Why should women have to pay for the bankers' mistakes? Save Clydebank Women's Aid!

By Carolyn Leckie

 In an article first published in The National, Carolyn Leckie looks at the consequences of the potential forced closure of Clydebank Womens Aid due to funding cuts, and argues that vulnerable women should not have to pay the price for the greed of society's elite.cwa.jpg

As Westminster drives forward its 'austerity' programme to pay for the reckless greed of the banking elite, local authorities everywhere are being forced to make tough choices to balance the books. But you’d think services to the most vulnerable would be the first to be buttressed against the storm – not made easy pickings.

But that’s what West Dunbartonshire Council are doing. They have pulled over £190,000 of funding from Clydebank Women’s Aid - which represents its entire core funding for support services. The local Community Health and Care Partnership have also refused to replace the essential funds. 

It happens be my old workplace, where I worked until last August – and it’s devastating to see it now threatened with extinction by April.

This is a service that was Clyde-built, from the bottom up, by women for women, 34 years ago. It was one of the first Women’s Aid groups in Scotland. And it became, over the years, literally a lifeline service for generations of women and children.

As one woman recently told workers there:  “I would have stayed with my partner and wouldn’t have known where to go without Clydebank Women’s Aid.”   Without Clydebank Women’s Aid’s unique, sensitive and specialist support, many women will again feel trapped – with no one they trust to turn to.

The same council also plan to to slash the service provided by Dumbarton District Women’s Aid. 

In 2012, English councils provoked media uproar by slashing domestic abuse services to the tune of £45,000 on average per council. London as a whole, with a population of over 8.5 million, suffered cuts of £1.9 million. Clydebank has 0.3% of London’s population - 29000 people – yet Clydebank Women’s Aid is to be decimated by cuts equivalent to fully 10% of the ‘disastrous’ blitzkrieg that befell the whole of London in 2012.[1] That’s proportionately 33 times more devastation.

Much of the focus recently, in the domestic abuse area, has been on ‘mainstreaming’ services – improving statutory provision by drawing upon the expertise, campaigning and service-building that’s been pioneered in the voluntary sector. All well and good.

But this is now being used by some councils  to sideline and ultimately dismantle the voluntary sector.

West Dunbartonshire seem intent on replacing an experienced, respected, grassroots voluntary support service for anyone who needs it with a scattering of temporary accommodation which they pretend is refuge.  But it is really just roof provision. For local council leaders, it has the double attraction of cutting costs, while also maximising their housing benefit income. 

It is a bean-counting exercise which places more importance on rows of figures on a balance sheet than on the safety and well-being of women and children.

And it’s not just real refuge that will go. Clydebank Women’s Aid provides open-door drop-ins with no appointments necessary. It offers group support for women and children whether or not they are homeless. It provides support to women at every stage of their experience of domestic abuse.

All of these services will be annihilated at the stroke of a council official’s pen. Thirty four years of knowledge, skills and experience poured down the drain and lost forever to the community.

Clydebank Women’s Aid also provides lottery-funded children’s outreach services, such as specialist one-to-one support in schools. But it is difficult to see how these services could continue if the organisation that provides them is reduced to carrion.

Not all women, children and young people trust statutory organisations. As soon as women report domestic abuse to any of them, that information is now shared, in the interests of safety, across schools, health professionals and social work. But women will always need confidential services that are not as restricted as statutory organisations. Women trust Clydebank Women’s Aid – and if the organisation goes many more women will feel they have no option other than to put up and shut up. 

The independence of voluntary sector organisations is crucial. Women’s Aid  organisations play a campaigning role. Their whole raison d’etre is to challenge the existing order of things. They speak truth to power.

Councils don’t always like what they say. Nor do they like funding their own critics. But if local authorities go down the road of only funding compliant services, they will trample democracy into the dirt while abandoning some of the most marginalised people in society.

I know Clydebank Women’s Aid isn’t the only service suffering. Women’s Aid groups across the country have seen funding cuts and service cuts - and function in a perpetually insecure environment. But this is by far the most brutal, swinging, callous and ill-informed action by any council in the country that I’m aware of.

In a time where Westminster ‘austerity’ has almost numbed us, it’s not easy to galvanise folk into action. It’s pretty clear that the generals of the privileged classes are implementing Tsunami tactics rather than try to wage one battle at a time.

I know people are weary. In the 1980s and 1990s, such cuts would have seen resistance and occupations in every town. West Dunbartonshire Council, in unleashing their own tsunami, seem to have taken lessons from their Tory pals in Westminster.

But we can’t let this one go. Enough is enough. Clydebank Women’s Aid are fighting back. Please do your bit to help by signing the online petition – you can find that here. You can also write to the council expressing your concern.  And you’re more than welcome to join a protest at the council’s headquarters in Dumbarton on Wednesday 4 February at 1.30pm.

You may know of many other worthwhile causes, but I’d ask you to get behind Clydebank Women’s Aid. One woman said that Clydebank Women’s Aid is “the only place I am listened to and feel like I have a voice” – you can help stop her being silenced again. 

Resistance has to start somewhere. And it tends to be contagious.

[1] Dina Rickman in the Huffington Post: “Domestic Violence: Women’s Services Face ‘Disastrous’ Cuts as Councils Slash Budgets, FOI reveals.” 4/11/2012

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