The triple jeopardy: the impact of service cuts on women

Women typically use state services more than men for a wide range of reasons. These include:

  • Women have pregnancy and maternity needs
  • Women are far more likely to be lone parents
  • Women are more likely to be the primary carers for children, frail older people, sick and disabled people
  • Women are more likely to be the victims of domestic and sexual violence
  • Women live longer, often spending the final years of their lives alone
  • Women are, on average, poorer than men – particularly so in later life

The 2010 Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) announced £34 billion in cuts to funding for public services by 2012-13. Further deep spending cuts are expected in the next upcoming CSR due sometime in 2013.

Since women use public services more than men it is clear that when provision is cut, women are hit harder. Service cuts that hit women particularly hard include:

Sure Start children’s centres

Sure Start children’s centres provide affordable childcare, early education, health and family support services, and advice on training and employment opportunities. They are crucial in helping women combine childcare and work; the vast majority of users of the centres are women.

Despite a commitment in the coalition agreement to protect funding for Sure Start, the budget for the centres has since been merged into a new “early intervention grant”, which also includes funding for teenage pregnancy, mental health and youth crime programmes. This money is not protected or ‘ring-fenced’ and has been substantially cut in recent years.

We can therefore expect to see Sure Start centres around the county closing down or having to reduce the services they offer.  In a recent written parliamentary answer, the then children’s minister Sarah Teather MP stated that there has been a net reduction of 281 centres since April 2010.

“I attend Sure Start with my son. I find it invaluable as I’ve struggled with mental health issues in the past, and getting out to meet people and get the advice of the staff is a life line for me. A lot of women in my area have no internet, no car. If they are away from their family they have no support at all. The early years are the best time to catch these children and it would be devastating to lose Sure Start.” Netmums forum, 2012

Violence against women services

Many organisations that provide vital domestic violence, sexual violence and trafficking services currently face grave uncertainties about the future of their funding – both because of central and local government funding cuts and because of the reduction in independent grant giving combined with increased competitiveness for these funds.

Between 2010-11 and 2011-12, 31% of the funding to VAW services from local authorities was cut. Vital VAW services are taking a disproportionate hit of the 27% overall cut to local authority budgets. Some are facing cuts of over 40%.

Research from April 2012 revealed that two-fifths of organisations working with victims of sexual and domestic abuse laid-off staff in the previous 12 months, while 28% cut essential services such as outreach and children’s workers to keep refuge beds open.

230 women, almost 9% of those seeking refuge, were turned away by Women’s Aid on a typical day in 2011 due to lack of space. This has led to support workers being forced to suggest other places for women to sleep, such as A&E departments or night buses.

Voluntary sector organisations

A wide range of voluntary sector organisations provide for the specific needs of women. Such services often fill gaps in statutory provision, particularly in meeting the needs of marginalised women; for example, violence against women services, specialised support services for low-income and BME women and those that provide outreach to isolated and deprived women. Recent research by the Women’s Resource Centre (WRC) found that on average, for every £1 of invested in women’s services, over five years between £5 and £11 worth of social value is generated for women, their families and the state.

Many voluntary sector organisations currently face grave uncertainties about the future of their funding due to a toxic combination of central and local government funding cuts, the removal of ring-fencing, reductions in independent grant giving combined with increased competitiveness for these funds, and a reduction in the levels of personal donations. Figures from the National Council for Voluntary Organisations show that by the end of the spending review period 2015/16, the voluntary sector is forecast to lose £1.2 billion in government income each year, a cumulative total of £3.3 billion.

Women’s organisations face greater barriers to obtaining funds/sustaining themselves than voluntary sector organisations as a whole. Research by the WRC in 2011 found that 52% of women’s organisations have been forced to reduce their service provision. Furthermore, the report found that “95% of respondents face funding cuts or a funding crisis in the next year and 25% said that further cuts would result in closure.”

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