I thank my hon. Friend for his point.
I welcome the Government’s support for the Select Committee’s recommendation that they view the introduction of split payments in Scotland as an opportunity to learn about carrying out such a system. However, there is very little detail in the Government’s response about how they plan to do so. There is no mention of carrying out the evaluation recommended by the Select Committee report. The Government’s response states that they will implement the policy on the Scottish Government’s behalf
“when it is feasible to do so”,
but sets out no detail of the current plans and timelines.
I would like the Minster to answer the following questions. What is the Department’s timetable? Have the Scottish Government proposed a possible split formula? Have they told the Department that they are preparing prospective regulations, and has it been consulted on them?
For the sake of women across the UK, the Government need to follow Scotland’s example and agree to adopt automatic split payments UK-wide. The recommendation is to view the introduction of split payments in Scotland as an opportunity to further consider whether, on the basis of evidence, there is a case for splitting payments by default in the rest of the UK. I suspect that, if such an evaluation is undertaken, the evidence in support of split payments will be, as it was in Scotland, overwhelming. However, it could be a lengthy process and, for many women, it would be just too long.
In the meantime, given figures released last month that showed that just 15 out of 880,000 households benefit from split payments—I was shocked when I heard that figure—what is the Department doing to better promote the option of split payments and to reduce the associated risks of opting for it? The Government have taken an important step recently, acknowledging economic abuse as significant by proposing to include it in a statutory definition of domestic abuse for the first time, but how does that fit with the wider Department’s policy on split payments, which supports economic and wider domestic abuse? Is the policy in contravention of the Government’s own position on domestic abuse? Can the Minister also please tell me, in the light of the draft Domestic Abuse Bill, what discussions have been had on split payments?
Automatic split payments will not prevent abuse altogether in households claiming universal credit. Some abusers will find a way to control their partners regardless, but automatic split payments are a significant step to ensuring that the state is not implementing a policy that plays into the hands of abusers, strengthening their hand and giving them more power than they already have over victims and survivors of domestic abuse.
Currently, universal credit is paid as a single household payment. It poses a risk to women’s financial independence, autonomy and security, and generally stands in the way of a person’s right to financial independence. The Department and the Government have a duty to ensure that they are providing the right support to survivors of abuse, and currently they are failing in that duty. The availability of the option of split payments is clearly not sufficient. To avoid supporting domestic abuse, split payments need to be a default—an automatic way to prevent abuse.