I spoke about cuts to services while we were gathering before the UK Uncut action to hold a street party outside Nick Clegg’s house in May 2012.
Over the past two years, I have spent days, weeks and months in utter despair and rage. We are seeing an unprecedented attack on the welfare state and the most inhumane and brutal spending cuts to services that address poverty and inequality.
We know the cuts are affecting the already most vulnerable and marginalised the most. We know women will be disproportionately affected. Funding to services that prevent and protect women from violence was cut by 31% between 2011 and 2012. As of 6 months ago, 1 in 5 women’s groups had already closed and many more faced an uncertain future with 60% of refuges and 72% of outreach services having no funding in place come April i.e. last month. 95% of women’s groups face funding cuts this year. This is just some of the reasons why the anti cuts movement has to be a feminist one and why the feminist movement must fight the cuts.
Let us also recognise the further layers of inequality. Black women and black women’s services (and I use the term ‘black’ in the political sense of the word) face a double hit. The cuts will have a specifically dangerous impact on marginalised and vulnerable black women who need protection from violence, abuse and persecution within family and community. Black women are already living in poverty and experience less access to rights. Black women are more likely to be poor and experience multiple forms of inequality and discrimination. 40% of black women live in poverty and 52.8% of black women are unemployed. 44% of black disabled people live in household poverty, compared with 32% of all disabled people and 17% of the population as a whole. I looked but I could not find the figures for black disabled women – I bet the figures are even worse!
Specialist refuges and other services for black women are disappearing fast. These services are steeped in feminist, anti-racist and secular histories. Like Southall Black Sisters, many have been at the forefront of struggles against race, class and gender discrimination and inequality. We receive calls from all over the country from our sisters telling us that the services where they work are either closing or about to close.
The impact on SBS and the women with whom we work has been devastating. We are getting more women and they are calling and coming to our office in Southall from everywhere to get our help – because the places that they could have gone to before are gone. Not only are there more women coming to us, but they are also more vulnerable, experiencing violence while not having immigration status or access to public funds. At the same time that we are struggling to keep these women safe, we are struggling for survival, doing funding application after funding report so that we can keep on going while struggling to maintain critical services and fight against the introduction of regressive policies, like on legal aid and immigration.
These refuges, shelters, immigration and asylum advice centres have been built on and by the needs, fears, sweat and dreams of many thousands of unsung heroes of our movement. Our services are literally life saving; we work with some of the most vulnerable women and children who on a daily basis experience domestic and sexual violence, rape, honour based violence, forced marriage, female genital mutilation and dowry related abuse. SBS has struggled for funding since we began but it’s never been such so bleak. We are one of the very few specialist services that remain open but we are not sure how much longer we will last. When I think about it too much, it makes me want to cry. Where will women facing violence go if there are no organisations or centres nearby? In 2011, Women’s Aid alone turned away 230 women a day because of a lack of space. What happened to those women?
I say all this to bring the realities of those who work with survivors to this protest today and stress the vital importance of us all taking action. There is no political will to ensure the vulnerable are looked after. It’s a travesty that puts women’s lives at risk. We are at a historic moment right now. Everything that we enjoy today, from the right to vote to the welfare state, was created by struggle, by those who came before us seeking a better way forward. We have achieved so much as a movement that stretches back into history: free healthcare, education, legal aid, housing, violence against women services, decriminalisation of homosexuality, equal pay, the minimum wage, equality legislation, employment rights, unionised labour, human rights law, the list is endless. Much of this is now at risk and we have no choice act to protect the gains we have made. It is so lovely to stand here with so many others who feel the same way – we need to ensure we sustain this momentum. We owe it to ourselves and to those who come after us. It is now our turn to do the same and defend what is right.
Our Tradition: Struggle Not Submission.