Saturday, 25 June 2011

Response from Theresa May to my letter

Back in April you will remember that I wrote to David Cameron, Theresa May, Nick Clegg and Lynne Featherstone about the cuts to vawg support services. Over 330 of you signed in solidarity.

Here it is:

And here is the response from Theresa May that I received today. 

Dear Ms Norris

Thank you for your letter of 12 April raising your concerns about services to support victims of domestic and sexual violence. I understand that a similar letter has been sent to the Prime Minister and I have been asked to respond to you on his behalf as well. I apologise for the delay in replying to your letter. 

The Government has made it a key priority to take a strong lead on tackling violence against women and girls (VAWG) to help ensure this issue remains a priority at local level.

To support this, we published a strategic narrative in November 2010 setting out out vision for the continuing importance we attach to specialist services for such victims. 

On 8 March this year we also published a cross-government VAWG Action Plan setting out 88 specific commitments in this area from 12 departments – including Communities and Local Government (CLG). We have also provided ring-fenced Home Office funding for local specialist services to tackle VAWG with over 28 million allocated until 2015 for Independent Domestic Violence Advisors, Independent Sexual Violence Advisors and Multi-Agency Risk Assessment Conference co-ordinators. This is in addition to Ministry of Justice funding of up to 3.5 million per year for three years to support local rape crisis centres. This action has been welcomed by the sector, and I hope may have helped influence local funding decisions as well. 

As I made clear in my speech to Women's Aid in July 2010, local authorities must not see this sector as an “easy cut” when making difficult decisions. At national level and throughout the Spending Review the Government has been guided by a commitment to fairness, protecting the most vulnerable people in our society and as far as possible protecting frontline services. 

The Department for Communities and Local Government (CLG) has secured investment of 6.5 billion for supporting people over the next four years, which equates to an average annual reduction over the four years of less than 1% in cash terms. Safeguards in the local government finance system mean that no authority needs to make large reductions in its funding for Supporting People services. Having said this, I am concerned to hear about cuts in some areas that are much greater than this and have asked CLG for further advice. I know that they take this issue very seriously. 

You will be interested to hear that Baroness Hanham, Parliamentary Under-Secretary at CLG recently held a roundtable event with the Local Government Association (LGA) and womens' charities to discuss their concerns and identify solutions. Baroness Hanham has asked the LGA to organise a further meeting, where local authorities can discuss best practice in the commissioning of specialist services directly with the charities. 

Let me assure you that the work of the Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) co-ordinator will not end. Rather, it will continue to be carried forward by individual departments where we believe it will be better integrated. FGM is a brutal act of child abuse, a clear form of violence against women, and we remain absolutely committed to eradicating this practice. 

As part of our cross-government programme to tackel FGM, we have established a forum to support community engagement work to challenge FGM, and published new guidelines to raise awareness of this issue with all professionals. 

I hope this information reassures you of the Government's dedication to tackling violence against women and girls.

Yours ever, 

The RT Hon Theresa May MP

Back to me: 

Looking back, I'm not sure what I hoped the letter would achieve. Rolling back the cuts? Ring-fencing and providing more funding for support services? MPs heading into council buildings and demanding they put that money back where it came from? I wrote that letter in anger. In rage. I was furious and I wanted to demand that something was done. 

I don't understand a lot of things in this letter. I'm not sure what the impact of having a Multi-Agency Risk Assessment Conference co-ordinator would be. I'm not sure I know what one is. But I am still very concerned that really, in the face of the huge amount of violence against women and girls that happens in this country every single day, that this simply isn't enough. Like many people, I was thrilled that the Ministry of Justice secured funding for rape crisis centres. But seriously, it is not that much money. And it isn't funding to open new centres so we are still faced with a situation where women are living in cities, counties, with no rape crisis centre. With 2,000 women being raped every week this is not good enough! 

Since I wrote my letter, the cuts have continued apace, as Women's Aid feared. In my own city, this week WISH, a charity which supports victims and survivors of domestic violence in South Bristol, have had all their funding earmarked to be cut. The Poppy Project lost a valuable grant. Women have been murdered, abused, cut, and raped. Whatever Theresa May said at the Women's Aid conference, local authorities do seem to be choosing DV services as an 'easy cut'. It seems to me like a lot of words, a lot of promises, a lot of talking. But although some money is being spent, Is it enough money? These cuts have not been committed to fairness, whether we're talking cuts to VAWG support services, or cuts to disability benefits, or cuts to single parent benefits. I'm not sure why she talked about the 6.5 billion invested in supporting 'people' over the next four years. Which people? I found that whole bit very confusing, unless it was to show a big number even if it wasn't a number wholly related to the conversation. 

I appreciate that she wrote back. I feel that she in many ways is genuinely concerned about violence against women and girls. I know I am a trusting person, but the letter read very sincerely, and I felt that she had taken the time to reply as fully as she could (compared to a two-line letter from Liam Fox when I was a teen writing to him about abortion rights). But I have had to cry, because I feel like I wrote this letter in anger, and I asked you all to sign up to it, and you all did, and now that it hasn't really achieved anything, I feel I have let you down. 

So i'm sorry about that. I'm sorry that it didn't make this all stop. It was never going to of course, but I am sorry all the same. 

But thank you so much, everyone who signed that letter. 

Someone said to me the other day that the problem with feminism is that by “moaning” and talking about issues such as VAWG all the time, we turn women into victims. I disagree. Staying silent, not shouting back, taking it lying down and refusing to raise our voices, that makes me a victim. I was so happy when I counted all the signatures from you all, because we were refusing to be silenced. 

I hope we will stay 'un-silenced'. Please keep protesting these cuts. I will be writing a template letter to use to complain to councils if they threaten cuts to VAWG support services so watch this space and please use it. Keep your eyes and ears open and keep fighting back. 

If anyone who works in the sector has any points they want to make about Theresa May's letter then please comment as it would be good to hear your perspectives. 

And as usual, anyone can comment anyway. 

Sorry again. 

And massively, hugely, thanking you all again for your solidarity on this campaign. 

Sian xx

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