Disabled women like me are at risk of abuse due to inadequate benefits

In the year ending March 2019, disabled women were more than twice as likely to have experienced domestic abuse than non-disabled women.

Years ago I found myself in a situation where my partner was financially controlling me, a form of domestic abuse. I truly believe that being a disabled woman made it harder for me to leave this relationship.

What little I received in benefits from the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) – around £110.85 a week – went straight to our landlord on rent. I became reliant on my partner for money and bills, prescriptions, food and transport.

I remember having to get by on tinned beans and leftovers for a week after he’d spent all our money on alcohol and weed.

Relying on him for money meant he was able to limit when I left the house and who I socialised with. It meant that the only times I ever really went out was to go to the corner shop, and I only saw the few friends I had left if they came to the house. I became deeply depressed and stayed in bed most of the day. I didn’t look after my wellbeing at all, which gave him more ammunition when emotionally abusing me.

Although he was trapping me, I never felt it. I felt safe with him and going out without him made me feel anxious. Towards the end of our relationship, I realised just how scared of him I was and that it couldn’t go on. It wasn’t until the relationship was over that I realised how much he’d put me through.

How do you leave a controlling partner when you have no money of your own? With great difficulty.

Of course this issue isn’t exclusive to disabled women, but I know the DWP could reform their benefits system to help people in situations like mine. Disability benefits such as Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and Employment Support Allowance (ESA) are notoriously hard to qualify for due to their overly complicated forms and strenuous tests.

If you are lucky enough to qualify you’ll then find out just how small a sum the benefits actually are, which vary depending on how disabled the assessors determine you to be. This is an insult in itself, as if all disability falls into such narrow boundaries.

After paying my bills and contributing to the rent I’m left with less than £100 to live on a month

As my mental health problems, chronic pain and fatigue, and reproductive health issues prevented me from holding down a job, I should have been able to apply for ESA. However when working out if you’re entitled to that benefit, the government takes into account the income of everyone else in your household.

In this case, my partner’s income was too high for me to qualify for any extra benefits. For the one in seven disabled adults that have been victims of domestic abuse, this flaw in the system can have severe consequences.

If it wasn’t for my parents allowing me to return home, I would’ve been trapped with an abusive partner or homeless because I couldn’t have afforded to leave him.

I stayed with my parents rent-free until I met my now-husband. Thankfully he would never control me financially, but I have had flashbacks to my previous relationships when discussing shared money.

But unfortunately, as I receive so little in terms of benefits, it is still something I have to do. Even when I was safe from my ex and applied for ESA, I was turned down and deemed fit to work (despite my PTSD and anxiety on top of my other chronic illnesses).

I still receive the low rate of Personal Independence Payment (PIP) of just over £100 a week. When compared to the National Living Wage per week of £294, you can see why disabled people like me are left in a vulnerable situation. After paying my bills and contributing to the rent I’m left with less than £100 to live on a month.

I’m lucky that my partner pays the lion’s share of the household bills and rent, and he also does most of the shopping. I work as a freelancer to supplement my income and contribute more to the house when I can.

In order to ensure that disabled people get the benefits they deserve, the DWP needs to make the application process less complicated. They also need to make the assessment more about actually looking after the applicants’ needs, and less about having to prove how disabled you are. The assessors should be looking for signs of illness and disability, not that the person is healthy and lying. 

The DWP needs to overhaul its claims criteria so that it can better protect disabled victims of domestic abuse.

When applying for ESA, your partner’s income shouldn’t come into it. This allows disabled people to earn their own money instead of having to rely on a potentially abusive partner. 

There’s a lot that stops people from leaving abusive partners. Fear that they’ll track you down. The worry that you won’t be believed. Convincing yourself that it’s your fault or that you’ll never find anything better. Worry you’ll have nowhere else to go.

But not being able to afford to leave shouldn’t be one of them.

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