Employer Awareness: Understanding Economic Abuse

2019 has seen the introduction of the new draft Domestic Abuse Bill and with its inclusion in the Queens Speech this year, has now received its second hearing to pass through parliament. As part of the new Bill, Economic Abuse will be included within the legal definition.

What is Economic Abuse and why is it different to Financial Abuse?
The legal definition of Economic Abuse as described by the Home Office is: economic abuse involves behaviours that interfere with an individual’s ability to acquire, use and maintain economic resources such as money, transportation and utilities.” Economic abuse has a much broader and often longer-term financial impact on a victim of abuse, often for many years after leaving the relationship.

The largest study of economical abuse to date has been carried out by Sharp-Jeffs with the Co-operative Bank and Refuge which found

  • One in five people in the UK have experienced financial abuse in an intimate relationship
  • 60% of all cases are reported by women
  • 78% of women saying their abuse went on over five years compared to 23% of men
  • For women, financial abuse rarely happens in isolation – 86% experience other forms of abuse
  • A third of financial abuse victims suffer in silence, telling no-one

Financial abuse includes a perpetrator taking control of bank accounts and ensuring their partner has no access, giving their partner just a small token amount of money each week for housekeeping, children’s clothes, toiletries etc. but never enough to fully cover these expenses. The perpetrator will often display double standards by going out and socialising regularly and embark on lavish spending sprees (on themselves), neglecting the family’s needs whilst doing so.  Economic abuse goes much further than this, such as taking out loans, mortgages, household bills in their partner’s name, making financial decisions alone and keeping financial information secret.  More than this a perpetrator will use ‘interference tactics’ to prevent their partner from going to work (or places of study) or giving up their job altogether.  The purpose of this behaviour is to entrap and isolate the victim as soon as possible so they become solely and financially dependent on the abusive partner.

Economic abuse is often the first sign of Coercive Control  within a relationship.  A perpetrator knows if you restrict and then take away access to money and financial independence from their partner, they quickly become dis-empowered, have less choices and opportunities to leave the abusive relationship.

Economic abuse can happen to anyone regardless of age, gender, culture, social or employment circumstances and when it happens can have a long-lasting devastating impact on the victim of abuse.  Even if a person can leave the relationship, they will likely have a mountain of debts often in the region of thousands of pounds all under their name (which the perpetrator has ensured), a destroyed credit history and having to start again from nothing.  This situation is soul destroying and often takes many years to recover from.  With the introduction of Economic Abuse into the new Bill, at last this situation is beginning to be understood and sources of support for victims being identified.

How can you, as an employer, identify if a staff member needs support in this area?  Firstly, how can you encourage your staff to disclose if they are experiencing financial difficulties? After all, money is often a hidden subject and rarely spoken about.  Identify the barriers to disclosing within your organisation then take steps to remove these barriers.  Show your staff you are sympathetic towards these issues and can support them by providing practical support such as helping them to set up an escape fund.

Signs of an employee experiencing financial or economic abuse:-

  • Often doesn’t have lunch or travel money
  • No longer joins in on social events at or after work
  • Not having debit or credit cards, cannot access their bank accounts
  • Unable to explain their lack of access to money
  • Changes in appearance
  • Becoming withdrawn or seeming depressed or anxious

By engaging with awareness and training on the Impact of Domestic Abuse in the Workplace, you will have an in-depth understanding of these issues and be in a stronger position to support your staff safely and appropriately.

Further sources of support: Founder: Dr Nicola Sharps-Jeff  https://survivingeconomicabuse.org/

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