Westminster Insight had the opportunity to interview Dr Nicola Sharp-Jeffs OBE, Founder and CEO of Surviving Economic Abuse (SEA), at our Westminster Insight Violence against Women and Girls conference, to discuss the critical issue of financial abuse.

Her answers to our questions shed light on the evolving trends, long-term impacts, necessary policy changes, and effective survivor support mechanisms.


Dr Nicola Sharp

What are the most significant trends you observe in economic abuse related to VAWG?

Every day is a cost-of-living crisis for victim-survivors of economic abuse, but the current economic context is enabling abusers. Following so quickly after COVID, cases of financial abuse have become more complex. Coerced debt is a particular issue in this regard. We know at SEA that 95 per cent of domestic abuse victim-survivors experience economic control and 60 per cent will be coerced into debt. The average debt, pre-pandemic, was £3,800, but according to Money Advice Plus (MAP), our frontline partner, that has increased to around £27,000, which is truly shocking.

Abusers have taken advantage of developments in technology, including digital and online banking. We hear awful accounts of abusers taking a victim-survivor’s finger while sleeping to unlock their phone and access their banking app to take out loans in their name, for example. Or an abuser might apply online for credit in their partner’s name as they have access to their details. At SEA, we’re very excited about the potential of a new Consumer Duty on firms. This requires them to consider how they can prevent foreseeable harm when designing products and services. Technology can also be used as a force for good—to give back control to victim-survivors. A good example of this is the app Starling Bank created, which enables victim-survivors to block abusive messages sent by abusers via payment references.

Can you elaborate on the long-term financial and emotional impacts of economic abuse on survivors? How does economic abuse affect their ability to rebuild their lives post-separation?

The economic impacts of economic abuse can include homelessness, loss of possessions, jobs, and prospects, as well as being left in debt with a poor credit score. Economic abuse commonly escalates post-separation, as it is a form of control that does not require physical proximity. For example, an abuser may sabotage the sale of a family home or fail to pay child maintenance.

The emotional impact of economic abuse is immense, and this needs to be factored into responses to it. When it occurs in the context of coercive control, women are more likely to take their own lives.

This evaluation quote from a victim-survivor illustrates the difference clear advice, plus an empathetic and non-judgemental response, can make to a victim-survivor:

“It was a difficult time for me which was impacting my emotional well-being and mental health. The support I received enabled me to feel listened to, believed, understood, and more empowered following the abuse I had experienced. Going forward I feel more in control of my life and feel relieved. A very big thank you to your service!’

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What key policy changes or legislative actions do you believe are essential to better protect women from economic abuse?

All parts of the system need to reflect an understanding of economic abuse in their policy development so that responses lead to economic safety. In particular, any new government must scrap the no recourse to public funds (NRPF) policy for migrant survivors, which prevents those who do not have a regularised immigration status from accessing state support. Victim-survivors often rely on the safety net of welfare to escape an abuser, but immigration rules leave many migrant survivors at risk. It’s discriminatory and a form of state-sanctioned economic abuse. Abusers also use a survivor’s immigration status as a form of control, for example, by restricting access to their identification and passports or threatening to report them to the authorities.

How can organisations and communities better assist women in regaining financial independence and stability?

Training about economic abuse and awareness-raising are vital so that controlling behaviours that seek to interfere with an individual’s ability to acquire, use, and maintain economic resources are recognised by organisations. Linked to this, it is important to understand what economic abuse looks like for women who experience intersecting inequalities. Yesterday, I spoke at the Westminster Insight Tackling Violence Against Women and Girls conference about the specific needs of older women since their risk of experiencing abuse will increase if, for example, their partner has taken on a caring role.

Creating economic safety involves maximising a victim-survivor’s economic resources and closing down loopholes in systems, policies, and practices that abusers use to control. SEA’s website hosts resources for victim-survivors, as well as the professionals who support them and is a great place to start.

For more information and resources, visit Surviving Economic Abuse

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