Today, more than 40 organisations from across the mental health, homelessness, violence against women and girls (VAWG), criminal justice and women’s sectors have written to the Prime Minister to demand that the most disadvantaged women are not ignored by the Government during this pandemic.
Some 1.2 million women and girls in England alone experience extensive violence and abuse during their lifetime. These women are much more likely to live in poverty and face addiction, homelessness, contact with the criminal justice system and poor mental health and the charities warn they are particularly vulnerable during the outbreak.
The letter, coordinated by Agenda, the alliance for women and girls at risk and signed by organisations including Mind, Homeless Link and Women’s Aid, warns that women facing disadvantage are at increased risk due to any breakdown of vital services or being trapped at home or forced into other unsafe conditions where they are at risk of violence and abuse. It calls for urgent, immediate funding for specialist services needed to support them and keep them safe.
The letter highlights a few of the essential ways the Government could support the most disadvantage women. But these are just a few examples and in order to stop them being exposed to the very worst consequences of the crisis the organisations say it’s vital the perspective of women and girls to be included in all levels of planning.
In particular the organisations call for:
- Allocated funding for gender specialist services that are able to find and support women who are homeless and provide them with safe, single sex accommodation.
- Immediate, emergency funding and increased capacity for specialist services working with women in crisis, including by and for services for BME, LGBTQ+, migrant and disabled women.
- A pause on all benefit sanctions and conditionality. Resource must be made available to actively reach out to women unable to access benefits or engage with Job Centre Plus as a result of trauma.
- There must be an end to No Recourse to Public Funds, which leaves migrant women destitute and unable to access vital support.
- Women must be prioritised in plans for early release from prison with appropriate support and accommodation in place.
Full letter and signatories:
Dear Prime Minister,
We are writing as organisations working with and for the most vulnerable women in our society who are at the sharpest end of inequality. There are 1.2 million women and girls in England alone who have experienced extensive violence and abuse during their lifetime. They are much more likely to experience a range of poor outcomes throughout their lives; over half have a mental health problem, one in five experiences homelessness, more than half are living with a disability and they are disproportionately likely to be among the poorest in our society.
These women, those living with multiple disadvantage, are particularly vulnerable to Coronavirus and the impact it is having. We are extremely concerned about their safety. They have little access to money and food, limited means to protect themselves and are much more likely to fall through the cracks in a breakdown of services.
We understand that this is a period of unprecedented pressure, however that must not see the most marginalised women excluded from planning or exposed to the very worst consequences of the pandemic. In particular, we note the following:
- We welcome the continued efforts to protect people who are rough sleeping. We ask that the needs of women are considered in national and local plans, particularly as women are more likely to be “hidden homeless”, that is sleeping out of sight for safety and avoiding male dominated hostels where they are at risk of sexual violence, so may not be known to services. Funding must be allocated for gender specialist services able to find and support these women with safe, single sex accommodation.
- The need to self-isolate or undertake social distancing will have particularly detrimental impacts for victims and survivors of domestic abuse or other forms of violence against women and girls. This policy will also increase women’s vulnerability to exploitation, for instance in forcing women into survival sex, “sex for rent” arrangements or pushing them to form unsafe relationships in exchange for shelter. We ask that the capacity of specialist services that can provide an emergency response, single-sex accommodation and gender specialist support is increased to meet the demand that the Coronavirus outbreak presents.
- Services report that one of the biggest challenges facing women they work with is access to food. Women with multiple disadvantage are disproportionately likely to live in poverty and many struggle to engage with welfare services. It is vital that those administering benefits understand the impacts of abuse and trauma and consider this while they adapt to the restrictions that the pandemic presents. We welcome the announcement of the suspension of reviews and reassessments of disability benefits. There must be a pause on all sanctions and conditionality and resource must be made available to actively reach out to this group of women and ensure they have the financial support they need. There must be an end to No Recourse to Public Funds, which leaves migrant women destitute and can prevent them accessing vital support at a time of crisis.
- A high proportion of women in prison have experience of violence, abuse and poor mental health. They are likely to be even more vulnerable to the outbreak. We welcome the decision to temporarily release pregnant women and mothers and babies in Mother and Baby Units and we urge you to prioritise women in further plans for early release, ensuring they have appropriate support and accommodation in place.
Specialist women’s services, such as women’s centres, safety and advocacy services in the community, refuges and rape crisis centres, respond to the complexity of these issues every day. Many are under significant financial pressure, some even face imminently having to rebid to run their services, creating further drains on resource. To ensure we can reach all women it is vital these services, including specialist criminal justice services and by and for services such as those for Black and minority ethnic (BME), migrant, disabled and LBTQ+ women, are given immediate, emergency secure core funding to enable them to continue to run and adapt to the current environment.
We have highlighted just a few of the important ways in which it is essential to consider the needs of the most disadvantaged women. We hope this perspective will be systematically included in your planning and response to the crisis. We call for women’s representation in your strategic response, for instance by including the Domestic Abuse Commissioner and Victims’ Commissioner in decision making.
We recognise the scale of the challenge facing Government and our public services. We will continue to work closely with women and girls with direct experience of these issues, our members and other organisations to ensure every woman and girl facing addiction, poverty, homelessness, violence and abuse gets the support and protection they need and would welcome the chance to work with you to achieve that goal.
- Jemima Olchawski, Chief Executive, Agenda, the alliance for women and girls at risk
- Adrienne Darragh, Chief Executive, Hibiscus Initiatives
- Aisling Duffy, Chief Executive, Certitude
- Amanda Greenwood, CEO, Lancashire Women
- Andy Winter, Chief Executive, BHT
- Angela Everson, Chief Executive, The Women’s Centre
- Anna Herrmann, Joint Artistic Director, Clean Break
- Annie Emery, CEO, Manchester Action on Street Health
- Catrina McHugh MBE and Ellie Turner Joint Chief Executives at Open Clasp Theatre Company
- Chris Leeson, Director, The Griffins Society
- Deborah Coles, Director, INQUEST
- Dominic Williamson, Executive Director of Strategy and Policy, St Mungo’s
- Donna Covey, CEO, Against Violence & Abuse (AVA)
- Dr Jenny Earle, Programme Director, Prison Reform Trust
- Dr Nicola Sharp-Jeffs, CEO, Surviving Economic Abuse
- Emma Thomas, Chief Executive, YoungMinds
- Fiona Dwyer, Chief Executive Officer, Solace Women’s Aid
- Gemma Sciré, Chief Executive Officer, Basis Yorkshire
- Jo Gough, CEO, RISE
- Jo Meagher, Project Manager, Young Women’s Housing Project
- John Poyton, CEO, Redthread
- John Trolan, CEO, The Nelson Trust
- Joy Doal MBE, Chief Executive, Anawim
- Juliet Hope MBE, Chief Executive, Startup
- Kate Paradine, Chief Executive, Women in Prison
- Kathy Roberts, CEO, Association of Mental Health Providers
- Laura Seebohm, Executive Director, Changing Lives
- Linda Bryant, Chief Executive, Together for Mental Wellbeing
- Lisa Dando, Director, Brighton Women’s Centre
- Mark Winstanley, Chief Executive, Rethink Mental Illness
- Michelle McHugh, CEO, KairosWWT
- Nathan Dick, Head of Policy, Revolving Doors Agency
- Naomi Delap, Director, Birth Companions
- Nicki Norman, Acting Chief Executive, Women’s Aid Federation of England
- Nik Peasgood, Chief Executive, Leeds Womens Aid
- Paul Farmer, Chief Executive, Mind
- Phil Bowen, Director, The Centre for Justice Innovation
- Professor Sophie Harman, Queen Mary University of London
- Rick Henderson, CEO, Homeless Link
- Rokaiya Khan, CEO, Together Women
- Sara Llewellin, Chief Executive, Barrow Cadbury Trust
- Sarah Green, Director, End Violence Against Women Coalition
- Sarah Hughes, Chief Executive, Centre for Mental Health
- Sarah McManus, CEO, A Way Out
- Sherrylyn Peck, CEO, Safer London
- Sophie Walker, Chief Executive, Young Women’s Trust
- Suzanne Jacob, CEO, SafeLives
- Tessa Denham CEO, Womens Counselling and Therapy Service Leeds