The damage of financial abuse can continue long after a relationship is over. Photo: Flickr
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Government and banks must tackle the overlooked financial element of domestic abuse

Time for government, banks and creditors to break the silence.

Financial abuse is little recognised. But it’s serious. Many people are unaware that controlling someone’s money or limiting their economic freedom is in fact a form of domestic abuse.

It may not be as visible as physical violence, but exerting financial control can trap victims in abusive relationships by isolating them from friends and family, or cutting them off from the money they need to leave.

And the damage of financial abuse can continue long after the relationship is over. Victims can be left in dire financial straits, liable for debts they never agreed to, and at the mercy of the perpetrator who can still control and access their money.

The Home Secretary’s recent announcement that the government will seek to make "coercive control" illegal, marks a shift towards national recognition that domestic abuse is not just physical. It’s time that psychological, emotional and financial abuse was put on the same legal footing as physical abuse.

A new Citizens Advice report shines the spotlight on the hidden prevalence of financial abuse: nine in ten advisers contributing to our research have helped people with such cases in the last year.

One of the most common forms is where individuals have been forced by their partner to take out loans on their behalf: almost three-quarters of the advisers who responded to our survey have helped a client who has taken out credit and gone into debt as a result of pressure from their partner. Yet too often, high street banks and other lenders fail to acknowledge that their customer may be subjected to this type of control.

Earlier this year, a young woman came to Citizens Advice seeking help with almost £10,000 of debt. She had left her home and marriage because of the abuse she suffered from her husband. Following physical abuse and threats in the relationship, she had been forced by her partner to take out a number of debts in her own name, passing the money onto him. These included bank loans and credit cards, as well as acting as a guarantor for his loans.

Banks and other lenders have a big role to play in tackling this problem. While there is some good practice, the majority of banks and creditors fail to recognise the needs of those customers who fall victim to this type of abuse.

Of course it is a difficult area. It is not easy for a company to investigate behind the privacy of closed doors. Nor is it straightforward for victims to approach companies to try to untangle themselves from these sorts of financial ties.

Up until this point, statutory and self-regulators in the financial services industry have done little to ensure banks, lenders and other financial institution have a set of guidelines to help. This needs to change if victims of the kind of coercive control highlighted by Theresa May and our report are to be supported.

It is time financial abuse is addressed. The political will to do so is there: all three of the biggest political parties have pledged admirable commitment to eliminating abuse. It is time action is taken to prevent it and to help support victims to get back on their feet and on with their lives.

Government and financial professionals must work together to develop the framework so urgently needed to protect individuals at their most vulnerable.

Imogen Parker is Senior Policy Researcher at Citizens Advice and is leading the charity’s research into domestic abuse. She tweets @ImogenParker

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Cabinet audit: what does the appointment of Andrea Leadsom as Environment Secretary mean for policy?

The political and policy-based implications of the new Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

A little over a week into Andrea Leadsom’s new role as Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), and senior industry figures are already questioning her credentials. A growing list of campaigners have called for her resignation, and even the Cabinet Office implied that her department's responsibilities will be downgraded.

So far, so bad.

The appointment would appear to be something of a consolation prize, coming just days after Leadsom pulled out of the Conservative leadership race and allowed Theresa May to enter No 10 unopposed.

Yet while Leadsom may have been able to twist the truth on her CV in the City, no amount of tampering will improve the agriculture-related side to her record: one barely exists. In fact, recent statements made on the subject have only added to her reputation for vacuous opinion: “It would make so much more sense if those with the big fields do the sheep, and those with the hill farms do the butterflies,” she told an audience assembled for a referendum debate. No matter the livelihoods of thousands of the UK’s hilltop sheep farmers, then? No need for butterflies outside of national parks?

Normally such a lack of experience is unsurprising. The department has gained a reputation as something of a ministerial backwater; a useful place to send problematic colleagues for some sobering time-out.

But these are not normal times.

As Brexit negotiations unfold, Defra will be central to establishing new, domestic policies for UK food and farming; sectors worth around £108bn to the economy and responsible for employing one in eight of the population.

In this context, Leadsom’s appointment seems, at best, a misguided attempt to make the architects of Brexit either live up to their promises or be seen to fail in the attempt.

At worst, May might actually think she is a good fit for the job. Leadsom’s one, water-tight credential – her commitment to opposing restraints on industry – certainly has its upsides for a Prime Minister in need of an alternative to the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP); a policy responsible for around 40 per cent the entire EU budget.

Why not leave such a daunting task in the hands of someone with an instinct for “abolishing” subsidies  thus freeing up money to spend elsewhere?

As with most things to do with the EU, CAP has some major cons and some equally compelling pros. Take the fact that 80 per cent of CAP aid is paid out to the richest 25 per cent of farmers (most of whom are either landed gentry or vast, industrialised, mega-farmers). But then offset this against the provision of vital lifelines for some of the UK’s most conscientious, local and insecure of food producers.

The NFU told the New Statesman that there are many issues in need of urgent attention; from an improved Basic Payment Scheme, to guarantees for agri-environment funding, and a commitment to the 25-year TB eradication strategy. But that they also hope, above all, “that Mrs Leadsom will champion British food and farming. Our industry has a great story to tell”.

The construction of a new domestic agricultural policy is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Britain to truly decide where its priorities for food and environment lie, as well as to which kind of farmers (as well as which countries) it wants to delegate their delivery.

In the context of so much uncertainty and such great opportunity, Leadsom has a tough job ahead of her. And no amount of “speaking as a mother” will change that.

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.