ICAEW.com works better with JavaScript enabled.

The economic abuse threat in the UK: how employers can support their people

Author: Jane Portas, Author of The Risks in Life Series & Creator of 6 Moments That Matter for fair financial futures

Published: 09 Dec 2021

Economic abuse is now formally recognised in law, yet most of us know very little about it and few employers currently have policies to address it.

Up to 1.5 million women say their partner prevents them from working or they work for their partner’s or a joint business without pay. One in five women who experience domestic abuse report having to take time off work and 1.7 million women say their long-term employment prospects/earnings were worse because of the abuse they had experienced. And yet only 5% of employers currently have policies on domestic abuse, fewer still on economic abuse. 

Like domestic abuse, economic abuse is now formally recognised in law, and powers to address it widened through its inclusion in the Domestic Abuse Act 2021. This is because economic abuse destroys whole lives, and yet most of us know very little about it.

My latest report in The Risks in Life Series, ‘The Economic Abuse Threat in the UK: 6 Moments That Matter for Female Survivors’, is produced in collaboration with Nicola Sharp-Jeffs and the charity Surviving Economic Abuse. It provides business insights and practical steps for employers housed in a business-wide “PEOPLE Framework” founded on ESG principles.

Everyone has a role to play in supporting victim-survivors and putting an end to economic abuse. While the report and an associated wellbeing guide, ‘Controlling Your Financial Future’, focus on women, the overarching report recommendations apply to everyone.

Considerations for employers include:

Growing up, studying and requalifying

Half of young women don’t recognise their partner taking their money as a form of economic abuse while victim-survivors say being prevented by abusive partners from learning new skills hinders their re-establishing in the workplace. Employers can support victim-survivors by creating work experience and training opportunities, equipping mentors and course tutors, and adopting safeguards to protect victim-survivors’ learning from disruption by abusers.

Entering and re-entering the workplace

800,000 women in the UK are prevented from working by their abusive partner, many victim-survivors report abuse starting when earnings reduce and four in ten say abuse impacts long-term career prospects. Employers can help victim-survivors to leave abusers and to re-establish by providing wellbeing and safety support, loans and grants, and flexible working to accommodate prosecution processes. Many victim-survivors need to leave their jobs, so ensuring recruitment processes and employer references take account of economic abuse is vital.

Relationships: making up and breaking up

Three-quarters of economic abuse starts when couples move in together and when they marry. Abusive partners control earnings by coercing victim-survivors’ salaries into joint bank accounts and forcing them to take out employee benefits. Employers can make sole accounts the salary default, adopt flexible benefit safeguards, put in place controls over employee mortgage references and include economic abuse in financial wellbeing.

Motherhood and becoming a carer

70% of victim-survivors say the economic abuse started upon having a child and 73% of victim-survivors are mothers. Employers can support victim-survivors with maternity contact plans, safe correspondence arrangements and return to work support and flexibility. 

Later life, planning and entering retirement

Abusers cancel victim-survivor pension contributions by coercing pension opt-outs and, for women with savings, by abusing pension transfers and drawdowns. Employers can work with pension providers to build safeguards and raise awareness through pensions wellbeing.

Ill-health, infirmity and dying

Many victim-survivors experience physical and emotional abuse affecting their ability to work. Employers can help by providing flexibility, access to health and wellbeing services and taking steps to help ensure workplace pensions and life insurance expressions of wishes are not coerced.

For further information on economic abuse and the subjects raised above please visit 6 Moments That Matter or Surviving Economic Abuse.

Note: Secondary data sources from The Economic Abuse Threat Report.

Recommended content

A megaphone
Stay up to date

You can receive email update from ICAEW insights either daily, weekly or monthly, subscribe to whichever works for you.

Sign up
Daily summaries
Three yellow pins planted into a surface in a row
News in brief

Read ICAEW's daily summary of accountancy news from across the mainstream media and broader financing sector.

See more