Reports of domestic violence are on the rise, yet domestic violence services in London are under threat of closure due to lack of funding. Davinia Hamilton speaks to Sisters Uncut: a group created in response to the austerity measures that have resulted in devastating consequences.
Since 2010, over 135 bed spaces in London refuges have been lost, and more services are under threat as austerity hits some of the most vulnerable in the capital. Cuts to local authority funding is likely to exacerbate the situation, and one group — Sisters Uncut (SU) — is taking direct action in an effort to defend the services.
Because domestic violence often goes unreported, it can be difficult to source accurate statistics but the Crime Survey of England and Wales for 2013-14 claims that one in four women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime, and 8% will suffer domestic violence in any given year.
What’s more, according to the Metropolitan Police, in London alone in 2012 there were 119,136 incidents of domestic abuse, and 49,294 domestic violence offences.
“Sisters working in the domestic violence sector saw the devastating consequences of the cuts and created a space where self-defining women could come together and take direct action to fight the government's austerity agenda,” an SU spokesperson says.
There has been a huge loss in services for victims of abuse in London. Last October, Eaves, which provided specialist services and housing for female victims of violence since 1977, closed due to lack of funding. According to a Women’s Aid spokesperson, another shelter in south east London is delivering services on half the budget it had in 2010 and for every one woman taken in, "10 are being turned away due to a severe lack of resources".
The chancellor's Autumn Statement confirmed further cuts which will inevitably mean direct cuts to domestic violence services. “These cuts have put the sector in a position where they are turning away over 6,000 women and children every year who come to them for help,” says the Sisters Uncut spokesperson.
Osborne announced that the £15m made from the 'tampon tax' would go toward funding women’s anti-domestic violence services. This announcement has been widely derided.
The Sisters Uncut spokeswoman says: “Domestic violence has nothing to do with tampons. Osborne shoving together two issues that make women angry was a trick to distract us from the real issue: that domestic violence services need a long-term, sustainable funding solution from the state. £15m is nothing compared to the massive cuts the sector has experienced since 2010, and the idea that this token gesture would be enough is not only laughable, but massively insulting to the women who will continue to die because of the government's cuts.
Domestic violence has nothing to do with tampons. Osborne shoving together two issues that make women angry was a trick to distract us from the real issue.
“Safety is a right, not a privilege, and cuts to specialist domestic violence services erodes the right to safety in a sexist way.”
Further cuts to local authority budgets will directly affect domestic violence services, which are funded by councils. Specialist services are particularly in danger as councils move toward cheaper, generic organisations that lack the knowledge and experience to support the needs of women who have survived domestic violence. In particular need are disabled women, trans women, and black and minority ethnic (BME) women, who face a higher chance of experiencing violence.
“When specialist refuges close down, women die. It's just that simple,” says the spokesperson. Specialist services are crucial to helping women be safe from the threat of domestic violence and live their lives after they have experienced that violence.
For this reason, Sisters Uncut make a number of demands when they take direct action against cuts. These include: no more cuts to anti-domestic violence services, restoration of funding which has been cut, ring-fencing of funding for specialist services, and guaranteed access to safe and secure social housing and legal aid for women experiencing domestic violence. A full list of demands is available here.
“Sisters Uncut will continue to take direct action until these sexist, racist cuts to domestic violence services are stopped and rectified,” the spokeswoman concludes.
Sisters Uncut holds weekly meetings in London and all self-identifying women and non-binary people are encouraged to join. The group strives to create a safe space and so tries to maintain anonymity of its members; it also asks male allies to show support in other ways, including financially and by sharing the group’s message, as well as by talking to other men about violence against women. Details of meetings are posted on the Sisters Uncut Facebook page and donations can be made to its PayPal account.