A week ago we heard the news that the Poppy Project, which supports victims of sex trafficking, had lost its funding to the Salvation Army and may be forced to close as a result.
The decision to award the funding to the Salvation Army troubles me for several reasons but not least because I think this is likely to be just one of many women-only services that will lose funding over the coming years.
With the Government tightening its belt – and forcibly tightening the belts of local councils across the country – specialist services are in grave danger.
Public sector commissioners are wrestling with the conundrum – do we spend money on services that only one part of society can access, or throw what money we have left at generic services that are open to all? This clearly doesn’t just pose a risk to women-only services but also to services targeted at Black and Minority Ethnic communities and other equality groups.
And I don’t think we can’t rely on Equality Impact Assessments to rescue things. Some councils are being taken to task for poorly carried out assessments but ultimately the normal rules just don’t apply when cuts are being made so fast and so deeply. Negative impacts are being noted but the cuts continue with the rationale that there is little that can be done to prevent negative impacts when the money simply isn’t there. That’s the argument anyway.
I live in a local authority area that has been hit particularly hard by central government funding reductions. Particularly to a stream of funding called ‘Supporting People’ that funds projects which support vulnerable people to live independently, such as women’s refuges and hostels. Domestic violence has been largely protected in the most recent round of cuts (as there were in-year cuts and some refuges have already been forced to close) but two women-only hostels lost their funding.
Generic homelessness provision will remain but there is plenty of evidence that women tend not to do so well in mixed provision, which is often male dominated, and homeless women tend to be very vulnerable – survivors of sexual abuse, rape and other forms of trauma.
A combination of Supporting People cuts and other public sector funding cuts are also decimating local services for teenage mothers (and I’m in an area with teenage pregnancy rates well above the national average). Four local projects which support teenage parents have closed or are due to close in the coming months.
And I’m only scratching the surface.
There are conflicting reports on why the Poppy Project lost its funding but it seems clear that the Salvation Army are offering to do more for less – and to work with a wider range of service users. If women services are to survive the austerity years we need to find ways to evidence the money that these services actually save statutory services and the added value that specialist provision brings in this regard.
Otherwise, commissioners will say that they have no choice but to look in the direction of generic providers, leaving specialists services, and the needs of their service users, on the sidelines again.