Blog: Supporting survivors of economic abuse during Covid-19

Published: 29 May 2020

Blog: Supporting survivors of economic abuse during Covid-19

Since the social distancing measures began, Surviving Economic Abuse (SEA), the charity I founded as a result of my Fellowship has seen a sharp rise in numbers of those needing our services. Calls to our financial support line run in partnership with Money Advice Plus have increased by 65% and visits to SEA’s website have increased by 85%.

Since its foundation, SEA has adopted the Churchill Fellowship’s ethos of learning from other countries to find innovative solutions to pressing problems in the UK." - Nicola Sharp-Jeffs, Fellow 

Social distancing measures to control the spread of Covid-19 have inadvertently created a conducive environment for domestic abuse. Isolation from friends, family and employment, and restrictions on access to the outside world, give abusers more power and victim-survivors less opportunity to access help and support. Moreover, the economic repercussions of Covid-19 may be devastating for those experiencing abuse, representing a barrier to leaving or to accessing the resources (such as accommodation and income) needed to leave and live independently.

We know that 95% of domestic abuse victims experience economic abuse. We also know that being at home with an abuser leads to more opportunities for the abuser to control, exploit or sabotage their partner’s economic resources. For instance, an abuser may interfere with their partner’s ability to work from home, by refusing to share childcare or preventing them from accessing the equipment they need (such as a laptop or phone). They might also use the current uncertainty to suggest that their partner ‘cuts back’ on heating, food and other essentials.

At SEA, we quickly recognised the importance of developing tailored information for victim-survivors. So we produced a resource addressing their immediate economic safety needs. We also joined the Home Office campaign #YouAreNotAlone to reassure victims that support continues to be available and that fleeing abuse is allowed under the rules for ‘stay at home’ and, now, ‘be alert’.

Recognising that increased surveillance at home might shut down victim-survivors’ usual routes to support, we developed a guide on how banks can provide support via their vulnerable customer teams, which might arouse less suspicion than the person calling a domestic abuse helpline.

SEA’s banking specialist also gave a presentation about the needs of victim-survivors during lockdown, to over 70 banks and building societies, at a virtual briefing event organised by UK Finance. We created a guide specifically for bank and building society staff as well, highlighting the important role they can play in recognising economic abuse and supporting customers accordingly.

With victim-survivors finding it harder to stay socially connected with others, we developed a guide for family, friends, neighbours and work colleagues on how to recognise and respond to economic abuse. This sits alongside an awareness-raising campaign which we developed with SafeLives and RBS/NatWest, on spotting common signs of economic abuse.

Since work might be the only space in which many victim-survivors previously felt safe, another new initiative by SEA has been offering a safety support service to employees at Lloyds Banking Group, who may need to leave home and access hotel accommodation. 

I am delighted to report that the Home Office has granted SEA nearly £200,000 to provide support to victim-survivors in the context of Covid-19, with some of these funds coming from the wider £2m support announced by the Home Secretary. This is enabling us to maintain the financial support phoneline, produce more resources for victim-survivors, and continue our work with the banks. We are also very pleased to be receiving grant-funding from Standard Life Foundation to undertake a rapid analysis of both immediate and emerging economic safety needs over the next six months.

Since its foundation, SEA has adopted the Churchill Fellowship’s ethos of learning from other countries to find innovative solutions to pressing problems in the UK. As well as learning from victim-survivors and frontline services, here in the UK, we are undertaking desk-based research on how other countries are responding, including from the USA and Australia, where I travelled as part of my Fellowship.

I look forward to sharing these findings and the solutions we identify, over the coming months.

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