New data shows victim-survivors of economic abuse are left with long-lasting harm – with an average coerced banking debt of £4,607 and 83% with low financial knowledge and confidence

Economic abuse leaves victim-survivors without the financial skills needed to escape an abuser and move forward, as well as debts which take many years to pay off.

The charity Surviving Economic Abuse (SEA) today reveals new data showing that victim-survivors of economic abuse are left without the support they need to escape an abuser and rebuild their lives. New data from one of SEA’s banking partners and from a national casework service run by Money Advice Plus (MAP) in partnership with SEA shows that:

  • By far the largest support need amongst customers of one of SEA’s banking partner in cases of domestic abuse is help managing finances, representing around one-third of all support requests. On leaving an abuser, many victim-survivors have little experience of dealing with financial matters independently, such as help using an ATM card for the first time in years.
  • Lack of money knowledge and confidence also impacts victim-survivors accessing MAP and SEA’s casework service. The data shows that prior to receiving support from the service, 83 per cent of victim-survivors with a banking debt who were supported by the service showed low levels of money knowledge. And at the point of accessing the service, 51 per cent of victim-survivors with problems linked to banking products gave themselves a money confidence score of 5 or less on a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 was low and 10 was high.
  • Forcing or coercing someone into debt is a common and destructive form of economic abuse and in MAP and SEA’s casework, seven in ten of the victim-survivors supported had a banking debt. A total 193 banking debts were identified with a combined value of £889,000 – making the average debt £4,607.

“He controlled what I wore, what I ate and drank, who I saw, who I spoke to, my social media, my telephone, our bank accounts, my credit card. He controlled how much sleep I had. He made it near impossible for me to sustain a full-time job, yet he refused to work. He trashed my property. He tracked and traced my every move. I was so brainwashed at the end of the relationship; I didn’t know who I was anymore.” Victim-survivor of economic abuse.

SEA is highlighting the way economic abuse can continue to damage survivors’ financial safety long after they have separated from the abuser.  Abusers often leave survivors with coerced debt and ‘de-skill’ a victim, leaving them without the knowledge and confidence they need to make financial decisions independently after separation. This is supported by earlier SEA research (2020) showing:

  • three-quarters of victim-survivors report that their partner kept important financial information from them
  • six in ten victim-survivors report that their partner told them how they must spend money, rather than letting them make their own decisions
  • three in ten victim-survivors report being stopped from having or accessing a personal/joint bank account

In anticipation of the new Domestic Abuse Strategy due to be published by the Westminster Government soon, SEA is calling for the Government to recognise how economic abuse traps victims and makes it hard for them to escape and rebuild their lives after abuse. SEA wants the Government to prioritise economic safety and place it at the heart of their new strategy, as well as the National Statement of Expectations for VAWG Services, so that survivors can be given the support they need to escape from abusers and rebuild their lives.

95 per cent of domestic abuse victim-survivors accessing specialist support services experience economic abuse (SEA, 2020). Economic abuse was officially recognised last year within the definition of domestic abuse in the Domestic Abuse Act 2021.

Dr Nicola Sharp-Jeffs OBE, founder and CEO of Surviving Economic Abuse (SEA) said: “Economic abuse is an insidious and often invisible form of control, one which can trap a victim in a relationship with an abuser and leave them feeling like there is no escape. Even when someone manages to leave, the harm caused by the abuser – the debt, the bad credit, the financial insecurity, lack of financial independence, knowledge and confidence – follows them around for the rest of their lives, preventing them from moving on safely. We need the Government to follow up on their recognition of economic abuse within the Domestic Abuse Act passed last year by taking urgent action to tackle this important problem and put economic safety front and centre of the new Domestic Abuse Strategy.”