When I met my ex, we had an instant connection. On our first date, we spent hours talking about our shared interests and plans for the future. After that, the relationship progressed quickly.
Three years later, we were married and I was living in the UK on a spousal visa. I soon found a rewarding job and supportive friends. It felt like the beginning of an exciting new chapter. Although I didn’t realise it at the time, my partner had other plans. Shortly after I arrived in the UK, the emotional and psychological abuse began.
At first, it was subtle. He would call me names or put me down in front of others, but later claim that he was “only joking.” He began to isolate me from family and friends, so I felt increasingly lonely.
Although I earned more than twice his monthly income, he barred me from opening my own bank account. As a result, all of my wages were deposited into his account, he refused to provide me with the passwords, and he spent the majority of my earnings without my knowledge or consent.
Over time, he escalated to physical and sexual abuse, and I couldn’t predict what would set him off next. I was constantly walking on eggshells and feared for my safety.
When he began threatening to cancel my visa and kick me out of our home, I knew that I had to leave. However, as a migrant, I understood that this was almost impossible. As a condition of my spousal visa, I had no recourse to public funds or services, so I wasn’t able to access refuge or other crucial support.
I was afraid that my former partner would revoke my right to stay in the UK at any moment and the prospect of detention and deportation was constantly hanging over my head.
Eventually, I was able to source private rented accommodation and open my own account with an online bank. I hired a solicitor to apply for indefinite leave to remain in the UK on the domestic violence route.
After leaving my abuser, I’d assumed that the worst was behind me. But I couldn’t have been more wrong. The immigration application exhausted my finances. I suddenly lost my job and the financial independence that came with it.
Without access to benefits or support, I feared that I would end up destitute. Soon afterward, I was diagnosed with complex PTSD and was left unable to work.
I reported the abuse to the police, hoping for justice. Three years later, the investigation is ongoing and I’ve been failed at every turn. As reflected in today’s news – that survivors like me are seeing their cases dropped at an increasing rate – this experience is all too common.
Thankfully, my immigration application was approved, and I was finally able to apply for Universal Credit.
In the weeks that followed, I spent many hours in the job centre, where I was forced to repeat details of the abuse I’d suffered over and over again in a public setting. It was incredibly traumatic and I frequently left in tears.
I had to request an advance as I didn’t have enough money to sustain me during the automatic five-week waiting period. As the advance is considered to be a loan, I was already in debt by the time I received my first payment.
At the time, the total amount I was receiving was just over £600 a month, while my rent was £700 per month. I had to borrow money to fill in the gaps. Months later, I became eligible for the one-bedroom housing rate, but after paying my rent and utilities, I’ve still been struggling to make ends meet.
Universal Credit is a lifeline for so many. While I was grateful for the £20 per week uplift introduced at the start of the pandemic, I’m disappointed that it’s since been scrapped, despite cross-party support for it to continue.
Twenty pounds per week is what I spend on food, and the rest of my benefit goes toward rent and bills, so I’m struggling to work out what else I can cut. I routinely turn down plans, eat before I go out, wear multiple layers indoors, and walk long distances to avoid paying for public transport.
Without the £20 per week uplift, I don’t know how I would have managed to survive after fleeing my abuser.
As I know all too well, financial independence is a crucial factor for domestic abuse survivors when leaving. While I’m concerned about navigating the winter months, I can’t help but think of the survivors who won’t be able to flee as a result of the cut.
I know that £20 per week might not seem like a lot, but for victims of domestic abuse, it could mean the difference between being trapped with an abusive partner or accessing safe accommodation for themselves and their children.
When the stakes are so high, every penny counts.
As told to Lauren Crosby Medlicott
*Names have been changed
If you are affected by domestic abuse, you are not alone. You can access free and confidential support from Refuge’s 24-hour National Domestic Abuse Helpline on 0808 2000 247 and digital support via live chat Monday-Friday 3-10pm via www.nationaldahelpline.org.uk