GUEST BLOG: Economic Abuse and the cost of living crisis

The graphic shows a light green background with dark green left-aligned text quote that reads "Experiencing economic abuse prevents you from accessing the basic essentials in life, such as your money, food, and clothes, limiting your financial freedom and life choices. There is, therefore, serious concern that the current cost of living crisis will exacerbate the financial harm caused and force women to stay with abusive partners for longer. ". The quote is attributed to Jenn Glinski. In the top right-hand corner of the graphic there is Engender's logo, which is an equals sign in a bright green circle.

As part of our guest blog series on the cost of living crisis, researcher Jenn Glinski explores how the current rise in costs is impacting victim-survivors of economic abuse.

Content warning: This blog discusses different forms of domestic abuse and their impact.

The current cost of living crisis and the difficult decision to ‘heat or eat’ is one that victim-survivors of economic abuse are all too familiar with. However, unlike the government-imposed crisis that the rest of the country has been subjected to, the daily cost of living crisis victim-survivors experience is deliberately forced upon them by their abusive (ex)partners. Experiencing economic abuse prevents you from accessing the basic essentials in life, such as your money, food, and clothes, limiting your financial freedom and life choices. There is, therefore, serious concern that the current cost of living crisis will exacerbate the financial harm caused and force women to stay with abusive partners for longer.

What is economic abuse?

Economic abuse is a form of domestic abuse which involves controlling someone’s ability to acquire, use and maintain economic resources (2008, Adams et al.). It has long been recognised as a form of abuse which occurs alongside other abusive behaviours, such as physical and psychological abuse. Research on economic abuse has found that as many as 95% of victim-survivors of domestic abuse have experienced a form of economic abuse (2022, Surviving Economic Abuse). The objective of economic abuse is straightforward; if you can control someone’s access to money and other resources such as food, clothes, and transport, then you can control their life. Experiencing economic abuse creates financial instability and often results in complete dependency on the abusive partner for day-to-day survival. Economic abuse can include:

  • Restricting access to joint or sole bank accounts
  • Refusing to let you work or claim benefits
  • Taking out loans/credit cards/overdrafts in your name without your knowledge or consent
  • Refusing to contribute to household costs/purposely stopping payments
  • Controlling the use of your mobile phone, food, keys, or car
  • Putting debts in your name and leaving you to pay them
  • Withholding child maintenance payments

Anyone can experience economic abuse; however, women are more susceptible due to structural inequalities, such as the gender pay gap, low-paid or unpaid work, childcare and other caring responsibilities. This results in women having lower incomes compared to similarly situated men, more debt, and relying in greater numbers on benefits. Abusive (ex)partners are able to exploit these existing inequalities to gain control over finances and economic resources. If a victim-survivor challenges an abuser on these behaviours, this can lead to an increased risk of serious harm and domestic homicide.

What if you leave an abusive partner?

Economic abuse can actually start, continue, or escalate after you have left an abusive partner. Just think… about how easy it is to transfer money from one account to another with just one click of a button on your mobile phone – no contact or communication required. Economic abuse creates a significant barrier to leaving an abusive partner, but even those who have left can continue to experience it and be forced back to their abuser simply to survive.

It is within this context that victim-survivors are now also experiencing the cost of living crisis.

Impact of cost of living crisis

As with previous economic crises, the current crisis is not felt equally, with women and children often considered the ‘shock absorbers of poverty’. Recent research by the Poverty Alliance and the Scottish Women’s Budget Group on the impact of the cost of living crisis on women found an increase in destitution, rising debt and deepening of poverty. These impacts are identical to the ones that victim-survivors of economic abuse experience. A Women’s Aid survey conducted with victim-survivors of domestic abuse specifically found that 66% said their abusers were using the cost of living crisis as a tool for coercive control.

Abusive partners may force victim-survivors to take out additional loans or credit cards to cover the increased costs of living or fraudulently do so without the victim-survivor’s knowledge. They may also look to generate additional costs by keeping appliances running or causing damage to the property, the costs for which victim-survivors will be held responsible. When you are experiencing economic abuse along with increased financial hardship, leaving an abusive partner may appear impossible. The ‘cost of living’ and the ‘cost of leaving’ are therefore carefully intertwined and place victim-survivors in a desperate situation.

For women who have separated from their abusive partners, the rising costs of groceries, energy, petrol, rent, mortgages, and interest rates mean that whatever finances you may have left with will not be sufficient to cover these costs. Many victim-survivors have coerced debt as a result of the economic abuse experienced in the relationship; they are therefore burdened with the additional costs of day-to-day living and will struggle to make repayments due to the increase in interest rates. Maybe you’ve managed to remain in your home, but if your ex-partner refuses to engage in tenancy or mortgage negotiations, then this can result in housing instability.

Going forward

Across the UK, specialist domestic abuse services are working harder than ever to provide support for victim-survivors. However, it is essential that these services are well-funded for the year ahead. Government and the private sector, including financial institutions and the energy sector, must understand the gendered impact of the crisis on victim-survivors and its implication for their safety. And urgent action must be taken. The cost of living should not make the cost of leaving impossible.

If you, or someone you know, are experiencing economic abuse please get in touch with a specialist worker at Scottish Women’s Aid Helpline: 0800 027 1234. For more information about economic abuse and the cost of living crisis please access this helpful guide created by Surviving Economic Abuse.

We know that there are many different aspects to the cost of living crisis, and we’re keen to highlight all of the different ways that it is impacting women in Scotland. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be hosting blogs on a range of issues related to the cost of living and we want to hear from you – if you're interested, please drop us an email at letting us know what aspect of the cost of living and its impact on women you’d like to write about.

Guest posts do not necessarily reflect the views of Engender, and all language used is the author's own. We aim for our blog to reflect a range of feminist viewpoints, and we offer a commissioning pot and editorial support to ensure that women do not have to offer their time or words for free. Find out more here.



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