On International Women’s Day, we need to protect the services that support our most vulnerable women

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Liverpool-based charity Merseyside Refugee & Asylum Seekers Pre & Post Natal Support Group (MRANG) works with female asylum seekers and refugees to improve their quality of life.

Our Policy and National Programmes Manager Caroline Howe says we need to celebrate the advances of women but also support those helping women still left behind.

When working in a sector focused on finding solutions to social problems and helping those most in need, International Women’s Day offers a chance to pause and celebrate the achievements and advances of women.

There’s a lot to celebrate. In the last year we’ve seen women take centre stage in driving gender equality. Donald Trump’s inauguration prompted women across the world to come together in one of the largest single-day protests in history, while the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements have seen women around the world speak out and call for an end to sexual assault and harassment in unprecedented numbers.

In the UK, we’re marking 100 years since the first women got the vote. We have a female Prime Minister and more women sitting in parliament;  a clear sign that progress is being made. And today, we’re delighted to see that the government has announced its Domestic Abuse Bill consultation, which recognises the prevalence of domestic abuse and the need to do more to tackle it.

Over the next few weeks we’ll be actively feeding into the government consultation and encouraging and supporting those we fund to the same. We know we need a strong legal framework but we also need action to ensure the right quality services are there for women whenever and wherever they need it. For this to be a reality, we’ve long argued that government needs to reform commissioning and take action to help reduce abuse at source by doing more to challenge and change perpetrators.

Helping the women left behind

One in four women experience domestic abuse or violence in their lifetime, while young people aged 16-25 the most at risk. Two women a week are murdered by their partners with countless more fearing for their lives.”

So while we can celebrate the advances, we must acknowledge that many women are still at a disadvantage; overlooked and unable to get their voices heard. Across the UK, women are often the most vulnerable in society with one in four  experiencing domestic abuse in their lifetime, while young people aged 16-25 the most at risk. Two women a week are murdered by their partners with countless more fearing for their lives. Others find themselves victims of trafficking or forced into sex work with no clear way out.

As a funder of small and local charities, Lloyds Bank Foundation knows the difference they make to peoples lives, offering help and guidance to those in need. And yet many women still struggle to access support, which is why women’s organisations are so important. They provide a safe-space and specialist support to help to rebuild their lives.

women’s organisations are so important. They provide a safe-space and specialist support to help to rebuild their lives.”

At the Foundation we currently support nearly 150 charities working on women’s issues with grants worth £8.5 million. This includes over £6 million funding projects directly addressing domestic and sexual abuse and £2.5 million of grants tackling women’s issues in employment, the criminal justice system, homelessness, mental health, exploitation and refugees.

Despite their importance all too often it is women’s services that are the first to suffer as funding cuts bite.”

These include organisations like Brighton Women’s Centre which provides a weekly-drop in service supporting women who are homeless or at risk of ending up on the street, as well as their regular counselling and therapy sessions. Most homeless services attract, and are tailored to their, predominantly male users, which can be a barrier for women who have experienced abuse seeking the support from them they need. Given that women who sleep rough die on average at just 43 years old, it’s clear that support like this, the only one of its kind in Sussex, is so important.

Another example is Shama Women’s Centre which has provided a place for women of different cultures and backgrounds to find support and be part of a community for over 30 years. With our support they run a much needed project to help more women from minority communities into jobs. The programme provides training to support women who have difficulty finding work, particularly those from disadvantaged areas and who also face cultural and language barriers helping them gain confidence and independence.

Supporting women’s services

Despite their importance all too often it is women’s services that are the first to suffer as funding cuts bite. According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, local authorities across England have cut their spending on domestic violence refuges by nearly a quarter since 2010. Those dealing providing specialist care, support for BAME women and those with complex needs are often first to go. Research by Women’s Aid found 17% of these specialist women’s refuges were forced to close between 2010 and 2014.

That’s why we’ve invested over £3m to help support the domestic abuse sector: from funding innovation and new approaches through our Transform programme to supporting women’s organisations to challenge commissioning practices and helping small charities to successfully secure funding to deliver specialist services. These programmes are designed to help these women’s organisations to thrive, not simply just survive.

As funders, we need to recognise the importance these organisations make both to the women that use them but also to the wider communities they work in. We need to make sure they have the funds, resources and support to continue to deliver the much-needed services they provide and be able to raise their voices and speak up for those they work with.

International Women’s Day is a day to recognise the achievements of women and celebrate the progress we’ve made. It’s also a day to think about those women and organisations in our communities working with vulnerable women in ever more difficult circumstances. It is a chance to speak out in support of their work and to give them the recognition and backing they need to help those women still left behind.

Join in the conversation on Twitter at #IWD2018 and share what you’re doing to #PressforProgress.

 

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Giving women ex-offenders the second chance they deserve

lloyds_awards_working_chance_carouselTo mark International Women’s Day we spoke to Jocelyn Hillman, Founder and Director of Working Chance. Working Chance is one of the 146 charities we fund with grants worth a total of £8.5m that are helping women.

Jocelyn tells us why giving women ex-offenders a second chance is important, stressing that women ex-offenders usually have families to support and are the main breadwinners, yet they are often the most overlooked group in society.

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Jocelyn Hillman

I’m often asked why I set up Working Chance and why we only work with women.  It was a chance visit to HMP Holloway, a women’s prison, some years ago, which propelled me into action.

Having heard that female prisoners lack basic clothes for court appearances and job interviews, I had decided to donate some formal work wear.

Meeting women prisoners for the first time and talking about their fears and aspirations was a revelation. Many told me that they had given up all hope of ever getting a job on release.

Condemning these women, and their children, to a life of benefits and social exclusion made no sense – for them, society or the economy.  I will never forget one woman prisoner who told me, “The real punishment starts when you leave prison and no one will give you a job.”

I was shocked into action and set up Working Chance in 2009. We are the UK’s only recruitment consultancy supporting women leaving the criminal justice and care systems into jobs with mainstream employers. Our aim is to educate more employers, change their hiring practices and help them create social value.

Anyone can end up in prison.  We are all, as the governor of HMP Holloway used to say, just three bad decisions away from being in prison.

We challenge stereotypes by showing that our candidates make successful and valued members of staff at some of the UK’s biggest public and private sector companies. We have offices in London, Manchester and HMP Downview, Surrey.

Our candidates tell us that their children do better at school once they have a job.  Employers tell us that staff morale improves when they hire our candidates.   Supporting women with convictions and young women care leavers into paid work is good for the whole of society.

When people ask me about the background of a stereotypical women offender, they are often dismayed. Some of the women ex-offenders we work with were once successful lawyers, HR administrators, and even bankers. Recently we had a young woman with a maths degree from a leading red brick university. We also work with women who are illiterate yet are incredibly bright and enterprising.

Anyone can end up in prison.  We are all, as the governor of HMP Holloway used to say, just three bad decisions away from being in prison.

Appreciating that women ex-offenders need the help of experienced recruitment consultants to help them overcome the barriers to employment seems a difficult leap for many people, which is why the Foundation’s support is so important to us.

Women ex-offenders and their children are one of the most isolated and overlooked groups in society. Government policies and funding focus on getting men into work. But there is little thought to getting women ex-offenders into employment, despite the fact that most of our candidates have families to support and are the main breadwinners.

This outdated way of thinking means that charities like Working Chance get no government funding. We are entirely dependent on donations, grants and the generosity of our supporters such as Lloyds Bank Foundation.

Appreciating that women ex-offenders need the help of experienced recruitment consultants to help them overcome the barriers to employment seems a difficult leap for many people, which is why the Foundation’s support is so important to us.  Not just the financial backing, but to have such a prominent organisation openly acknowledge the need for women to work.

Working Chance is turning to the corporate world not just for financial support but to help us transform the lives and jobs of women.  We believe that it is only in partnership with corporates that we can jointly solve the deep societal issues confronting us.

At Working Chance we’re able to help give smart and passionate women the second chance they need

An example of how we turn lives around is Celia, who had been in and out of care since she was 7 years of age and served a prison sentence for dealing drugs. Celia told us that she was glad she found us when she did, as she had been planning on committing another crime so that she could go back to prison where she felt safe.  Often people who have been in care have been let down so often that it takes a long time to gain their trust, so the first months were spent earning Celia’s trust.

We also ascertained how bright she is and that she wanted to be a documentary filmmaker. We had a contact in the creative industries who told us of a company starting an apprenticeship programme. We worked on her employability skills, confidence and presentation skills and got her an interview with them. She got the job and has been there for more than a year. Celia still has her good and bad days but tells us that she knows that she can always come to us if she needs support or help of any kind.

On International Women’s Day we recognise the achievements of women and the advances we’ve made towards greater gender equality. As we do that it’s important to remember to recognise the achievements of all women. At Working Chance we’re able to help give smart and passionate women the second chance they need and today of all days we’re proud of what they have achieved.

Join in the conversation on Twitter at #IWD2018 and share what you’re doing to #PressforProgress.

What’s In A Name? Are you Campaigning Without Realising It?

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Our Policy and National Programmes Manager Caroline Howe writes on how small charities are doing great work campaigning and influencing in their communities.

If we asked you what campaigning work you do, we’d guess that many small charities would answer: ‘we don’t’.

Too often campaigning is only seen through a narrow lens – limited to lobbying in Westminster, or big public-facing campaigns. Campaigning as we understand it at the Foundation is about much broader influencing.

You might not all be marching on Whitehall, but many charities like yours are chipping away at systems that affect you and your clients, changing processes and opinions.

In short, small charities are campaigning every day; they just might not call it that.

We know this because many of you reference the amazing things you’re doing to make a difference in your monitoring reports. Here are five examples of great campaigning and influencing we’ve heard about from small charities we fund:

  1. One of our grant-holders flagged at their Local Authority’s Homeless Strategy meeting that young people would be badly affected by changes to housing benefits. Following this, several new developments have been planned in the area including some small shared accommodation units to help young people.
  2. Another grant-holder benefit understand is working with a local Citizen’s Advice Bureau to educate staff in local assessment organisations about learning disabilities to help ensure clients receive the right level of benefits.
  3. Some are taking advantage of the growing interest in their cause. Political and media interest in modern slavery means more people are willing to listen. One of our grant-holders is using their knowledge and experience to influence academic research and to build relationships with Government to help shape their plans to tackle modern slavery. Responding to consultations has been one way to share their ideas.
  4. Others are building stronger links with their local authority as a way of responding to growing demand for their services. They’re working with the local authority on the frontline and strategically to raise issues and look for solutions.
  5. A number of grant holders are helping local councillors and MPs to understand how they support local people and communities too. They’re sharing impact assessments and inviting them to events to raise awareness and build relationships – because you never know when you might need to call on their support.

There are many more examples at different levels and they’re all important. At the Foundation we’re committed to helping charities raise their voice in campaigning and influencing. We want to be by your side and say things you can’t. But we also want to support you to say things you can and change things outside of your organisation because we know you have the answers. And because we know that tackling multiple disadvantage needs the actions of more than individual organisations, no matter how good they are.

We really want to hear from charities about how you’ve influenced others – be that referral pathways, other services, commissioners, local authorities or regional or national government for example.

We want to use your experiences to shape how we can support you and others to do more. How did you bring about change? What did you learn? And what would help you do more of this work and better?

If you’ve got a story to share, please do take a few minutes to answer some short questions. It might help others to influence too and grow the change we need.

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Paul Streets: I need to tell you about “John”

Despite increasing demand and complexity, and the effects of cuts, he remains relentlessly positive and innovative, writes our Chief Executive Paul Streets

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This was originally posted in Third Sector on 22nd February 2018.

John’s world is a microcosm of what’s happening to small charities across England and Wales. He runs a charity in a county town – let’s call the charity “LocalSave” – which he set up more than 20 years ago. It works with families and deals with a range of issues, including addiction and domestic abuse. He worked as a volunteer for three years, before receiving his first grants from the Tudor Trust and the Lloyds Bank Foundation, which got the charity going.

It now has nine staff and about 35 volunteers, including trainee counsellors, from a local university. It supports about 300 parents whose drug, alcohol and associated problems put them at risk of losing their children into care. He’s determined the service should be one-stop and holistic. So, alongside practical support and counselling, it provides a range of services, including acupuncture. It is increasingly targeting dads and has initiated work with the perpetrators of domestic violence in response to the growing number of women who’ve faced abuse from partners.

Over recent years, John tells me, he’s seen an increase in demand and an increase in complexity, which he puts down to austerity.

In his words the “just about managing are coming to us now”.

The charity is finding it hard to stem the tide of referrals from social services, from which it receives no income.

The local university has conservatively calculated that keeping a child in care costs £119,000 a year. This ignores the post-care costs, as evidenced by care leavers, who are massively over-represented in our prisons and sex work. If John was paid the equivalent of the care costs for just three children, he’d cover his annual running costs.

When John was starting out, his first grants led to grants and contracts from statutory services. About eight years ago this was all subsumed in a county-wide contract that went to a large national charity. He refused to subcontract because he didn’t like the larger charity’s model. This proved to be a wise choice, because the larger charity did not deliver on the contact and was replaced by another large charity that undercut its competitors to win the bid.

This time, John did subcontract. Three years in, the health agency squeezed the contract and the large national charity found itself facing a cut of about 16 per cent, part of which it passed on in an unnegotiated 40 per cent cut to LocalSave’s subcontract, reducing the latter’s overall income by a fifth. It nearly broke the organisation.

In spite of this, John remains relentlessly positive and upbeat about what he does, the people he works with and the women and men he reaches.

He talks warmly of the young woman we met volunteering in the “Caff”, a young mum with a full-time job in a pub and “no more contact with social services” after coming to LocalSave with a drug habit fed by money from sex work. “She alone makes it all worth it,” John tells me.

John is also fiercely collaborative and networked. He works with other local charities to think about how they can connect with local businesses and people. And he’s in contact with an informal set of peers around the UK, whom he met through a course the Lloyds Bank Foundation funded at the School for Social Entrepreneurs. These include POW, which works with sex workers in Nottingham, and My Sister’s Place, which tackles domestic abuse in Middlesbrough.

John is innovative too. Even after 20-plus years, he’s buzzing with new ideas he wants to try and things the charity has just set up, such as the perpetrator and dads programmes.

As I travel back I’m met from the train by the ubiquitous large cancer charity chuggers. “We raise three times what we cost,” they tell me. Perhaps.

But I wonder what John could do with that three times if only we knew about him, and thousands like him across the UK. Our unsung but much-loved local charity heroes.

Enterprising Solutions – Are Smaller Social Enterprises Part of the Story Around Tackling Disadvantage?

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Our Policy and National Programmes Manager Caroline Howe shares her thoughts on the vital role smaller social enterprises play in disadvantaged communities.

The words ‘social enterprise’ conjure up a mixed response for charities we fund. For some, their emergence brought the hope of sustainable funding; the funding answer they’d all been looking for but which never quite delivered and instead demanded a lot of additional resources. For others they’ve provided an avenue to grow income and better meet their charitable objectives.

To learn more about their role in local communities, we’ve funded the Trading for Good report by Social Enterprise UK, published today, which takes an in-depth look at social enterprises with an income under £1m.

The report shows that just like small and local charities, small and local social enterprises are playing a vital role in supporting people and communities.

It also looks at the core stats: who works in them and where they get their money and this paints a really rich picture about the trends they buck around ethnic diversity and gender equality.

The report also shows the importance of statutory funding for small social enterprises. It is the main source of income for 31% of those in the most deprived areas. It’s the smaller social enterprises in these areas that are most likely to be reliant on grants and public sector trading for their income, and of course we know statutory funding systems are stacked against smaller providers.

But if they’re not all self-sustaining, why should they survive?

Although it’s often assumed that social enterprises are there to provide new, more sustainable sources of income, their value is actually more wide reaching.

As the research shows, they have an important role in communities supporting cohesion, and providing training and work experience that makes people ready for employment.

If they can’t survive the cuts, local communities will notice the hole that’s left.

That’s why grants are so important. We’ve been shouting about the importance of grants for some time, through campaigns like Grants for Good. We are a grant-maker after all. Trading for Good shows they’re not just vital for small charities. They’re vital for small social enterprises too.

Grants from the UK and Europe play a more significant part in the income mix for social enterprises in the most deprived areas. As quoted in the report, “Put simply, market-based solutions are more difficult in areas of market failure.”

For us, this is worrying. We know that grants are reducing. We know that changes to local authority funding mean more deprived areas are set to get poorer. And we don’t know what will happen to old ‘European’ funding streams after Brexit. But we do know that communities need small social enterprises to make them stronger.

They’re particularly important in more deprived areas – the statistics show that social enterprises are more likely to be operating in these areas than their registered charity counterparts.

So what can be done?

At the macro level, we need Government to recognise that it’s far harder for a local area to generate more income if it’s starting from a lower base. It’s set to get even harder too as European funding disappears. So government funding has to be made available to the areas that find it hardest to generate their own. This applies to independent funders too. We need to find better ways to make sure funding goes beyond London and the South East.

At a local level we also need commissioners to ensure funding reaches those small and local organisations operating where they’re needed most, whether they are small and local charities or social enterprises. As we await consultation on the new Civil Society Strategy, this report gives us a helpful insight into the value small social enterprises bring to communities, and how we can ensure that like small charities, they can survive and thrive too.

 

Digital is important, but face-to-face is still vital

The sector must play to its strengths and ensure people are not just reduced to algorithms, writes our Chief Executive Paul Streets.

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This was originally posted in Third Sector on 23rd January 2018. 

At the Lloyds Bank Foundation for England and Wales we aim to help small and local charities thrive, including by providing funding to help them develop their digital capabilities. But we also acknowledge the critical need for the human touch. Human interaction is vital to reach the digitally and societally excluded.

The small organisations that we fund establish face-to-face relationships with people whom society routinely ostracises as offenders, ignores as homeless, chastises as sex workers, rejects as migrants or misunderstands as mentally ill. The human touch is the only way to re-establish trust and create the kind of bespoke, but direct, customer service and support to which digital platforms can only aspire.

It’s time the charity sector played to its strengths. Rather than follow the commercial sector and reduce people to digital algorithms…

In the thirst for growth, some of the big names in the sector see silver in digital bullets, adopting the best commercial sector practices in their fundraising techniques. But they risk becoming remote and indistinguishable from the myriad commercial organisations that invade the virtual space.

The thirst for scale by a government seeking blanket solutions delivered by fewer, larger providers has driven too much public sector contracting. Standardised payment-by-results specifications distort services in favour of the contract manager as the “client” rather than the person who comes through the door with multiple needs and strengths.

It’s time the charity sector played to its strengths. Rather than follow the commercial sector and reduce people to digital algorithms, the sector needs to keep the human connection at its heart.

When I visit the small local charities we support, I am repeatedly humbled by how much time they spend working one to one with the most disadvantaged. Their staff display great compassion and create more hopeful futures for those who face seemingly insurmountable challenges.

So my new year resolution is to ensure the full story of the sector is told: one where the vast majority of charities operate locally and support the most vulnerable with a helping hand.

Local heroes I’ve encountered over the past few years include Kim Shutler-Jones, chief executive at the Cellar Trust, which supports people with mental health problems in the Bradford area, and Ruth Robb, chief executive of Azalea, which supports street sex workers in Luton. There are thousands more like them working in the charity sector. Their approach is truly person-centred, never assuming that technology can gain the insights that can be gleaned by staff on the ground, nor filtering out who they will help based on whether it helps them hit the targets against which they’re funded. Don’t get me wrong, technology and measurement tools are indisputably important, but not as much as the insight you can glean from the person in front of you as they stare silently into the mug of tea you’ve just made for them.

So my new year resolution is to ensure the full story of the sector is told: one where the vast majority of charities operate locally and support the most vulnerable with a helping hand. That story requires a different measurement of success: not based on commercial sector metrics of growth and a rise in income, but voluntary sector values measured by the quality of human interaction and lives changed. Viewed that way, the sector is a bright jewel in our national crown.

A sector to be thankful for

Spare a thought for those who will hold the fort over Christmas, writes our Chief Executive Paul Streets.

This was originally posted in Third Sector on 20th December 2017. 

Many of us will be feeling stressed as we hurtle through high streets towards Christmas Day. But away from office parties and well-earned time off, many charity beneficiaries across the country will be experiencing real stress that puts our panic over mismatching baubles into alarming perspective. Not just because problems don’t go away at Christmas, but because it’s a trigger for many kinds of crisis. A time for those struggling with addiction to relapse; a time of acute awareness of loneliness or isolation; a time of bitterly cold nights for homeless people; and a time when those struggling to make ends meet find the pressures even greater.

So how will charities respond to Christmas? For some staff, and a vast number of community volunteers, it will mean that Christmas is a day spent serving others. They’ll trade turkey for ten around their family dining table to cooking for 100 they might not know in their local community centre. At the same time, many local charities will be closing their doors, and that’s important too. One of our grant managers, Emma Beeston, blogged earlier this year that, although it’s hard to find time, we need front-line workers to go on holiday so they can care effectively for those in crisis.

Issues such as financial crises, addiction and domestic abuse are all exacerbated by Christmas, when good cheer can sometimes put a spotlight on what isn’t going so well in people’s lives.

Thankfully, where some charities reduce services or close over Christmas, larger organisations with more capacity will hold the fort, and this is when the breadth and scale of the third sector (and the public sector) are invaluable. Health services and larger charities such as Samaritans or Shelter will stay at the end of the telephone when no one else is, often responding to life-saving calls. This means those in need might still have somewhere to turn until services and support reopen in the new year.

And January will be busy. Issues such as financial crises, addiction and domestic abuse are all exacerbated by Christmas, when good cheer can sometimes put a spotlight on what isn’t going so well in people’s lives. For example, the Somerset and Wessex Eating Disorders Association told us that the prevalence of and emphasis on festive food can make the season hugely daunting for those with eating disorders (it created a video with 12 top tips for beneficiaries while it’s closed).

But like every Christmas story there is hope amidst the dark nights.

Will charities be ready to respond to the extra demand in the new year? They will certainly try. In truth, many of them will be stringing out their funding, approaching the year-end in April, and because the climate remains tough for 97 per cent of the sector, their future hangs in the balance.

But like every Christmas story there is hope amidst the dark nights. First, the spirit of generosity prompts many to give money and volunteer time, sometimes for the first time – and once engaged they might continue to do so into the new year. Second, those who have a break and time with friends and family will probably return renewed and refreshed, ready to help people who experience disadvantage.

And finally, just as we are grateful for the downtime and the presents, we should be thankful for all those willing to give of themselves not just at Christmas, but every single day of the year. Charities are fighting hard to stay afloat as a result of poor commissioning and a mismatch between funding and demand, yet they’ll give what they can often, and way above what it is right to expect. A little like a certain inn-owner in a Middle-Eastern town, come to think of it…

Happy Christmas!

Feeling festive? You can also watch Lloyds Bank Foundation’s Festive Ode