Spot the signs of economic abuse

In the first Your Real Money Stories podcast, we heard from someone who was in a financially abusive relationship. So we asked the charity Surviving Economic Abuse to explain how to spot the warning signs and where you can go for help

1 in 5 UK adults have experienced economic abuse, 60% of whom are women, but it remains one of the least understood forms of domestic abuse. Things are moving in the right direction, however. In 2019, economic abuse was recognised in the Domestic Abuse Bill for the first time.

The founder and CEO of Surviving Economic Abuse, the UK’s only charity dedicated to the issue, Dr Nicola Sharp-Jeffs, has identified four different ways the economic abuse typically operates.

  1. In the first instance, an abuser will prevent access to economic resources. This might include sabotaging efforts to work or study, insisting victims' wages are paid into their bank account, or preventing their partner from accessing any personal or joint bank accounts.

  2. Secondly, an abuser might focus on controlling spending. For example, the abuser will demand to see receipts or bank statements, they might keep important financial information secret or they might make demands on how the money is spent.

  3. Another form economic abuse takes is to refuse to contribute in any way to the cost of running a household or bringing up children - meanwhile spending money on themselves.

  4. And finally, a perpetrator may exploit the victim's economic resources, using coercion or fraud to run the victim into huge debt, all in the victim's name. All of this behavior is commonly reinforced with emotional and/or physical abuse.

So how do you spot the signs?

Economic abuse, like other forms of abuse, is a cruel, gradual, and deliberate strategy of control. So much so that many victims do not realise the abuse is happening at the time. In fact, in some cases, “offering to take care of the finances” or persuading a partner to quit working “so you can rest while pregnant”, for example, is initially presented as a loving, thoughtful act.

Here’s what to look for:

  • Secrecy about finances: Is your partner open about their money? If your partner keeps this from you, do you know why?

  • Independent accounts: Does your partner insist everything is shared? Are they comfortable with you having private savings or accounts?

  • Quitting work: Has your partner suggested you shouldn’t work anymore? Making a person financially dependent is a powerful way to control them

  • Keeping tabs: Does your partner ask you to keep receipts of what you spend? Do you feel you need their permission before you buy anything? Does your partner allow you to have a mobile phone and a car of your own?

  • Joint products: Has your partner insisted everything is in your name? Has he named you in any of his financial products, like a mortgage, a flat or a car? By doing this, you become responsible for those products and any associated debt.

  • Fair share: Is your partner asking you to pay for more and more things? Does the household feel fairly run between you both?

With the arrival of Covid-19, we have seen an escalation in domestic abuse and during the first lockdown, SEA saw a 257% increase in traffic to its website. It’s more important than ever, therefore, to stress help is out there and there is a wealth of advice and resources on SEA’s website.

If you think you might be experiencing economic abuse, phone the police in the first instance. You can also contact the National Domestic Violence Helpline for support on 0808 2000 247. For more information and resources to support you visit the website

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