As we mark 50 years since the introduction of the Equal Pay Act the Victims’ Commissioner Dame Vera Baird QC discusses how domestic abusers use the purse strings to control more than just cashflow
It seemed a simple truth to the machinists at Ford’s Dagenham plant half a century ago that work of equal worth to that done by their male colleagues should be paid an equal wage.
And as we mark the 50th Anniversary of the Equal Pay Act It seems hard to comprehend that that simple concept is still not being fully adhered to so many years later.
We must power up the fight for equal pay again. We should not be living in 21st century with structural inequality between genders.
It is a crazy and unacceptable leftover of women’s historic overall inequality and, at the same time, a cause of that inequality continuing.
But money, and access to it are a source of power. And in domestically abusive relationships they are a means of control.
The link between poverty and domestic abuse is well established – abuse happens in every social sphere. But research shows poorer households experience higher rates of domestic violence.
One study found that women in households with income of less than £10,000 per year were 3 .5 times more likely to have experienced domestic violence than women in better-off households.
But if you don’t have any money of ‘your own’ or if your pay or benefits go straight into a joint account which your partner controls it is both an extra way in which your abuser can exert control and an obvious barrier preventing you from leaving.
Women on lower pay than men have far less power to negotiate financial equality in any relationship and are easily made prey to forced dependency.
Even small amounts of cash are important but rarely available to women in jobs such as cleaning, catering, cashiering, and caring, which are heavily gendered and poorly paid occupations.
But they are most often the only work available which offer the part time hours compatible with other childcare or caring responsibility.
There is research to suggest that the difference between a woman who can leave her abusive partner and one who cannot is the availability of just £100.
Abusers know this. They use finance, money, credit, bank accounts to manipulate and coerce.
They put the victim’s name on loan or credit agreements without her consent, take the money and default on payments, terrifying their victim that any attempt at escape will end in ruin through debt and wrecked reputation.
And, if there are children in the relationship, access to money is a means for a controlling partner to tap into deep-seated fears over child access.
“They’ll take them off you because you can’t work and look after them.”
“You can’t afford what they need like I can.”
“How are you going to pay for that for them?”
“You can’t afford to leave me.”
It is clear how the purse strings become the tether which bind women to their abusers.
And the situation is exacerbated for those victims who are also living with a disability whose abusers are also their carers, or for those with insecure immigration status who have no access public funds.
It is estimated that domestic violence costs England and Wales £66bn every year through things like lost productivity, health and criminal justice costs, and harm to victims.
And shockingly, in 2019 the gender pay gap was still more than 17%.
I can’t imagine what Barbara Castle, champion of the Equal Pay Act, would think of that if she were here today.
We must step on the gas again and reignite the fight for pay equality.
As we do so we keep in mind not only women’s poverty and job inequality, but that unequal pay will be tying thousands of women into abusive relationships a better paid person could escape.
A new commitment to Equal Pay and an expanded Domestic Abuse Bill should be this year’s targets.
Fifty years of inequality has already been 50 years too long.