Jack Sargeant MS and Lydia Godden outline why reforming the welfare system is a crucial part of halting violence towards women.
Since being elected in 2018, I have made the White Ribbon Campaign to end violence against women one of my top priorities.
The idea of getting men to pledge to take action and take responsibility is important to me. It was also important to my Dad who was a passionate advocate for the campaign. Following his death in late 2017 I made a personal commitment to continue his work.
I am proud of our record in Wales in tackling domestic abuse and as a Minister, dad lead the way by introducing the ground-breaking Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015. But we have so much more to do.
I take my role as a White Ribbon ambassador incredibly seriously. Promising to call out male violence against women whenever it occurs and spreading the message that there is no excuse for abuse.
Through my work with White Ribbon I have met with incredible people including survivor Rachel Williams who has dedicated herself to helping other women escape violent relationships.
For this year’s annual White Ribbon Day, I have teamed up with activist and campaigner Lydia Godden. During a discussion focused on the benefits of a Universal Basic Income, Lydia highlighted how the current Universal Credit system endangers women and makes it far harder for them to leave an abuser. This stuck with me and I knew this was something I had to take forward.
“The Universal Credit welfare system fails women who are victims of domestic abuse.”
We must forge a system in which the protection of those most vulnerable in our communities is at the heart of policy development, not considered as an afterthought.
The following is our contribution to the conversation around how we make that change.
Shockingly, the number of women being murdered at the hands of an abuser doubled during the initial Covid-19 lockdown, rising from one every four days to one every two days across the UK and in June alone Refuge reported an 80% surge in calls. Whilst this rise in domestic violence is abhorrent, it is, perhaps sadly, not surprising.
We have been experiencing a crisis of abuse long before the current pandemic, and women in already incredibly vulnerable positions have been endangered further by the ‘stay at home’ guidelines and social distancing regulations intended to keep us all safe.
Without access to their usual support networks and time away from volatile situations for work or visits to friends and family, many women continue to live under the constant threat of physical violence and mental abuse.
Sadly, not enough was done by policy makers at the start of lockdown to protect those most vulnerable in our communities. They are often forgotten in times of crisis when the focus is put on protecting the general public at large rather than considering the possible impact on those most at risk.
Coming from communities which were economically devastated during the 80s we understand that vulnerable women are often those most at risk during a time of national uncertainty. When tensions rise as a result of financial stress the lid may be lifted on aggression and violence within the home.
“Benefit payments are currently delivered to a person’s bank account in one single payment, even when two individuals within a relationship are both claiming Universal Credit.”
We cannot afford to let this cycle continue. It is essential that attention now turns to how victims will be supported going forward.
How do we provide the help they need to deal with the mental and physical abuse they have suffered over the past weeks and months whilst providing practical solutions for the failings of a system which is stacked against them?
The Universal Credit welfare system fails women who are victims of domestic abuse and aids financial coercion within relationships. Benefit payments are currently delivered to a person’s bank account in one single payment, even when two individuals within a relationship are both claiming Universal Credit, benefit payments are not split.
Women in this situation find themselves dependent on their male partner not only for money, but everyday basic essentials such as clothing, food and transportation. Women’s ability to improve their own lives via education and retraining is totally determined by their partner.
However, a more serious threat presents itself here to women in abusive relationships. Above all else, without access to financial independence, Universal Credit single payments method limits women’s ability to escape their abusers.
Financial dependency is a leading reason why women find it so hard to escape an abusive relationship, often leaving their abuser numerous times before leaving for good.
There have also been major issues with the delivery of benefits to women in need and delays are commonplace. The Trussell Trust began their campaign #5WeeksTooLong to highlight that it takes a whole 5 weeks for women in need receive their first Universal Credit payment.
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These five weeks put victims of domestic abuse in an extremely desperate position with seemingly nowhere to go, faced with the reality of homelessness or returning to an abuser.
According to the Trussell Trust, “What we are witnessing are life threatening situations involving domestic abuse further exacerbated by issues with the Government’s new benefits system.”
Given the clear failings of Universal Credit, we must call for a system that supports women, lifts them out of poverty and provides a crucial safety net that they can rely on in dangerous situations.
That is where a Universal Basic Income (UBI) could be transformative to women’s lives in providing economic autonomy and financial security.
For a Universal Basic Income to have such an impact it must be of high enough value to ensure it makes impactful changes to individuals’ lives. If a basic income of low value, say £50 per week, is implemented it will fail to provide the necessary safety net; it is simply not enough to live on if a woman needed to leave an abusive relationship.
“Enacting a trial of a Universal Basic Income for domestic abuse survivors would demonstrate a real commitment to bettering the lives of vulnerable women and children.”
As highlighted by the Bevan Foundation, “The value of UBI is critically important to its possible impact”, a high value basic income of over £200 per week would make significant changes to women’s lives.
Ensuring split payments were mandatory, women would be empowered with their own financial independence, and increased access to necessary resources to escape abusive situations.
With a high value basic income, survivors of domestic abuse could take the time necessary to recover from their trauma instead of being forced into full time work. Financial independence could help them start a new life, receive vital counselling, and rebuild their lives.
With the Senedd elections coming up in May, now is the time to shape the vision for a Wales in which those most vulnerable are a priority across all Government portfolios.
We hope that our party, Welsh Labour, will lead the way in pushing for innovative policy solutions for our post-pandemic world that help to tackle some of the most difficult challenges our society faces including domestic violence and pervasive poverty.
Enacting a trial of a Universal Basic Income for domestic abuse survivors would demonstrate a real commitment to bettering the lives of vulnerable women and children across our nation whilst contributing to the study surrounding the merits of a UBI.
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