MP PHILIPPA Whitford has called for the UK government to accept amendments to its Domestic Abuse Bill to tackle the increased risk of financial abuse under the current Universal Credit system.

The Central Ayrshire MP and SNP Westminster health spokesperson said the move was ‘crucial’ to protect women’s financial independence and help protect victims of domestic abuse, while Women’s Aid say the policy is a ‘gift to abusive men’.

The proposed reforms have been backed by a coalition of women’s and domestic abuse organisations, and would ensure that Universal Credit is paid to individuals, rather than into a single household bank account, as the current situation makes it easier for abusive partners to exert financial control – leaving victims isolated and unable to leave an abusive relationship.

Dr Whitford, who has led the campaign to introduce separate payments as the default for Universal Credit, has written to the UK Government urging them to back the amendments, which will be tabled at the Committee Stage of the Domestic Abuse Bill, with the backing of Scottish Women’s Aid, the End Violence Against Women Co alition, Surviving Economic Abuse and the Women’s Budget Group.

Dr Whitford MP said: “The UK Government must finally listen to the overwhelming evidence from women’s groups, who are clear that Universal Credit needs urgent reform to tackle the increased risks of domestic abuse. “Financial Abuse affects one in five women and the current system, of paying Universal Credit into one bank account per household, makes it easier for perpetrators of domestic abuse to exert complete financial control – leaving women isolated, with no money to socialise with friends and family or to leave an abusive relationship.

“It is simply not good enough for the UK Government to continue to sideline this issue. They must get behind these cruc ial amendments and introduce separate payments, as the default, to ensure that women have financial independence.

“Domestic abuse and financial coercion is an issue that affects women, and to a lesser extent men, right across the UK and the simplest and most effective way to resolve this flaw is for the UK Government to change it at source and reform the underlying system.”

Dr Marsha Scott, CEO of Scottish Women’s Aid, said: “It is our view that the single household payment of Universal Credit is a gift to abusive men; it gives them money, power and therefore control in handy monthly instalments.

“It gives him a legitimate and easy way to get total control over his partner’s income and her ability to be able to leave. A process that may have previously taken months or years of coercive and manipulative behaviour can now be accomplished in weeks.

“Scottish Women’s Aid lends our full support to Dr Philippa Whitford MP’s amendments, research suggests that 89 per cent of all women who are abused by a partner, experience financial abuse as part of domestic abuse.

“Ensuring women have equal access to Universal Credit supports women’s financial independence and reduces the ability of perpetrators of domestic abuse to control their partners and children.”