Guest Blog – My money, my life: Lifting the lid on financial abuse

December 20, 2015

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Last week (10 December 2015) The Co-operative Bank announced its return to campaigning with the launch of its latest ethical campaign, ‘My money, my life’ raising awareness of financial abuse in relationships, in partnership with domestic abuse charity, Refuge.

Thanks to the support of our customers, the Bank has a history of campaigning on issues relating to our Ethical Policy – with previous campaigns from anti-personnel landmines to trade justice, cluster bombs, climate change and human rights.

Earlier in 2015, following consultation with our customers and colleagues, we launched our extended Ethical Policy which included our commitment to return to campaigning.

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Why campaign on financial abuse in relationships? The Bank’s campaign criteria includes a focus on under-served issues where the Bank feels it can make a genuine impact. Financial abuse in relationships is a little known issue but its impacts are far reaching. We recognise that it’s a difficult and complex issue – addressing the double taboo of domestic abuse and money in relationships – but we’re not averse to tackling difficult issues. This campaign sees the Bank take action on an issue which almost of two thirds (67%*) of the public say they want the industry to support.

What’s financial abuse in relationships? It’s a form of domestic abuse. It’s about power and control. It’s best described as an example of intimate partner violence: an ongoing pattern of purposeful behaviour where one partner uses physical, sexual, psychological and/or financial abuse against the other in order to exert power and control over them.

More simply, financial abuse is a current or former intimate partner controlling someone’s ability to acquire, use or maintain financial resources. Examples can include:

  • Stealing money from a partner
  • Preventing partner from accessing own/joint account
  • Damaging possessions which have to be replaced
  • Insisting benefits are in their name
  • Putting debts in partner’s name
  • Stopping partner from going to work.

Intent on gaining a better understanding of the issue – from the numbers affected to the ‘lived experience’, and an insight into the role banks could play in supporting victims – we commissioned new research by Nicola Sharp-Jeffs Research Fellow at the Child and Woman Abuse Studies Unit (CWASU), London Metropolitan University. Our research report ‘Money Matters’, which features interviews with survivors of domestic and financial abuse and evidence collected from over 4,000 adults, was published as part of the campaign.

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For the first time, this campaign raises awareness of the true scale of financial abuse in relationships. We have conducted the largest research study to date: our research amongst over 4,000 adults reveals that nearly one in five UK adults – 9.2m people – say they have experienced financial abuse in an intimate relationship.

No one can fail to be moved by some of the quotes which pepper this report, taken from interviews with survivors of domestic and financial abuse. These offer real insights into the lived experience as well as the financial legacy:

‘All my wages went into the joint account and I had to ask for money and justify what it was for’

‘Being told what I’m allowed to spend my own money on’

‘Accountable for every single penny that was spent; even down to a pint of milk’

‘I felt abused but I would never have said it was abuse because I didn’t think it was valid – because he hadn’t hit me’

The report makes a series of recommendations on how the banking sector could positively support victims. The key recommendations are:

  • Develop a code of practice to guide financial institutions so there is consistent response to the disclosure of intimate partner financial abuse;
  • Develop awareness-raising materials for customers and guidance about how to recognise and cope with financial abuse in relationships;
  • Train staff to respond appropriately and create referral pathways to access specialist support;
  • Develop a system where victims who need to report this kind of abuse don’t need to tell their story repeatedly, which can be traumatic.

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The Bank is committed to implementing these key recommendations and working with the industry to deliver these. You can find further information on the The Co-operative Bank’s ‘My money, my life’ campaign at www.co-operativebank.co.uk/mymoneymylife

Author Kate Daley, The Co-operative Bank

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