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New report on BME women’s services

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Imkaan, Apna Haq, new report, funding BME women's services, VAWG‘Most local councils fund no support for BME women facing violence and abuse at all.’

A powerful and authoritative new report on the health of the black and ethnic minority (BME) women’s organisations which support women and girls fleeing or at risk of violence and abuse in the UK, was published on 21 November.

And on 21 November campaigners marched from Trafalgar Square to Downing Street to hand in the report and a petition about protecting these services ahead of the spending review on 25 November – which was also the International Day for Ending Violence Against Women.

The report outlines the extremely serious funding crisis now facing these BME women’s services, which include refuges, helplines, outreach services and advice centres.

And it warns of the devastating consequences the loss of this unique sector would have for BME women and girls in the UK, something which prominent leaders in these organisations now fear could happen.

The report finds that BME women and children in the UK have great and urgent need of specialist BME women’s services, which uniquely understand the situations they face; in the last financial year, in London alone, 733 BME women sought refuge spaces but only 154 were successful.

Nationally, in one year alone, 17 BME violence against women and girls (VAWG) organisations supported a total of 21, 713 women.

Case study: Apna Haq – The crisis facing Black women’s services came to national attention this summer when Rotherham-based Apna Haq was threatened with closure, despite being the only specialist service for BME women and girls in a town which has a national spotlight on it following the child sexual exploitation prosecutions there.

Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council awarded funding for ‘floating support’ targeted at BME women at risk of domestic violence to a non-BME specialist provider.

Apna Haq’s fight to survive continues, and the service users and supporters who gathered at Trafalgar Square and delivered their petition to Downing Street on 21 November are demanding centralised funding for Apna Haq and the national network of BME violence against women and girls services.

Zlakha Ahmed, executive director of Apna Haq, said: “Independent, specialist and dedicated services run by and for the communities we seek to serve are lifesaving.

“Our ‘led by and for’ services offer uniquely empowering experiences to women and children as service users are reflected in staffing, management and governance structures.

“In Rotherham, we are a critical space for Black women to come together and share our experiences, keep each other safe and share our dreams. Demand is increasing every day.

“We, and many others, simply cannot afford to close. Central government must take action now.”

More report findings:

The 2011 census found that the BME population of the UK increased from 8.8 per cent in 2001 to 14 per cent, and in London stands at 40.2 per cent.

Yet BME women’s services have experienced a devastating reduction in funding, forcing some to close down and many to reduce capacity.

There are currently over 34 dedicated specialist BME VAWG services in the UK, of which half are refuge providers who between them have over 700 years of experience of supporting women from BME communities.

But the report shows that these services make up only a tiny proportion of violence and abuse services offered in the UK – most local councils fund no support for BME women facing these issues at all.

Many areas in the UK have no such service, meaning BME women must travel further to receive support.

This also demonstrates the need for a national funding solution for these life-saving services.

Sixty-seven per cent of BME VAWG organisations spoke about the huge barriers they experience in accessing local funding because of the unequal playing field created by a funding/commissioning environment and culture, which favours larger, generic service providers.

Imkaan’s data suggests a worrying increase in specialist BME VAWG organisations being taken over and managed by generic providers across the UK, where just over half of BME VAWG services are currently managed by a large, mainstream organisation.

BME VAWG services reported overwhelming uncertainty: “In the long term it does not look bright…they have announced the budget from 2015-2018 and I’m not convinced BME services will be considered from 2018-2021.”

The report has six main recommendations.

To ensure the protection of BME women victims and survivors of violence, Imkaan makes the following recommendations:

1. National and local recognition of BME violence against women and girls (‘VAWG’) organisations as a unique specialist model of provision, providing local and national benefits across all aspects of health and social care, as well as contributing to the development of better-informed policies, legislation, practice innovation and significantly enhancing UK society.

2. A single national ring-fenced budget for specialist BME VAWG ‘led by and for’ organisations including refuge providers and outreach/ advocacy services, similar to the nationally based precedent set through the Rape Support Fund.

3. A mixed package of funding, consisting of national ring-fenced funding and grant-based funding by Local Authorities, Police and Crime Commissioners and Health commissioners to BME VAWG organisations.

This should be attached to robust local accountability structures including lead VAWG commissioners in local areas, trained on all equalities strands.

Any VAWG commissioning approach and setting of priorities should be linked to national and regional hate crime and VAWG strategies.

4. National accountability through a Violence Against Women and Girls Ombudsperson who will hold to account local commissioning services, highlight good practice in local areas and regions and take complaints.

5. Central funding for second-tier organisations, which supports services around sustainability including the development and implementation of specialist BME quality assurance frameworks, measuring impact, supporting consistency and strengthening skills and expertise.

6. For charitable funders, trusts, foundations to develop specific funding streams framed around VAWG and equalities based principles and aims.

Both the full report and a summary are available here.

Statistics on violence against women and girls: With 2 women a week killed in the UK at the hands of current or ex partners, 1,267 people seeking support from the forced marriage unit in one year, an estimated 137,000 women and girls affected by FGM, and approximately 85,000 women raped in England and Wales every year, we know that any further cuts to VAWG services will cost lives.

New EU obligations to provide high standard services for victims: By November 2015, all EU member states will need to fulfill requirements set out in the Victims’ Directive 2012/29/EU which sets out a set of minimum standards to ensure rights, protection, support and dignity to all victims of crime, regardless of residency status.

Marai Larasi, executive director of Imkaan, said: “Support services which are set up and run by black and minority ethnic women are unequivocally the best at providing tailored support for women and girls who may be fleeing domestic violence, a threatened forced marriage, sexual abuse and more.

“The women leading and working in these services understand the particular risks and dynamics of violence in different communities.

“And they understand how the barriers to approaching mainstream services like the police and health, or even other charities, are greater for some women.

“These organisations are well known in the communities they serve and have the highest numbers of women approaching them directly rather than being referred on by police, social workers or others.

“Bigger, more generic services are rarely able to achieve this profile or these ‘self-referrals’.

“If these services are lost, lives will be lost.

“When this lesson is learnt, it will be hard to start again and rebuild.

“We urge the government to show that it understands the needs of BME women facing violence and to commit to a nationally ring-fenced funding solution.”

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