How a universal basic income could help women in abusive relationships
It is hard to put into words how difficult it is to leave an abusive relationship. Any woman about to do it must dig deep enough to rediscover things her partner has deliberately and systematically stripped from her: courage; self-belief; a sense of worth; and people who love and will support her.
I was 26 years old when I realised I had to do that digging. I had been with my partner at the time for two years when the relationship became abusive. I was sent aggressive texts and money was taken from my purse so I couldn’t see friends. But it wasn’t until he strangled me in public that I knew there were no more excuses.
In some ways, when I made the decision to leave, I was fortunate. I had friends to accompany me to the police station, to a flat and a job. Of course I was still afraid – I moved and hid my place of work online. But I had layers of support and independence, which meant there was an escape route.
There are no easy solutions. But there are bold ideas which might help women, like a universal basic income (UBI) to give financial independence.
According to research by Women’s Aid, one in five women interviewed said they couldn’t leave an abusive relationship because they had no money of their own, and the same number said financial abuse had left them unable to manage money. Meanwhile, research by Shelter found almost half of homeless women say domestic violence has contributed to their homelessness.
Last week, Theresa May unveiled plans to protect women under the Government’s new Domestic Abuse Bill. The promise to legally recognize economic and other forms of non-physical abuse is very welcome.
But survivors and sector workers have warned this will be undermined if there is no meaningful, long-term commitment to give refuges the funding they truly need. In 2017, two-thirds of refuge referrals were declined; 94 women and 90 children were turned away on just one day.
Ensuring all women have a safe place to go when they leave an abusive relationship is, quite literally, a matter of life and death. But there are other things our Government could do to support women to leave an abusive relationship – and reduce the chances they will return.
The Green Party has long championed a UBI, which is a non-means tested payment for every citizen, providing the essential financial support we all need. The benefits of UBI have been well discussed; from rewarding unpaid work to giving people opportunity and options in a fast changing world, it would transform society.
But UBI would also transform life for women. By giving everyone financial independence, UBI would ensure no woman is ever dependent on her partner to meet her basic needs. And for those in abusive relationships, one of the barriers against leaving would be removed.
Unlike benefits or wages, UBI payments would be attached to and follow individuals, irrespective of life circumstances or employment status. For women leaving an abusive relationship, there would be no endless forms or waiting for benefit payments in order to access financial help.
The UBI payments would still be there, as they always had been. As well as being practically liberating, this would psychologically free women to even think about leaving in the first place.
Recent research by Refuge and the Co-op bank found 60 per cent of adults in Britain who have experienced financial or economic abuse were women. Of course, financial abuse takes many forms and does not always go hand in hand with dependency.
Perpetrators are adept at manipulating survivor’s income and resources, and there is still the risk that an abusive partner could exploit and misuse this independent income.
But in relationships where there is control and abuse of money, UBI payments would be distinct in that they are attached to the individuals. Women’s centres and refuges could be equipped to assist women in ensuring that when they leave a relationship, their UBI payments leave with them.
Enabling women to independently rebuild their lives should be at the core of domestic abuse policy. UBI could help survivors escape with guaranteed income that could ultimately help them find a new home – or even just provide train fare money to friends or family.
In 21st century Britain, we can reimagine how the system works to ensure no woman is trapped in an abusive relationship because she can’t afford to leave.
Amelia Womack is deputy leader of the Green Party