Domestic violence: women’s charities face 100% funding cuts
Ministers praised the women’s voluntary sector as a “model” for its big society plans. That hasn’t protected some organisations from massive funding reductions and possible closures
In an era of senseless cuts to vital public services, here’s one that in its brutal scale and short-sightnedness almost beggars belief: Devon county council’s proposals to reduce funding for domestic violence support services by 100%.
That’s not a misprint: the council has indeed said it wants to withdraw the entire £1m it currently gives to the three charities which make up the county’s much-lauded domestic violence and abuse network, putting all three at serious risk of closure, removing support for thousands of vulnerable women, and, as it happens, a few men too.
Cuts mean hard choices for councils, but this feels like vandalism. Devon’s Action Against Domestic Violence and Abuse partnership (Adva) is an acknowledged beacon of good practice and a leader in its field: last year it picked up a “green flag” from the Audit Commission for “exceptional performance or innovation that others can learn from.”.
Its work is low profile: a helpline, support groups, counselling, advocacy, safety planning, even a support service for male victims. And yet it is work that quite literally, saves lives. It also stops the abuse of hundreds of women and children, and protects them from the miserable consequences of domestic violence. Nationally this kind of work saves billions of pounds that would otherwise be spent on crisis intervention by police, social services and housing authorities.
So what will be the consequences of this proposed cut? Devon Domestic Advice and Abuse has drawn up a list. The first five are :
• Lives will be lost
• Children will be subjected to witnessing abuse and the psychological affects (“lost childhoods”) this has.
• Psychological abuse to children will damage their ability to learn and become a valuable member of society
• Children learn abusive behaviour so consequently can become abusers of the future
•Huge financial pressure on statutory services which inevitably come out of the tax payer/council tax payers’ pockets.
Adva says it was prepared for funding reductions. It had planned cuts scenarios of 5%, 20% and 40%, but the eventual level of proposed cuts, revealed in a phone call to the charity last week, came out of the blue. As Adva’s chair, Devon county councillor Jill Owen, told the Exeter Express and Echo:
“We knew Adva would have to have a cut because the settlement from central Government has been so awful but we did not expect to be annihilated.”
As is now almost customary, these are cuts to vulnerable people that the Coalition has explicitly said it does not want to see. The home secretary Theresa May could easily have had Adva in mind when she praised the work of the women’s sector and spoke enthusiastically about tackling domestic and sexual violence at the Women’s Aid annual conference back in July 2010 (“It was a priority for me in opposition and it is a priority for me now I am in government” ). It’s worth picking out a couple of quotes from that speech:
“In many ways, the women’s sector is a model of the Big Society we wish to build. That is a society in which we all work together to address problems, conscious that government has a role to play but that it does not have all the answers, and recognising the role played by charities, voluntary groups and others alongside central and local government. You’re way ahead of us with this.”
She goes on:
“But let me be clear – the Big Society does not mean Government withdrawing, leaving the voluntary sector to pick up the pieces… That means where the voluntary sector does such excellent work – like in the provision of refuges and rape crisis centres – the Government ensures the funding it provides is on a stable, long-term basis, ending the culture of charities having to survive hand-to-mouth, facing the threat of imminent closure.”
As usual, it is not clear how May and the Coalition intend to ameliorate the situation: apart from local authority grants, much of the funding for domestic violence work comes from the once-ringfenced Supporting People funding pot, which as I’ve written before, is now being raided by many councils to pay for other priorities. Ministers have exhorted councils not to cut these services: in the era of localism, councils facing financial meltdown are simply ignoring them. The government has swept away the performance indicator that once obliged all English councils to at the very least pay lip service to tackling domestic violence.
The prospects of finding an alternative to state funding to pay for domestic violence services are not encouraging. In 2009-10 Devon Domestic Violence and Abuse Service received funding of £380,000. Of this the bulk – £328,000 – came from the county council. A further £25,000 (tied to specific projects) came from Children in Need and the Lloyds TSB Foundation. Just £22,000 came from donations. Domestic Violence is not an easy sell to donors. As the think tank New Philanthropy Capital has pointed out, the Donkey Sanctuary charity alone annually receives over three times as much in donations as the top three UK domestic violence charities combined.
Conservative-led Devon county council – astonished perhaps by the level of local outrage at the cuts – yesterday decided to put off making a final decision on the cuts until February. There are suggestions it may try to reduce the level of cuts to 50%. The Devon council leader John Hart has called on the county’s police and NHS to increase their (currently paltry) share of the Adva funding. In the current financial climate for public services, one can only wish him luck.
Women’s Aid, which represents local domestic violence groups, is about to survey its members about the cuts to build up a fuller picture of what, anecdotally, feels like a critical period for the sector. Early reports are not hopeful: North Somerset Against Domestic Abuse is warning it could close because its £120,000 grant from North Somerset council is at risk; there are similar fears in Northampton, and Nottingham. If the cuts are as bad elsewhere as they are in Devon, the consequences will be dire.
Funding for domestic violence services has always been patchy. But it has been relatively stable in recent years and the benefits are there to see. Recorded instances of domestic violence have fallen in recent years- around 70% since 1995 according to the British Crime Survey.
I asked Nicola Harwin, principal officer of Women’s Aid, what the national consequences of a Devon-style funding meltdown would be. There are many downsides, she pointed out, but ultimately:
“The most worrying outcome is… more homicides.”