A POWERFUL coalition of charities has raised fears that changes to social security payments will put children and women at greater risk of abuse.

They are now urging the new Scottish Parliament to refuse to accept the “damaging” UK policy of paying the incoming Universal Credit to a household rather than individuals.

“The single household payment is a backwards step for women and replicates the very patriarchal values and structures that are the cause and consequence of domestic abuse,” said Dr Marsha Scott, chief executive of Scottish Women’s Aid.

“Research suggests that 89 per cent of all women who are abused by a partner experience financial abuse as part of domestic abuse, so to cut off what is for many women their only independent income is clearly short-sighted, unhelpful and dangerous.

“The single household payment will only increase women’s financial dependency and place them at increased risk.”

The coalition of charities, which includes women’s and equalities organisations, anti-poverty groups and the Scottish Trades Union Congress have released a paper today urging Scotland to use new powers over social security to promote women’s equality and diverge from the UK policy of joint payments of Universal Credit.

The paper argues that the new Scottish Parliament should automatically pay entitlements individually, rather than only to one member of a couple.

It states that the model of household payments would reinforce women’s inequality in society and undermine equal access to income and financial autonomy. Where women and children are at risk of abuse, household payments would further compromise their safety and reduce their ability to secure safe housing, the paper states.

“Scotland has pledged that new powers coming to the Scottish Parliament will be founded on dignity and respect,” said Emma Ritch, executive director of Engender, which led on the report.

“Offering individual payments is a clear way to honour this pledge. We know that the UK system of offering household payments fails those who need the most support and exacerbates existing inequality.

“There are multiple reasons for the Scottish Government to diverge from the payments structure of the UK, and very few to support the case for simply replicating the UK system. We hope that Scotland’s new Parliament elected on May 5 will embrace this clear opportunity to set Scotland on a path of equality in social security.”

Peter Kelly, director of the Poverty Alliance, a signatory to the report, said: “It is important that where a couple has a joint award of universal credit, the default position should be that the payment is split to ensure that individuals have access to independent resources.

“This is particularly important for tackling the gendered nature of poverty, and ensuring that women are not trapped in abusive relationships as a result of lack of financial resources. We know that women are more likely to be in poverty than men, and women are more dependent on the social security system for their incomes.

“Women can also face significant barriers to entering the labour market, and a lack of independent financial resources would be yet another hurdle for women to overcome.

“New powers for the Scottish Parliament are an opportunity to think about the type of Scotland we want to live in, and take steps to achieve this.

“If we are serious about equality, then we must implement split payments as the default.”

Davena Rankin, chairwoman of the STUC Women’s Committee, said that the introduction of a single Universal Credit payment to joint claimants would mean a loss of independent income for women. “In an abusive relationship, it is likely that this will be to the detriment of women and children,” she pointed out.

“Financial independence and security is key to gender equality and the STUC Women’s Committee urge the Scottish Government to use their new powers to introduce individual payments to all Universal Credit claimants.”