By Duncan Shrubsole, Director of Policy, Partnerships and Communications
International Women’s Day is a chance to reflect, celebrate, be inspired and get angry about how and why life is still much harder and more dangerous for 52% of the world’s population. At Lloyds Bank Foundation we have been funding services that support victims of domestic and sexual abuse and broader violence against women and girls since we were founded 30 years ago. We are currently supporting and strengthening 80 small and medium-sized domestic and sexual abuse charities across England and Wales with grants totaling £4m. These range from refuges to community support, rape crisis and BME specialist services as well as a range of related services, such as for sex workers, victims of honour based violence and trafficking.
While all small and medium-sized charities are struggling for funding, the domestic and sexual abuse sectors are under particular pressure. Contracts are bundled into ever greater amounts, generic providers compete to offer the basics without the depth of support and understanding needed and wages are often undercut. This is happening against a backdrop of constant or rising demand, retreating public services and new dimensions such as online abuse, revenge porn and the full reality of the deep and ingrained nature of Child Sexual Exploitation beginning to hit home.
Without action, particularly to reform commissioning, there is a real danger that many of the heartfelt gains made in the last 40 or so years by many determined charities and the broader women’s movement will be lost. At Lloyds Bank Foundation, while we recognise that sometimes charities have to close or merge, when a pioneer like Eaves or a great local organisation which we previously supported like Fareham and Gosport Family Aid folds because commissioning processes have overlooked the value of their skills and expertise, something has gone very wrong.
The Government’s Manifesto commitment to reform commissioning for refuges and rape crisis centres, together with the additional money announced in the Spending Review were welcome acknowledgements of the problem. And today’s new Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy takes this a positive step further with its proposal for a “National Statement of Expectations” to “make clear to local partnerships what good commissioning and service provision looks like”. It remains to be seen how this will be squared on the ground with local budgets under extreme pressure but it is vital that “effective and joined-up local commissioning” focused on the needs of victims and survivors and involving those specialist providers who can respond best, does indeed result. Good advice and a place of safety should be available for anyone that needs it without question, wherever they might live. England could learn a lot from what is happening the other side of Offa’s Dyke as the Welsh Government adopts a new approach to VAWG. But whatever new money and impetus the Government in England puts into supporting and improving responses to abuse, it is fatally undermined if it continues to punch holes elsewhere such through the housing benefit cap and the cutting back of the rights to and availability of appropriate housing.
This year Lloyds Bank Foundation decided to do more than just supporting great individual charities. Under our new Domestic Abuse National Programme we’re helping to strengthen the sector as a whole. We are working with Women’s Aid Federation of England, Imkaan and Welsh Women’s Aid to boost their capacity to help specialist providers prepare for and be more successful in commissioning and ultimately more sustainable as organisations. And we are working with all of them and Safe Lives to produce practical guidance on good commissioning processes to support those commissioners who would like to do a good job but often don’t know how.
If we are ever to challenge the patterns and prevalence of abuse it’s important that we also challenge and hold perpetrators to account.”
Yet great victim services, effectively funded and commissioned whilst absolutely fundamental, on their own can never be enough. If we are ever to challenge the patterns and prevalence of abuse it’s important that we also challenge and hold perpetrators to account. This is why as a Foundation we are proud to be working with Safe Lives, Respect and Social Finance to support the Drive project. This helps contest the narrative and structure of society that too often asks “why doesn’t she leave?” instead of, “why doesn’t he stop?”, particularly where a failure to stop him (and yes, though there are male victims too, the facts speak for themselves – 97% of victims are women suffering at the hands of men with gender an ever present part of their abuse), leaves him free to repeat that pattern of abusive behaviour with other women and children.
We have always funded and supported perpetrator projects but the majority of those have relied on voluntary engagement or links to child contact arrangements. Drive’s aim is to specifically focus on challenging and holding to account the perpetrators of those victims who have been identified as high risk and are being supported by MARACs, precisely to try to break the cycles of repeat abuse.
too few perpetrators are brought to its [the Criminal Justice System’s] attention and even where they are, sentences are not long enough and the prison system itself not yet equipped to change people whilst it holds them”
Of course we must continue to seek to use the full force of the law to hold perpetrators to account wherever we can and to improve how the police, courts and wider society respond to abusers. But as the women’s sector has long known, the criminal justice system cannot be relied on or expected to do this by itself – too few perpetrators are brought to its attention and even where they are, sentences are not long enough and the prison system itself not yet equipped to change people whilst it holds them. I was struck by the evidence revealed in the Hard Edges research last year that very nearly half of adults analysed as facing severe and multiple disadvantage were identified as perpetrators of abuse, yet virtually none had had any support or had been challenged to change.
When two women a week are murdered by their partners and many more suffer a range of abuse, it is not about how we split the current and increasingly threadbare funding cake, but how as a society we can and must do far more.”
Others have argued that we shouldn’t seek do more to tackle perpetrators when victim services are under such real pressure. Yes, there are extreme threats to services for victims which we must fight and fight vigorously. But if we turn our fire on each other and engage in the either/or debate we are failing to make the case. When two women a week are murdered by their partners and many more suffer a range of abuse, it is not about how we split the current and increasingly threadbare funding cake, but how as a society we can and must do far more. And yes, Mr Osborne that means all of us – men as well as women – paying more and from general taxation (no more “tampon tax” allocations please).
As we look to innovate and develop our response to violence against women and girls we must build new and different alliances that make Government and society move from seeing it as a niche issue to one that shapes and shakes political directions and futures. We should take heart from the way the mental health sector has moved the issues of mental ill health from the margins to the mainstream of both public debate and policy priorities through hard work, smart campaigning and thinking afresh. I would suggest we need to be aiming for nothing less with our approach to domestic and sexual abuse. This International Women’s Day and every day we are proud as a Foundation to be playing our small but full part.
Women Acting In Today’s Society (W.A.I.T.S) is a women’s charity based in Birmingham which helps women of all backgrounds dealing with issues such as domestic abuse, mental health difficulties, employment, education and isolation. We are proud to support them as they grow and develop, and were pleased to name them as winners of the ‘Against The Odds’ Award at our 2015 Charity Achievement Awards.