A leap of faith
"For the past 10 years I have talked about the importance of women's economic independence at every given opportunity."
I've loved reading the blogs written by SEA's amazing supporters this week. What struck me when reading the blog by Jo Youle though is having no recollection of the conversation she reports us having over pizza. I'm guessing that this is because for the past 10 years I have talked about the importance of women's economic independence at every given opportunity. Ever since I started speaking to women who have experienced economic abuse.
Economic resources give women choices. It is still only recently that women have had the economic power required for self sufficiency. As Destiny's Child famously put it:
The house I live in, I've bought it; The car I'm driving, I've bought it. I depend on me.
I'm not naive. The gender pay gap and split of caring responsibilities are just a few of the barriers that continue to act as a barrier to women's economic equality. Not all women have this power. SEA will work to address these structural issues, but we will also work in the here and now, starting with raising awareness of what economic abuse looks like.
Many of the women who I have spoken to through my research and now the charity worked hard to create economic stability only to meet an abusive man who systematically set out to deplete their economic resources. Domestic violence is about power and control and what greater control is there than economic power. Why doesn't she just leave? Well, when you don't even have the money to buy a train ticket to go, let alone enough money to put a roof over your head then it becomes clear how effective this strategy is. Women's resistance is depleted without access to economic resources.
Those who do leave do not always have an easy time. They may be left with debt that the perpetrator took out in their name, struggle to find affordable housing and face obstacles to earning an income that meets their needs. It is unfair that women struggle financially whilst the abuser walks away, often with the economic assets that they worked so hard to accumulate.
It is this injustice that motivated me to take a leap of faith and establish Surviving Economic Abuse (SEA). I would have done it years ago but - ironically - I was worried about my own economic security. The turning point for me was having the privilege of going to Australia and the U.S. to learn about innovative responses to the issue. I came back armed with knowledge about what could be done: practical support through maximising women's income; and more effective use of criminal, civil, and consumer law mechanisms that can help facilitate economic justice.
It was impossible for me then not to try and ensure that women in the UK have the same options. So I went part-time at work and set about it. The amount of work involved in setting up a small charity should not be underestimated. Without the support of a skilled team it would not have been possible. The charity's Trustees are experts in their field and are supported by a group of volunteers. A number of women have come forward to help us raise awareness through acting as case studies. Pro bono HR support has been provided by Frazer Jones recruitment agency and office space to meet has been provided by Nationwide Building Society.
Faith in our ability to create positive change has been recognised. A three year government grant for our Economic Justice Project, an interview on Woman's Hour, membership of a working group on financial abuse convened by the British Banking Association....If this is the start just imagine what more we can go on to achieve.
We are delighted to see our efforts recognised and supported via small charities week. If you would like to support our work then please get in contact! We would love to hear from you!
Small charities, big ambitions
Small charities tend to focus on specific communities and contribute a huge amount to them. These can either be communities of place, for example a foodbank serving a local borough, or communities of people united by a common issue. Surviving Economic Abuse (SEA) is a small charity falling into the latter category: we exist to raise awareness of economic abuse as a form of domestic violence, and to develop practical tools and policy solutions to help address it.
This is vital, and I’m proud to volunteer my time to SEA as Trustee and Chair. In the six months the charity has been in existence, I've seen all too clearly how little understood economic abuse is by society, and yet the impact it has on those who experience it is devastating. Not only that, but support services (domestic violence and financial organisations) don’t always have the expertise or resources to identify or deal with it.
Economic abuse is where one partner in a couple relationship uses money or other financial assets (such as loans, property etc.) to control or limit the freedom of the other partner. For example, the perpetrator may be the breadwinner – perhaps whilst the victim is a stay at home parent – who withholds money from the victim to limit their freedom, or they may take loans out in the victim’s name as a way of stopping them from leaving. In the vast majority of cases the perpetrator is a man which is why SEA’s focus is on women who are victims, however there are also instances where women use money to exert control.
The impact of economic abuse can last a lifetime, in terms of financial and emotional affects. A poor credit rating and debts can follow women for many years after the abuse has ended, and their trust in others can be shattered. SEA exists for these women, and whilst we are a small charity we have big ambitions and a committed Director and group of Trustees to realise these.
This year we’ll be developing a tool to help domestic violence services identify women at risk of, or facing, economic abuse, and building expertise and capacity in financial advice and legal services to support these women. At the same time we’ll be working with, and calling on, politicians, civil servants and other decision makers to ensure that economic abuse is recognised in relevant policy and legislation, and raising awareness of it through media work.
These women deserve support and justice, and so we hope to be able to grow this programme of work. As a small charity however, we can’t do this alone: economic abuse can only be tackled by working across communities and sectors through a coordinated response.
This Small Charities Week I'd encourage you to consider helping a small charity like SEA to support the community they serve, through giving your time, expertise, or perhaps a donation, and if you choose to do so, I hope you'll find it as fulfilling as I find my role at SEA.
To find out more about SEA’s work and how you can get involved visit our website.
Why small charities need a critical friend
I cannot begin to imagine being trapped in an unsafe, abusive, unhappy and sad relationship. Even worse to think of the prospect of being able to leave diminished almost to zero, having lost the ability to stand on your own financial feet. Or even if you do leave, that you’re suffocated with poverty, saddled with debts not of your own making. An uncertain and bleak future ahead. And right when you really need security more than ever.
And we all know the power of money. We all know that money buys freedom. Psychological freedom. Freedom to live independently. Freedom to choose.
Not many of us really believe the ‘money doesn’t make you happy’ rhetoric either, even though we know that a lot of happiness is about relationships, friends and family. But money absolutely does help pave the way for a fulfilled life. It certainly does opens doors to find ways to happiness. It certainly does help to build psychological and physical resilience. It gives us options.
And we all fear having no money. No money is not only a recipe for misery. It creates a specific kind of entrapment. Possibilities reduced. Options reduced. Doors firmly closed. And a deep and sickening fear.
When Dr Nicola Sharp-Jeffs asked me to get involved with small charity SEA, I confess, I gave her a bit of a grilling. The critical friend stuff, that only true friendships weather. I questioned why. Why a new charity when we have two well-known and respected charities dedicated to domestic abuse in the UK already? Why now? To what purpose? How? What? Where? When?
I was overwhelmed with the positive case.
SEA exists to shine an almighty floodlight on a pervasive and pernicious issue at the heart of so many real life stories. Lives where women struggle to even comprehend the possibility of leaving abuse and dangerous relationships. In some cases, life-threatening situations.
It’s not hard to be bowled over with Nic’s energy, care and crusade. I remember a conversation with her, some years ago now. We were sat having a pizza and ‘shooting the breeze’ (been wanting to use that phrase for while!). It was a fairly innocuous conversation about relationships and money and we touched on joint bank accounts. Seemingly out of nowhere came a flood of thinking and insight into the importance of independence, of personal resilience. I was puzzled for a while at the strength of her convictions. Taken aback at the veracity of research and facts. For Nicola is someone who has dedicated herself to understanding this issue of financial and economic abuse.
And so. I’m glad to do my bit to support the charity to do it’s bit to change the world. It will make a big difference. Of that I am sure.
There is a steely focus on outcomes. They will bolster and embolden the great work of others. To ensure domestic violence services have the requisite knowledge and skills they need to help vulnerable women. To help women to achieve economic stability to enable them to leave an abuser. To build access to all-important financial and legal remedies. To ensure commissioners recognise the critical economic factors for women in abusive relationships. For policy makers to make decisions based on this knowledge.
Ultimately, for us all to begin to understand the critical nature of economic and financial abuse. This systematic, deliberate and manipulative dismantling of financial power. A mission to make sure that we all get it. To help women to be safer.
And to support Nicola in this mission? For that, I’m in.
Why volunteer for a small charity?
Volunteering for a small charity. Why bother? You’re busy. You have work and STUFF to do. It’s surely just an added strain on an already hectic schedule?
I’m Jennie and I am a stay at home Mum. I’ve been helping a new small charity called Surviving Economic Abuse – SEA for short. It aims to help women who have been subjected to economic abuse – which is when one partner tries to make the other partner financially dependent on them, generally by controlling access to money. It is something that regularly goes on within the context of domestic violence and limits a victim’s options, stopping them from leaving.
I am passionate about SEA and like its founder Nicola Sharp-Jeffs believe there needs to be a charity dedicated to helping women whose access to finance is controlled, exploited or sabotaged. I paused my career to look after my children and rely on my partner for our family income. I see how it could so easily be me, in a situation like the women I have spoken to through SEA.
The work I do for SEA is very similar to my ‘old’ job. For SEA I have helped find ‘case studies’ – women who are willing to speak out about the experiences they have had of economic abuse. This makes the subject so much easier to understand, not just for newspaper readers or radio listeners but for policymakers, police officers and others on the front line. I am a trained journalist and in the past, specialised in finding ‘contributors’ – people with interesting stories to tell for television or radio documentaries. I love speaking to people, hearing what they have to say and listening to their life stories. It has been exciting to do that sort of work again in a different context and I have been really happy helping SEA find media volunteers to spread their message. The women who come forward to share their experiences are brave and strong and it is a privilege to speak with them - I don’t need to be paid.
Which brings me to a key thing about volunteering – you are NOT paid. There is NO monetary reward AT ALL. You are not working double your contracted hours in a day for no extra money and resenting it, you are not doing an hour overtime ‘for the Queen’ - because no money changes hands. You work for the joy of working and it is important to find something that gives you something back.
For me and SEA, there are many benefits. Sporadic volunteering that I can fit in with children’s bed times, swimming lessons and the school run along with helping with other small charities – suits me perfectly. I get to think about something other than what to cook my children and whether we are about to run out of loo roll. And in thinking, making calls and speaking to people for SEA, I get to re-connect with the wider world and in a small way assist in the effort to bring about change. This contribution gives me a strong sense of usefulness within the UK community and pride when someone I have spoken to appears on radio or in a newspaper article.
If you can find time and are willing, I urge you to get in touch with your charity of choice or if you work in the media go speedmatching via the Media Trust. Check out the website for #smallcharityweek – they’ve got details.