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Survey reveals extent of economic abuse

Economic abuse is potentially more widespread than previously thought, according to the Know Economic Abuse report by Refuge and The Co-operative Bank.

One in six (16%) of around 4,000 adults surveyed said that they had experienced economic abuse from a current or previous partner.
However, 39% of respondents reported they had experienced economic abuse behaviours, for example not being allowed access to a joint bank account or their partner instilling fear in order to put debt in their name.

“This suggests many more people than the 16% who self-identified as experiencing economic abuse, have experienced economic abuse, but do not recognise it as such,” the report’s author Ellie Butt wrote in the executive summary.

The coronavirus crisis has made things worse with 18% of respondents saying they experienced economic abuse for the first time during the pandemic. Ms Butt extrapolates that the finding equates to 1.6m adults, 3% of the UK’s population.

Consequences include damaged credit ratings which can negatively impact survivors for many years after separation.
“On average survivors of economic abuse were £3,272 in debt as a consequence of the abuse they experienced – this is equivalent to £14.4bn of debt in the UK. A quarter of survivors have debts of over £5,000,” Butt wrote.

The Know Economic Abuse report recommends banks and financial institutions create clear processes for customers who are in debt as a result of economic abuse; credit reference agencies set up a ‘credit rating repair’ system for survivors; and creation of a government fund to assist victims with the costs of leaving a perpetrator and accessing a safe place to stay.

The report also recommends reforming the welfare benefits systems to include automatically separate payments of Universal Credit and Universal Credit advances for those fleeing abusive partners; and banks, financial institutions and specialist domestic abuse organisations review the impact of online banking on survivors and produce recommendations for change in 2021.

The survey of 4,009 adults in the UK was conducted in February, with a follow up in June with 4,008 respondents to assess the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on economic abuse.

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