Sisters Uncut

Taking direct action for domestic violence services.

#GE2017: Theresa May is No Sister of Ours

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

may photo

Yesterday, Theresa May PM called a snap general election, which will take place on 8th June. So, in less than two months we might have a new government, or we could face another five years with the Tories. Let’s be honest, the last year in politics has been confusing, terrifying and for many of our Sisters, violently life-threatening. This election is set to be another scene in the world’s bleakest soap opera, unless we take action.

Sisters Uncut is non-partisan and revolutionary; that means we don’t give our support to any mainstream political party and we believe that the current political system is broken and harmful to all of us. But being non-partisan doesn’t mean that Sisters think all political parties are the same or that it doesn’t matter which one is in power. For many women and non-binary people living in the UK, or seeking refuge here, the political party in power really could mean the difference between life and death.

As anti-capitalist, anti-racist feminists, we are staunchly anti-Tory. Their conservative capitalist ideology is racist, sexist, and ableist. This Conservative government, led by David Cameron and now Theresa May, has subjected women and non-binary people to vicious attacks on our safety, liberty and welfare. They have consistently ignored the demands of disabled activists, communities of colour, working class and migrant campaigners, instead forcing through a swathe of sinister cuts, laws and public service sell-offs that put our lives at risk on a daily basis.

We think it is important, during a period when biased government propaganda will be unavoidable, to make clear our strong opposition to the Conservative government by stating facts about their ‘leadership’. If the last 12 months has left you swimming in political uncertainty, below is a list of acts and failures that this government has perpetrated against women and non-binary people:

– Since 2010, at least 34 specialist refuge services have closed due to funding cuts, with 66% of those left open at risk of closure due to financial uncertainty. Those closed were disproportionately specialist services for women of colour.
– 85% of the Tories vicious austerity measures have fallen on women, most affecting disabled women, single parents and working class women of colour
– The plans to abolish housing benefit for 18-21 year olds puts thousands of younger survivors of domestic abuse at risk
– There are set to be whole cities without one single refuge for survivors of domestic violence due to funding cuts
– At least two-thirds of domestic violence survivors were turned away from refuges in 2015/16, for disabled survivors this increased to 75%
– In June 2016, the Home Office refused to reveal information about the sexual abuse of migrant women detained at Yarls Wood immigration detention centre in Bedford, because it ‘damages the commercial interests’ of Serco
– In April 2017, the government introduced plans to force survivors to ‘prove’ they were raped, to be eligible for tax credits for a third child
22 women died in prison in 2016, the highest number ever recorded, and yet rather than admit the prison system is a violently oppressive failure, there are plans to build 9 new ‘super-prisons’ across the country
– Failure to act on the 71 recommendations made in the Transgender Equality report written in January 2016, a clear show of contempt towards trans* people.

Tory cuts show a hatred of women and non-binary people, a complete refusal to safeguard the most vulnerable amongst us from life-threatening violence and a determination to cover up and deny state violence that is frankly terrifying.

A Conservative government is a violent government, and therefore, we encourage all Sisters to oppose five more years of state violence in our homes and communities, by putting an end to this misogynist, racist, transphobic Tory leadership. Now’s the time to stand up and be counted sisters – vote against the Tories & other right-wing parties on June 8th, get involved in your local Sisters Uncut group, share your anti-Tory views on social media and talk with friends, family & colleagues about why the Tories are the enemy of the people. It might be bleak right now, but together we shall overcome.

How can she leave if she has nowhere to go? Housing and domestic violence

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Around 7 years ago I started working on a helpline to support women experiencing domestic violence. A woman called early evening desperate to leave a violent and abusive man – he had assaulted her and left the house, she wanted to go, right there and then, to pack a bag, to get to safety, away from him.

We began to run through her options: Are you injured? Yes, but I am ok. Are you in immediate danger? Yes. Can you get out? Yes. Is he likely to come back? Yes. Is he locked out? Yes. Do you have anywhere to stay tonight? No.

I looked online for refuge space but after-hours cover is patchy and women have to travel out of their local areas to get to a safe space. I called the local authority’s emergency line to report that I was supporting a woman who needed emergency accommodation until we could find her a refuge the following day. I was told the local authority’s duty worker would call me back.

45 minutes passed until the phone rang: ‘I hear you have a woman crying so-called “domestic violence”? Why is she calling us? Why doesn’t she call the police? We can’t house her here, we house women out of borough. Is she single? Single women don’t get priority.’ The accusations, the blame, the disregard continued. The man on the end of the phone had a cold disbelief, a view that a woman who had bravely picked up the phone, who was prepared after years of serial abuse to leave everything she knew, was lying in order to get housed.

This was one of my early experiences with housing. It was just after the economic crash but before the coalition. In the last seven years, I have seen housing support for women diminish, a narrow pool of social housing slowly eroded, and housing become one of the major barriers to women’s access to support and safety.

Around 13% of all homeless acceptances are related to domestic violence (1) and research indicates that in up to 40% of cases, domestic violence is the main cause or a contributing factor towards women becoming homeless (2, 3). Those seeking safety are stuck between a rock and a hard place – many are sent to bed and breakfasts, forced to wait in crap temporary accommodation that does not meet their needs or make them feel safe.

Austerity has made this situation worse. It has decimated housing: social housing is not being built and right to buy has eroded what social housing is left – women are being thrown onto the mercy of the market. Caps to housing benefit are limiting options and making safe accommodation a luxury item. In turn, the Localism Act has made it difficult for women fleeing violence – refuges are provided by local authorities for women from other areas – the policy of localism works against the interests of women seeking safety.

Even if women are able to access a refuge, their ability to move on to a long-term home is, quite frankly, shit. Some women have been in a refuge for a year, then temporary accommodation and then been moved into the unstable private rented sector, where huge deposits, short-term contracts and steep letting agents’ fees are the norm.

For women experiencing multiple and intersecting oppressions, the offer of safe and suitable housing is even further out of reach. Many women who experience violence and abuse will report mental ill-health, will have PTSD and might be using substances to cope (4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12) yet due to funding cuts, refuges are often ill-equipped to support women with mental ill-health or using substances (13) and homeless services are rarely designed with women in mind (14).

Young women are at high risk of violence and exploitation yet housing benefit is being stopped for the under 21s. Women with disabilities are twice as likely as their non disabled counterparts to experience assault or rape, yet there is limited specialist housing for this group (15). Black and minority women are facing brutal cuts to services and there is little to no housing provision for women with no recourse to public funds (16).

Housing is an overwhelming struggle for women fleeing domestic violence, and the situation is just getting worse.

And austerity has done something insidious: it has demonised help-seeking, pushing those who find themselves reliant on state services into the bracket of scrounger, a horrendous throw back to a Victorian model of undeserving poor. The state enables perpetrators – it permits a language that women are worthless, failures, at fault, to blame, a problem.

In the last 7 years I’ve seen the housing situation get worse for domestic violence survivors: I’ve sat in housing offices desperate to get women accommodation only to be turned away. I’ve seen women choosing between a violent partner and the streets, or experiencing further violence and abuse while sofa surfing or taking rooms in strangers’ houses – you only need to look on gumtree to see the precarious choices open to women: streams of adverts offering a free room to an attractive woman. I’ve seen women who, without safe accommodation, support, or a feeling of safety, return to the ‘order’ of the violent relationship. Because at least they have some idea of what will happen to them there.

Every day I am astonished when women get to a stage where they seek help and support for the violence they experience – the energy, strength and determination of survivors is nourishing, powerful and impressive. But it is often thwarted because their housing needs are not met: women are worn down, tired, exhausted and without sanctuary.

Women deserve a safe place to call home. Women deserve social housing. Women deserve security on their own terms. Women are being failed and the government should be made to feel ashamed: they should be told every day that by refusing women’s rights, they are perpetrating violence against them.

Housing is a right, safety is a right – not a privilege.

Join the Sisters Uncut bloc at Focus E15’s ‘March Against Evictions’ on Saturday 19th September.

1 Quiglars and Pleace (2010)
2 Crisis (2006)
3 Shelter (2002)
4 Humphreys & Regan (2005)
5 Oram et al (2013)
6 Barron (2005)
7 Campbell (2002)
8 Dutton et al (2005)
9 Rees et al (2011)
10 Walby (2004)
11 Department of Health (2003)
12 Herman (1992)
13 AVA, Case-by-Case, (2014)
14 St Mungo’s, Rebuilding Shattered Lives (2014)
15 Magowan (2004)
16 Women’s Aid, A Growing Crisis of Unmet Need (2013)


Thursday, April 30, 2015

On Monday the Sisters will take to the streets to demand that women’s needs are met and that cuts to domestic violence services are reversed and more – that they are properly funded.

We have just a few days left to the election and we are tired of the politics on offer. We are here to demand an end to austerity and to call on the government to stop colluding with the violence inflicted on women.

Next week, we may see a new political agenda. But at this point it’s crucial for us to remember the last five years: to understand the vicious, brutal and lasting impact of austerity on women. I have firsthand experience of how the cuts have devastated domestic violence services, and I believe that if more people understood what’s happened, they would be as furious as I am about it.

Local authority budget cuts
Austerity has been enacted in a number of ways. Firstly, local authority budgets have been decimated – this has led to less money to spend on services and thus a rise in cheaper service provision and closures. Specialist services have been cut and the life-saving professionals in them have been replaced with untrained agency workers. Deskilling and low pay of those working in services has been a common theme; wages for refuge workers, for example, have significantly decreased in the past five years. This has also lead to cuts in one of the biggest employers of women – the public sector – and the cuts mean a loss in women’s employment.

Austerity has gone hand-in-hand with localism. The 2011 Localism Act was heralded by central government as bringing innovation to local communities – finally allowing local authorities to trade as if they were individuals and thus create a context for competition in services. Local communities, we were told, would be empowered to make choices around spending.

Yet the consequences of competition have been brutal for those seeking help for domestic violence: instead of rising standards, we’re seeing a vicious race to the bottom: services are being run on a shoe-string by non-specialist agencies, short term contracts mean at any time a service could lose its funding and be withdrawn. And the women who use these services? Well, they lose access to lifesaving specialist support in an instant.

A culture of blame
Austerity has cut more than money. It has gone hand-in-hand with an insidious and creeping language of blame: blame women for not leaving, blame bad parenting, blame the poor, blame immigrants, blame teenage mothers, blame feckless youth. Austerity’s cultural consequence has apportioned blame on those who are the victims of an increasingly unequal society.

Look no further than the cuts to domestic violence services, where the biggest cuts have been to specialist services: services for BME women and those with disabilities, where specialist expertise saves women’s lives. Austerity has driven up inequality in everyway possible.

Localism has created a cycle of blame within politics as well – it’s given central government a means of diminishing their responsibility – by pointing out that cuts were being enacted at the local level. Yet, it also handed local authorities a get out of jail free card – they can blame central government for cutting budgets and minimize their own agency in the cuts, allowing them to ignore the communities they pertained to serve. In the midst of this are individuals who are trying to live their lives in under the tyranny of domestic violence.

State collusion with perpetrators
Domestic violence is a pattern of behaviour that, at its core, takes away the rights of those on whom it is enacted; it is a brutal, dehumanizing and calculated effort to rip away the self of the person it is inflicted on. The language used by perpetrators of abuse is one of minimization and blame – it holds the victim / survivor responsible for the violence inflicted on them. In cutting domestic violence services in the name of austerity, the government, both local and national, have colluded with every perpetrator. They’ve created the cultural conditions for the oppression of women in the most violent way.

I’ve seen this oppression happen first hand. When the economic crash hit, I’d just begun working on the national domestic violence helpline. In the last seven years I have continued to work in this field: as an advocate supporting women through the courts, with young women facing violence and exploitation and now in trying to improve service responses to women’s needs. In the last seven years within the sector, I’ve seen the violent erosion of women’s rights, I’ve seen doors close, I’ve seen women brutalized, harmed and shamed by a system that should be there to help them. I’ve seen the language of austerity offer a violent mouthpiece to those that wish to do women harm, to blame us for the violence inflicted on us and to refuse to hold perpetrators to account.

Yet amongst this violence I’ve seen incredible resistance – for some women it was resistance of the mind, for others it was managing to call a friend while a perpetrator was out, or to learn English or to take public transport for the first time. In those defiant acts that women took against those who wished to control them I was nourished, I was empowered to know that if women can resist such brutality then we can stand and rise to the mass brutality being inflicted against us now.

With a week to go to the election the Sisters are left with no choice. Not one of the main Westminster parties have shown themselves willing to grasp the violence of the inequality that women face. For them cuts equate to services being farmed out for the profits of the few. For women cuts mean death.

On Monday, Sisters Uncut are taking to the streets to say that no longer will we be silenced by a politics that refuses to take our needs seriously. No longer will we accept the excuses of national and local government. We will fight and resist because we have a right to stand up to the violence inflicted by those that wish to control and punish us for who we are.

Sisters Uncut will be taking direct action against cuts to domestic violence services on Monday 4th May – join us at the scoop, Queen’s Walk, London SE1 2DB at 13:00pm