Economic and financial abuse is a prevalent and devastating form of abuse for people with disability, but further research is required to understand the impact of this issue in the context of domestic and family violence (DFV), according to a UNSW report into economic and financial abuse funded by Commonwealth Bank (CommBank). 

Understanding Economic and Financial Abuse and Disability in the Context of Domestic and Family Violence is the fourth report in the partnership between CommBank and UNSW’s Gendered Violence Research Centre (GVRN). The partnership forms part of CommBank Next Chapter, which aims to help victim-survivors of financial abuse achieve long-term financial independence. Through the partnership, CommBank and UNSW’s GVRN hope to increase community and industry understanding of financial abuse. When complete, the research series will be one of the most comprehensive compendiums of evidence on economic and financial abuse in Australia.

The latest report examined what research can tell us about the experience of economic and financial abuse for people with disability. GVRN conducted a comprehensive review of academic and policy literature to identify and analyse existing research on disability, economic and financial abuse. They used an intersectional approach that analysed the experiences of people with disability and the different layers of identity, social inclusion and exclusion, and social positioning, recognising the complex experiences of discrimination that people with disability face. 

Echoing the findings from previous reports in the series, the report found that there is a distinct gap in the evidence base when it comes to the perpetration of economic and financial abuse in the context of DFV. It also found that ‘disability’ as an umbrella term, did not account for the nuanced understanding of the range of impairments, including the severity and the impact on the person affected.

While there was substantial literature on economic and financial abuse of people with disability that highlights dependence as a critical risk factor, the report found there were relatively few resources that identify whether the abuse occurred in the context of DFV. Furthermore, none of the studies in the review defined economic and financial abuse specific to people with disability.

“While economic and financial abuse can occur in various contexts for people with disability, more evidence is needed to fully comprehend the economic and financial abuse experienced by people with disability within DFV,” says Professor Jan Breckenridge, Co-Convenor of UNSW Sydney’s Gendered Violence Research Network at UNSW Arts, Design & Architecture.

While possibly under-estimated, economic and financial abuse affects a significant number of people living with disability in Australia. However, current evidence does not distinguish whether economic and financial abuse occurs within the context of DFV, nor does existing literature consider disability as just one factor affecting the experience of economic and financial abuse in the context of DFV.

Where care and support create dependence, people with disability are at heightened risk of economic and financial abuse, including tactics specific to different disabilities, the report said. People with disability may also be at greater risk of economic and financial abuse due to factors such as lack of access to financial resources, barriers to accessing social security entitlements and limited experience in managing finances. Other forms of financial abuse against people with disability may include legal guardians denying access to money, services withholding disability support or government payments and support workers misusing NDIS funds.

“Economic and financial abuse is a prevalent and devastating form of abuse for people with disability broadly,” Prof. Breckenridge says. “It is clear that people with disability face economic and financial insecurity and hardship at higher rates than their counterparts without disability, increasing their reliance on others and increasing their risk of experiencing economic and financial abuse.”

“At CommBank, we know that people experiencing domestic and family are also often impacted by financial abuse and it can be the reason a person stays in an abusive relationship,” Claire Dawson, Executive Manager of Community Investment at CommBank says. “We are committed to increasing understanding of financial abuse, including how it impacts different communities. We are proud of our partnership with GVRN and our hope is that this report series will raise awareness and encourage others to conduct more research into this important issue.” 

Read the report.