How the UK welfare system discriminates against women

By: Lydia Godden @Lydia_godden.

Following 10 years of tory-driven austerity and the introduction of Universal Credit, our current welfare system fails to protect the most vulnerable women in our society. At present, according to the House of Commons Library 86% of austerity cuts have fallen on women (1). This is largely because men still disproportionately earn more than women, who therefore, are more likely to claim benefits that have experienced cuts, such as child tax credit.

Now, more than ever, a drastic shift is needed so that our welfare system supports women in poverty, instead of punishing them. A Universal Basic income could provide a strong basis for positive change if implemented with a gendered perspective.

Universal Credit is a single monthly benefit payment made to one bank account, even in the case of a couple claiming benefits, only one single payment is made. This creates gendered impacts on women within heterosexual relationships and is a regressive aspect of Universal Credit as it assumes there is equality between men and women when controlling household income. This leaves room for financial coercion and financial inequality within couples as women are dependent on their partners to meet their basic everyday needs.

Furthermore, given women have no independent access to financial support without consulting their partner, Universal Credit deprives women of the ability to escape abusive relationships, and financial dependency is a leading reason why many women remain in abusive partnerships.

According to the 2018 Home Affairs select committee, ministers deemed the single account payments as “particularly retrograde and damaging” and urged for split payments to be made default for couples which is the case for couples in Scotland (2). Instead, split payments are an “option” that needs to be selected by a couple claiming Universal Credit, however, this is almost impossible for women in financially coercive situations to change without alerting the abuser and endangering themselves further.

In addition to the issue of single monthly payments, under the Universal Credit system there have been major delays and constant struggle for many claimants going through the application process. When women apply to receive Universal Credit, it takes a whole 5 weeks until they are given their first payment. Therefore, the Trussell Trust launched their #5WeeksTooLong campaign to end the long wait for the first Universal Credit payment. According to Trussell’s Trust many claimants are forced to survive on child benefit alone as their only form of income for the 5 weeks wait, putting themselves in economic uncertainty (3). For those women without access to child benefit who face 5 weeks of no financial support the situation can become extremely dangerous with women becoming homeless. Given this huge flaw of Universal Credit, victims of domestic abuse feel they have nowhere to go when desperately needing to escape their abusive partner.

However, a Universal Basic Income could be a lifeline to many women. A Universal Basic Income would not end domestic violence, it would not eradicate women’s suffering or economic abuse.

But a Universal Basic income would be given to all women, directly paid to them, providing the vital financial autonomy and independence women so desperately need. It could provide women in abusive relationships the financial freedom and power to leave. By putting money directly into the hands of the women in need it would limit the ability abusers have to financially coerce their partners. According to the charity Surviving Economic Abuse, they state that:

“Economic abuse is designed to reinforce or create economic instability. In this way it limits women’s choices and ability to access safety. Lack of access to economic resources can result in women staying with abusive men for longer and experiencing more harm as a result.” (4)

A Universal Basic Income removes the economic barrier many women face when struggling to leave an abusive relationship, it increases their power to escape and not return. A basic income can help women get the support they need to rebuild their lives, to relocate to a safe location and seek counselling and vital services. A Universal Basic income, implemented in a gendered way, would provide the basis of a welfare state that actively protects women, it would be the starting point from which to demand more fairness throughout the benefits system and society at large.


Lydia Godden, is a political activist and women’s rights advocate. She was a co-founder of UBI Lab Youth and UBI Lab Women and recently graduated from Cardiff University having studied Politics and International Relations. I support a Universal Basic Income because the implementation of a universal basic income will restore financial control in womxn’s lives and help alleviate poverty here in the UK.

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