News – Scrapping £20 Universal Credit would be ‘devastating’ for domestic abuse survivors

Rachel*, a migrant survivor of domestic abuse, was refused benefits while escaping her economically abusive relationship as her spousal visa prevented her from accessing financial support.

‘Like many migrant survivors, I was completely alone – it all felt so cruel and inhumane,’ Rachel tells Metro.co.uk.

‘I ended up applying for Indefinite Leave to Remain in the UK on the domestic violence route.

‘But despite the economic abuse I’d experienced, the Home Office did not consider this when determining my eligibility for legal aid and/or a fee waiver, and the application exhausted my finances.’

Rachel’s story shows just how important benefits are to survivors of domestic abuse, and is why domestic violence charity Refuge is calling on the government to rethink their scrapping of the £20 Universal Credit (UC) uplift.

Universal Credit is a monthly payment for people on low incomes, or those who are unable to work or are out of work.

Claimants of UC were given a £20 per week uplift during the pandemic, when the number of people claiming the benefit grew exponentially: between 12 March 2020 and 21 January 2021, there was an increase of 98% in the number of claimants.

But the government plans to scrap the increase now that lockdown restrictions are over. More than £9bn will have been spent on the UC uplift by the time it ends in September.

‘Even with the existing £20 per week uplift, UC is still not enough to live on,’ Rachel says.

‘For me, £20 a week is what I currently spend on food, so I’m struggling to work out what else I could cut as the rest of my benefit goes toward rent and essential utilities.

‘If the government scraps the uplift, I know that it will have devastating consequences for survivors of abuse, many of whom will be trapped with their abusers and unable to flee as a result.’

Refuge, a provider of specialist domestic services, and the National Domestic Abuse Helpline, has warned that losing the extra £20 per week will have a damaging effect on those experiencing, and survivors of, domestic violence.

According to research by Refuge, 37% of survivors supported by Refuge from 1 September 2019 to 31 August 2020 were receiving UC.

This rose to 63.23% for survivors who accessed emergency Refuge accommodation, with UC being a lifeline for the majority of women who needed to flee abuse.

For those, like Rachel, who are stuck in financially abusive situations, Universal Credit is often their only hope of escaping their relationships and continue to provide for themselves beyond that.

Rachel’s immigration status has now been approved and the financial limits on her visa have been lifted, allowing her to apply for UC.

However, she fears that the government’s scrapping of the £20 uplift will once again leave her in an extremely vulnerable situation.

Ruth Davison, Refuge Chief Executive Officer urged the government to ‘rethink’ its decision to scrap the uplift.

She said: ‘Whilst we acknowledge the government originally introduced this as a ‘temporary measure’ during the first Covid-19 lockdown, this last year has shown us how vital this payment is. It is a lifeline for many survivors of domestic abuse.

‘Refuge has seen a surge in cases of domestic abuse in the last 18 months and Universal Credit is a lifeline for survivors who are trying to rebuild their lives, and flee abuse, often at a huge emotional and financial cost.

‘We have concerns scrapping the £20 uplift will push already vulnerable women and children further into poverty and worryingly may mean some women have to make the difficult choice between staying with an abusive partner or being unable to provide for themselves and their children.

‘Prior to the pandemic Refuge raised concerns about the safety of women on Universal Credit, who are already struggling to make ends meet, often reliant on food banks to feed themselves and their children.

‘Refuge calls on the government to keep the £20 uplift and for fundamental welfare reform to improve the lives of the most vulnerable, including survivors of domestic abuse.’

A Government spokesperson told Metro.co.uk: ‘As announced by the Chancellor at the budget, the uplift to Universal Credit was always temporary. It was designed to help claimants through the economic shock and financial disruption of the toughest stages of the pandemic, and it has done so.

‘We remain committed to supporting those experiencing or at risk of domestic abuse through a variety of measures including through Universal Credit.’

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