Ahead of tomorrow’s budget announcement, Sisters Uncut demand ring-fenced funding for DV services
Tuesday, March 15, 2016
Yesterday morning, Sisters Uncut took our message right to the front door of George Osborne at the Treasury. In Osborne’s Britain, a woman’s safety depends on her postcode. Specialist domestic violence services are funded by local councils, whose budgets have now been halved by Osborne. Vital services and the women they support face a precarious future, and already areas of the country are returning to a time before refuges existed. We demand a secure, long-term plan for the funding of domestic violence services which includes ring fenced funds at a national level. Without security of funding, women are not safe.
You might know Sisters Uncut as the group who jumped onto the red carpet at the Suffragette premiere and dyed the Trafalgar Square fountains blood red. But recently, we’ve been doing something different: we’ve been growing at a rapid rate across the UK, with women setting up local groups to defend services in their communities. You might have heard about how Portsmouth Sisters shut down a Portsmouth City Council meeting (once with a banner and a second time with confetti). Sisters up in Doncaster are currently fighting the closure of Doncaster Women’s Aid, which is set to close on 31st March after 40 years.
Getting involved in local politics is pretty different to actions clearly aimed at central government. So why the change in tactics?
The way that Osborne’s cuts work is not as direct as you might think, and if most people understood it a bit better they’d be just as unimpressed as we are at his paltry political gesture toward domestic violence services in his past budget (money from the tampon tax being made available for domestic violence services). George Osborne and the treasury are at the top of a large pyramid that ends in services closing and women dying. The treasury funds the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG). This was cut in half between 2010 – 2015 and there’s set to be another 30% of cuts in the next four years.
It is this money that the DCLG has to distribute amongst local authorities, who use it to pay for all of the services that their local residents need, from libraries to care of the elderly to refuse collection – and domestic violence services. Local authorities are being expected to do the impossible – to fund all of these services with half the money they had to do that 5 years ago, and knowing that they will have even less in the bank by 2019. Faced with this reality, that’s how the cuts begin to fall on life saving domestic violence services.
So now we’re at the bottom of the pyramid, and councils can no longer afford to pay for specialist domestic violence services. What’s more, regulations around ‘localism’ mean that councils have to act like businesses and minimise their expenditure, so when looking for organisations to provide these services, they are choosing organisations that can provide the most generic service for the lowest cost. This means smaller, more specialist services are losing out on funding and being forced to close their doors. Women’s Aid research found that between 2010 and 2014, 32 specialist refuges were closed. Some of those services will have been lost entirely, whilst others will now be being run by large, generic organisations offering “supported housing” rather than the highly specialist support needed by women and children fleeing domestic violence.
We’ve been disrupting council meetings in Portsmouth, is because that is one of the councils that – faced by massively reduced government funding – is choosing to save money by cutting domestic violence services. They plan to cut £180,000 from the funding that the council gives to domestic violence services, which will result in half of the highly trained support workers losing their jobs. These are people trained to save lives, and without their expertise, it is no exaggeration to say lives will be lost. It will result in women in Portsmouth potentially not being able to get the support they need when they need it – and when we’re talking about domestic violence, that can be fatal. When 2 women a week are murdered by a current or ex partner in England & Wales, now is not the time to be cutting services.
We stand against austerity in its entirety, and don’t believe that any public services should be cut at any level. But we have taken the fight to a local level to disrupt the cuts to domestic violence services anywhere and everywhere we can. Our disruptions of council meetings are a reminder to local councils of their responsibilities to fund life saving domestic services, and not to put women’s lives on the line.
But we’ll never take our eye off the target: central government. That was why we were back at the top today – fencing in the treasury doors to remind George Osborne that he must ringfence funding for vital domestic violence services at a national level, and prevent local councils from cutting services. He’s the top of the pyramid, he’s the one to blame for all the closures of support services. We caused such a nuisance this morning that the Treasury ended up having to shut its doors. However, there’s no doubt that they opened shortly after we’d left, unlike refuges that have been forced to close their doors permanently due to lack of funding.