, we have a system which - from the outset - makes bold assumptions about equality of access to household income and does nothing to secure it for the most vulnerable.
The results of that failure can be devastating. Refuge frontline staff have encountered many cases where the perpetrator has had Universal Credit payment paid into their bank account and then used that money as a tool for coercive control. This includes women being given strict allowances, at times resulting in them forgoing food and basic necessities in order to prioritise feeding their children.
The Tories in Government say there is nothing to worry about, as in theory, claimants can request split payments. But they should take a moment to imagine what a monumental step it would be for a woman in an abusive relationship to make such a request.
Because, as research by Refuge and The Co-op Bank found: “Financial abuse rarely occurs in isolation, particularly for women, with the vast majority of women financial abuse victims also experiencing physical, sexual and emotional abuse in their relationship.”
It’s clear that the price for having to actively request split payments could be devastating.
Automatic split payments will not solve all problems. It will not in itself liberate women from coercive relationships. But what it will ensure is that the Department for Work and Pensions is not complicit in reinforcing the ties which bind them to their abusers.
The case for automatic split payments is so compelling that earlier this year we won the argument on the need for automatic split payments in Scotland. Thanks to Scottish Labour’s hard work, all parties – including the Tories – ended up supporting my colleague Mark Griffin MSP’s amendment to the Social Security (Scotland) Act.
So the Tory position is once again confusing. Because if Scottish Tories have (albeit belatedly) come round to Labour’s way of thinking, why haven’t their feeble thirteen at Westminster brought about a change of heart at a UK Government level?
And that matters. Because the responsibility for delivering those automatic split payments for Scottish claimants still rests with the DWP.
Once the DWP’s automated digital payment system has been altered to implement those changes for the Scottish Government, are we seriously going to accept a system for claimants elsewhere in the United Kingdom which doesn’t deliver this very basic solution? If we can do it for claimants in Scotland then we should be doing it for everyone, everywhere. For every mother doing without so that her children can eat. And for every woman whose safety depends on it.
Danielle Rowley is Labour MP for Midlothian.