Blog: Supporting survivors of financial abuse

Published: 18 Dec 2017

Blog: Supporting survivors of financial abuse

It is hard to believe that only 12 months have passed since returning from my Churchill Fellowship trip. In 2016 I travelled to the US and then Australia to learn about innovative responses to financial abuse in the context of domestic violence. This is where an abusive partner seeks to exploit or create financial dependency within a relationship. In so doing they create barriers to stop their victim from leaving and living an independent life free from abuse.

I came home determined that women in the UK should have access to the same responses that I had witnessed. So I went part-time at work and established a charity to act as a catalyst for action. It was not hard to inspire others to support our work. Within six months, Surviving Economic Abuse (SEA), so named because financial abuse is a form of economic abuse, was registered with the Charity Commission and we had received three years of funding from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to pilot a project on coerced debt (where the abuser coerces the victim to take out a loan/credit on their behalf).

We also received a grant from the Police and Crime Commissioner in Northumbria to do some work around financial capability with housing provider Gentoo. Financial abuse can involve preventing a partner from managing their finances or destroying their confidence to do so. Financial capability work is therefore important in rebuilding confidence and financial management skills.

At the same time, we were asked to contribute our expertise to the work of the Ministry of Justice, the Home Office and UK Finance (formerly the British Bankers Association).

Nicola, right, with Home Office Minister Victoria Atkins MP

Pictured: Nicola, right, with Home Office Minister Victoria Atkins MP at the launch of SEA

Another Churchill Fellow, now editor of Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour, asked me to talk about the charity’s work on the programme. I returned to my office and found my inbox flooded with emails from women who had experienced economic abuse and who expressed delight that people were finally talking about it. This led us to establish the ‘Survivor Reference Group’, made up of women who have survived economic abuse and wish to offer their experience to help shape the work of the charity.

The momentum continued to build with the announcement in the 2017 Queen’s Speech of a new Bill on Domestic Violence and Abuse. SEA met with civil servants and Home Office Ministers to discuss what we want to see in the Bill. This includes: including economic abuse within the legislative definition of domestic violence; a clear definition of what economic abuse is; and consideration for making economic abuse a criminal offence, as it is in other countries. Without these things, it is not possible to ensure that economic abuse is taken seriously and that appropriate responses will be developed.

Our work culminated on 4 December with the official launch of SEA at the House of Commons. The event was sponsored by Home Office Minister Victoria Atkins MP, who spoke about the importance of addressing the issue. To coincide with the charity’s launch, we published new research that looks at how economic abuse has been reflected within successful prosecutions for controlling or coercive behaviour. The report’s recommendations for action were covered by BBC Breakfast News and Radio 4’s Today programme. It was truly a dream come true to bring together supporters from across Parliament alongside those engaged with addressing violence against women, money advice and the banking sector. Now our challenge is to build the capacity of stakeholders to respond, but I believe that by working together we can make a difference.

Read Nicola’s Fellow’s Story

Read Nicola’s Fellowship report