Assess the impact of welfare reforms on survivors of domestic abuse

Part of Domestic Abuse Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:30 pm on 16th June 2020.

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Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women 4:30 pm, 16th June 2020

That is why we do not have it as a default. We are sensitive to that precisely because it will not work for some women. It has to be done led by the victim—led by the survivor—and not imposed universally. I will come on to our concerns about the default position in a moment but, if I may, I will carry on building the argument towards that.

The Department will also signpost individuals affected by abuse to specialist support and will work with them to ensure that they are aware of the other support and easements available under UC. Those include special provisions for temporary accommodation, easements to work conditionality and same-day advances. That approach ensures that victims are supported, while simplicity is maintained for others.

In July last year, the universal credit digital claims system was changed to encourage claimants in joint claims to nominate the bank account of the main carer for payment. We continue our support of payment of universal credit to the main carer through that messaging. This strikes the right balance between encouraging positive behaviour and allowing claimants to choose how best to manage their finances.

The proposed change in approach would be inappropriate for some vulnerable people who struggle to manage their money—for example, if one partner has addiction issues or is a carer for the other. A number of practical issues would present further challenges to vulnerable people. For example, 1.3 million adults in the UK do not have a bank account—most of them are on low incomes or unemployed.

The current process does not require both claimants to have bank accounts. The Government are working to improve financial inclusion, but it remains the case that the introduction of split payments by default could result in unnecessary payment delays for joint claimants when one partner does not have a bank account. It is necessary, therefore, to retain a single payment option.

Moreover, a move to split payments by default does not eliminate risk. Sadly, we know that, irrespective of how someone receives their money, perpetrators use a broad spectrum of abusive tactics to dominate and control their partners. That is the point about split payments being rolled out as a default.

The DWP has rolled out a significant training programme and implemented domestic abuse single points of contact in every jobcentre. That means that jobcentre customer service managers and work coaches have the right knowledge, tools and local relationships to support customers who are experiencing or fleeing domestic abuse. The Department continues to support survivors of domestic abuse through a range of measures, including signposting to expert third-party support, special provisions for temporary accommodation and other measures that I have mentioned, including easements to work conditionality.

We are achieving positive cultural change in jobcentre sites and, while we accept there is always more to learn, our departmental awareness of and support for those who have suffered or are suffering domestic abuse is better than it has ever been. I appreciate that the hon. Member feels strongly about her proposed measures, but I hope that I have reassured other colleagues about the steps that the Department for Work and Pensions is taking to support those who receive benefits, whether legacy benefits or universal credit.