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Just one thing... Gail Heath

9 Jun 2021 - 15:30 by helen.walker

“The top of my priority list at the moment is how we can sustain and improve specialist Domestic Abuse prevention and support services over the longer term. There are so many parts to this puzzle that it, at times, feels a bit overwhelming. Take for example, the growing concern across the violence against women and girls sector that our specialist services will be sidelined in the face of cost saving, poorer quality initiatives. Initiatives that we believe will fail to meet the complex and unique needs of survivors escaping life threatening abuse. Co-design and valuing lived experience are current buzz words but the fact is that we have worked in this way for over 40 years and this level of responsiveness and innovation does not come cheap, nor is it always straightforward. Take just one recent example of how we responded to rising concerns expressed by survivors about the financial abuse and insecurity they face. Survivors need to recover but also to lead the life they want to lead. They want to access education and training to find ways to support themselves and contribute to Manchester’s vibrant community. In collaboration with local creatives, we uncovered the barriers they faced to achieving this and worked alongside them to raise awareness with Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester, achieving in the process access to free bus passes for them to get to college and training sessions they need to begin their journey.

Another part of the puzzle is how to deliver quality services on short term funding. This sector has always been chronically underfunded when you consider the scale and harm caused by this abhorrent crime. The pandemic has amplified this and yet we are still, too often, presented with annual/two year funding arrangements. This has a destabilising effect on the women and girls we work with but also our staff and volunteers who have proved themselves resilient in the face of unremitting need. The pandemic exacerbated control, central to domestic abuse. Partners were locked in with each other and with children, and pressure mounted. We had a 30% increase in demand last year, furlough was not an option, in fact we had to increase our team to ensure survivor safety. We can’t continue to provide services at that level going forward without a clear long term commitments from funders.

We, like many charities, benefited from COVID-19 funds last year that went some way to help us meet rising levels of need. The flexibility that came with those funds was very welcome, it meant we could help women and children get online, to move into secure accommodation to free up life-saving refuge spaces, and it enabled us to meet other essential welfare needs ranging from buying beds to food and pre-payment cards. As important, however, were other welfare needs it enabled us to meet, for example reducing isolation by providing a constant connection with families and individuals in the community via our multi-lingual volunteer team and helping to keep children safe, well and out of harms’ way via online activities.

We continue to live through a pandemic and this is also a period of significant change in relation to policy and practice regarding domestic abuse. The final part of the puzzle is to ensure that we, and most importantly survivors, are part of these conversations. Manchester is currently setting up a new Domestic Abuse Partnership Board. I hope it is given the power to make changes that are needed to end the fear and support victims. It shouldn’t just be an advisory board but be able to make real change by centring the voice of survivors, many of whom work in the sector, and learn from their wealth of knowledge and experience.

Like all puzzles its seeming complexity is simple at its heart and we survivors, staff and volunteers will respond to this challenge as we have always done, by living our values and paying attention to what matters. We will continue to be rooted in our communities, to develop trusting, and we hope, long term relationships, sharing what we have to create communities where we all feel we can belong and survivors can lead their best lives, free from abuse.”

This interview was featured in P&I Shorts, the fortnightly VCSE policy update. We interview leaders in our sector about their important current policy issue. To sign up to P&I Shorts, please click on this link.


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