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Making places work for women

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Agenda, report, Beginning a conversation crucial if we are to do a better job supporting women experiencing multiple disadvantage.

The women’s charity Agenda has published a ‘discussion paper’ which looks at how place-based approaches to change could improve the lives of women experiencing multiple disadvantages including poverty, violence and abuse, mental health problems, addiction and homelessness.

Public sector bodies, agencies and voluntary organisations in local areas need to work together better to help improve the lives of the most disadvantaged women, says the new research, published recently.

Making Places Work for Women, written by the Point People for  Agenda, warns that the system aimed at helping vulnerable women is instead failing them.

Poor data collection, unrealistic commissioning practices, siloed working, funding cuts and cultural barriers are highlighted as some of the obstacles to women being given the help they need.

The paper argues that currently the systems and services designed to support the most disadvantaged are chiefly geared around men’s needs.

It suggests that not only do councils, the health service, police, charities and other bodies need to take gender into account, but they must also work together in a more ‘open and inclusive’ way to make a positive difference to women’s lives.

It says ‘place-based systems change’ – a deliberate effort by organisations in a specific area to work in a more joined-up way to support people – could help women if implemented in the right way, with gender taken into account.

The discussion paper, funded by Lankelly Chase, sets out recommendations specifically for councils, central government and funders.

As well as calling for action on a local level, it urges central government to ensure that they provide the leadership and funding to support place-based systems change in local areas.

Around one million women in England face poverty and high levels of violence and abuse.

They are much more likely to have poor mental health, be addicted to alcohol and been homeless than women without those experiences.

Chapter 4 makes a series of recommendations for what needs to happen now.

Trusts and Foundations need to:

1 – Invest in a major programme to explore how system-wide approaches can better serve women experiencing multiple disadvantage, building on the work of current pioneering approaches.

2 – Fund a programme to support a network of systems changers in this area that brings together people facilitating change on the frontline and at a strategic level to share practice and grow solidarity.

Local organisations including councils and health bodies as well as elected Mayors and commissioners need to:

3 – Promote systems change through leadership and commissioning models. This will involve greater collaboration, more sharing of data and resources, and more work to define outcomes together with women experiencing disadvantage.

It will require courageous and innovative commissioning which does not just recommission services that are no longer fit for purpose.

4 – Integrate mental health into all systems change work for women experiencing multiple disadvantage, with all Mental Health Trusts producing a Women’s Mental Health Strategy, and with local areas appointing clinical leads for women’s mental health and committing to women-only specialist services in every area.

And so Agenda is asking central government to:

5 – Provide leadership and pooled, ringfenced funding to promote local systems change. This should include a national fund to support work of this nature, as well as offering more incentives to local areas, such as funds that are contingent on pooled budgets.

6 – Develop a national standard for gathering gender aware data and insight in local areas, that helps build a gendered picture, and looks at the experiences of different groups of women. This work should make the most of advances in digital technology, and provide training and support on how to use this data to build business cases.

Making Places Work for Women is very much the beginning of a conversation that is crucial if we are to do a better job of supporting women experiencing multiple disadvantage.

And there are issues identified in this report – such as the challenges around engaging mental health services, building more support infrastructure for people trying to create systems change, and the need for better use of data – that Agender believes require further investigation.

But there is a clear social, economic and moral case for better support for women facing multiple disadvantage, and this needs to be translated into local action plans that bring the widest possible group of people and services together, to start making a difference – today.

“The system and the way services are designed and delivered do not work for the most disadvantaged women and too many fall through gaps in support,” Jemima Olchawski, Chief Executive of Agenda said.

“This means their needs go unmet but also that they can be trapped in abusive relationships or in other insecure of precarious situations.

“They are left to spiral from crisis to crisis, with huge resulting costs to them, their families and society as a whole. There needs to be a better way.

“By being more open and inclusive, making better use of limited resources and focusing on social as well as economic value, place-based systems change can open up the possibility of local areas finding better ways of supporting women,” Olchawski added.

To read the full report, click here.

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