Invest to prevent VAWG
Blog by Robyn Moffat-Wall, Training and Engagement Officer at Financially Included & Heather Williams, SWBG's Training Lead about women's experiences of public sector debt.
The theme for 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence 2023 is “UNITE! Invest to prevent violence against women and girls”, set by UN Women who identify violence against women and girls as one of the most prevalent and pervasive human rights violations in the world.
Violence Against Women and Girls is a cause and consequence of women’s inequality. To combat VAWG, it is essential that governments take action to address women’s wider inequality and understand how the decisions they take can help tackle VAWG or further entrap women and girls. Using gender budgeting approaches to analyse decisions can help ensure that we tackle inequality.
One often overlooked form of violence against women and girls is economic abuse. Economic abuse is defined as “behaviours that control a woman’s ability to acquire, use, and maintain economic resources, thus threatening her economic security and potential for self-sufficiency” (Adams et al. 2008) and is recognised as a tactic of coercive control in the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018.
Cara’s Story: Cara (not her real name) was subject to economic abuse for a period of 20 years. Her abusive boyfriend had total control over their household finances and assured her everything was in order. When she fled his abuse, she discovered over £20,000 in Council Tax arrears which he’d hidden from her.
This is an extreme example with a large amount in arrears, however this is a common theme among our clients, many of whom had been sending their contributions to their partners under the belief that these bills were being paid.
Council Tax legislation considers couples living together in a household as “joint and severally liable”, holding both parties responsible for payment. There are no specific policies or procedures for debt collectors to consider situations like Cara’s, where council tax arrears have been accrued without her knowledge. Negotiations can be made about the pace of collection, but the full amount must be paid.
Our clients struggling with council tax arrears tell us about how they know their abusive ex-partners are avoiding collection of this joint debt leaving them having to deal with this. Through our work we know that men are better able to avoid this debt. Women are more identifiable by authorities due to their ties to community through caring responsibilities. Women with children are more likely to be:
registered with an NHS GP, dentist, health visitor, nurseries’, schools.
dependent on social security (Engender, 2015).
These systems require an up-to-date address, making women more visible to local authorities.
From our clients' experience, debt collection methods around public debt has the effect of exacerbating the impacts of the economic abuse they have suffered.
Public Sector Debt Management is an area that would benefit from applying a gender budgeting approach.
To mark this year’s 16 Days of Activism, alongside the Scottish Women’s Budget Group, we are calling on the Scottish Government to work with local authorities across Scotland to invest to prevent violence against women and girls. As part of this investment, we’d like to see a commitment to the redevelopment of debt management strategies and incorporating trauma-informed policies to safeguard against economic abuse within their Council Tax collection processes.
Financially Included are a partnership project between GEMAP Scotland Ltd and the Glasgow Violence Against Women Partnership dedicated to tackling economic abuse and improving responses for survivors. We provide specialist advice to women who have experienced gender-based violence and tailored training for workers in Glasgow on best practice in supporting survivors. We have secured financial gains of £860,000, money that our client would not have accessed without our specialist support, of which debt write-offs amount to £35,802 granted by the private banking sector, where we’ve seen a growing understanding of economic abuse. We have partnered in a pilot with Surviving Economic Abuse who lead the way in improving understanding of economic abuse in the private sector.
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Adams, A. E., Sullivan, C. E., Bybee, D., & Greeson, M. R., 2008, “Development of the Scale of Economic Abuse”, Violence Against Women, 14 (5), pp. 563-588. [https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/1077801208315529]
Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018 https://www.legislation.gov.uk/asp/2018/5/contents/enacted
Engender, 2016, Securing Women’s Futures: using Scotland’s new Social Security Powers to close the Gender Equality Gap, Engender. https://www.engender.org.uk/content/gendermattersinsocialsecurity
Social Justice and Social Security Committee, 2022, Robbing Peter to pay Paul: Low income and the debt trap, The Scottish Parliament. Robbing Peter to pay Paul: Low income and the debt trap | Scottish Parliament
UN Women 2023, Unite! Invest to Prevent Violence Against Women and Girls, UN Women. https://www.unwomen.org/en/what-we-do/ending-violence-against-women/unite/theme
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