Domestic abuse survivor tells of struggle to cope after welfare benefit rejection

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Anne, a mother-of-two and a survivor of domestic abuse, tells writer Sarah Bruce how she is struggling to cope with life as a result of her rejection for Employment Support Allowance

Universal Credit discriminates against single mothers as well as people living with trauma and mental health debilitations, according to one domestic abuse survivor.

Anne, a mother-of-two and survivor of a decade of physical and emotional abuse, told how she is struggling to cope as a result of her rejection for Employment Support Allowance (ESA) and subsequent halting of Child Tax Credit payments following the separation from her abuser. Claiming Universal Credit was her only option.

“When I found out I just sat and cried,” she said. “There have been days where I have just wanted to go back to bed. I’m struggling to cope.”

When asked about her Employment Support Allowance assessment, Anne said: “I felt discriminated against because I appeared physically and visually well.”

Anne claimed that the application process “is not fit for purpose” when considering the reality of people’s lives.

Research has shown that claimants are reluctant to disclose abuse to assessors for fear of not being believed, fear that the perpetrator may find out and other repercussions.

Anne, who did disclose her abuse, said: “Having to answer questions about my marriage from the coldness of strangers was terrible. The report did not include some of the things I talked about that should have been included. It’s as if a massive impact on my life had been written off.”

Anne believes that no consideration was given to her debilitating mental barriers to employment – the invisible scars that you cannot see.

“It’s like no one cares, no one wants to listen. I feel depressed and anxious. I am only keeping going for my children.”

When the Universal Credit application was made, Anne’s Child Tax credits were stopped. There is a at least a five-week waiting period before Universal Credit is paid. This means that the family will have to wait five weeks without any money before her Universal Credit is paid.

“Universal Credit means I have to spend 35 hours a week actively seeking work. I have no internet and live rurally.”

Anne said that she has no choice but to spend hours each day, with her children in tow, at the jobs and benefits office while attempting to find work that will allow her to look after her children at the same time. She has a limited support network and faces practical barriers to employment regarding child care.

A loan has been offered up front to help Anne during the five-week assessment period but this will have to be paid back at a time when she will need the money most. She may not be back-paid for the weeks she has gone without.

Further budgeting concerns follow with a change from weekly payments of Child Tax Credits to bi-weekly payments of Universal Credit.

The reality is that welfare support is a lifeline for victims leaving domestic violence. They are feeling the effects of the austerity agenda, which can be seen in the massive increase in reliance on food banks for access to basic essentials.

“Toothpaste has become a luxury I cannot afford,” said Anne. “The children are not only asking questions about their dad, but why they can’t do the things and go the places they used to.”

What is worrying is that women can be forced to remain in abusive relationships as a result of welfare reform, out of fear of what will happen when changes of circumstances are declared, which can place their lives at risk.

Anne understands the hardship she is suffering is not her fault. A survivor of abuse – a victim of austerity. •

The person’s real name has been changed to protect her identity.

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