In a Commons debate on women offenders on 19th March, Commonweal Chair, Fiona McTaggart MP requested assurances from Helen Grant MP, Joint Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Ministry of Justice that women’s centres will be sufficiently funded
The Junior Minister with a portfolio including Women and Equalities, gave assurances that she will meet with interested parties to discuss the problem in more detail. She also stated that she wishes existing provision in women’s centres to be “deepened and strengthened further”.
From Commonweal’s point of view, women’s centres are essential components in both protecting women from spiraling into a cycle of offending and preventing reoffending. Several women’s centres are also valued partners in the Re-Unite network.
Unfortunately, recent changes in the way that women’s centres are commissioned have put many of them at risk. Current funding cuts and uncertainties are forcing many to reduce their services. Strong partnerships with Probation, the courts, police and local charities that have built up over time and with significant resources are now under threat.
We believe that the Ministry of Justice needs to act quickly to protect the funding of these services. Once lost, they will be difficult (and costly) to get back.
Here the manager of one women’s centre that is delivering the Re-Unite programme tells us about the impact of these uncertainties:
What I have been told is that we should expect a reduction of nearly £50,000 (just under 20%) on last year’s grant, although this is still not finalized. They are leaving it very late! They have also said that they want to retain the targets at the same levels as last year. Our targets are 250 referrals and 200 successful completions. A successful completion is a woman achieving positive progress in four or more areas of her life on the nine offending pathways, e.g. improved finance, education, relationships, accommodation. Essentially we receive £1,000 for each woman that succeeds. It’s a miniscule amount and yet we make such a massive difference – we had a reoffending rate of just 1% last year!
In April this year, our staff will need to reduce from six criminal justice case workers to four. This means that each will have to achieve good outcomes for 50 women each, which will put tremendous pressure on them and risks the viability of the service. Staff are now on notice of redundancy and we risk losing good people who can not wait to find out if the Ministry of Justice will make a u-turn. They have mortgages to pay.
Our most recent Re-Unite client had six children who were all in foster care and she suffered with severe mental health problems and debts. Those children were each costing their local authority around £200,000 per year while they were in foster care. We found housing for that family and supported mum to get herself to a stage where the social worker was happy for her three eldest children to live with her again. All that for just £1000. To cut this service doesn’t make any economic sense.