Women activists have set up a direct action group, Sisters Uncut, to protest against cuts to domestic violence services. Sisters Uncut held its first direct action on Saturday 14 February, to mark the spike in domestic violence that is usually recorded around Valentine’s Day.
Cuts to domestic violence services have reached a critical point. According to a recent Women’s Aid report:
• Between 2010 and 2014 (July) the number of specialist refuge services decreased from 187 to 155.
• In England, according to Council of Europe recommendations, there is a shortfall of 1,727 refuge bedspaces (32%).
• In one day in 2013, 155 women and their 103 children were turned away from a refuge because they could not be accommodated.
• 48% of 167 domestic violence services in England said that they were running services without funding. Six refuge services were being run without dedicated funding and using up their reserves to keep their services going.
In addition, a Citizens Advice Bureau report released in February 2015 confirmed that survivors of domestic violence are being denied justice as a result of the government’s 2012 reforms to legal aid. The new law requires survivors to provide “evidence” of domestic abuse, which is hard to obtain if it is in the house of the abusive former partner. Survivors are also denied legal aid because the income and assets of the former partner are taken into consideration. Unable to pay legal fees, many women are representing themselves in court and facing cross-examination from an abusive partner, or “giving up on their rights to justice”, as the report says.
Services are under threat as local councils pass on funding cuts from central government. In addition, local councils are increasingly contracting out domestic violence services to third sector and for-profit organisations who will not pay to deliver specialist support. Women’s Aid reports that between April and July 2014, ten specialist domestic violence services across England lost funding for services they were providing, in all but one case to a non-specialist service provider.
At the same time, domestic violence is on the rise. It used to be the case that one in four women would experience domestic violence at some point in their lives; that statistic has recently risen to one in three.
Sisters Uncut is opposed to all forms of austerity. It specifically aims to highlight the much-overlooked impact of austerity on domestic violence services. Sisters Uncut demands:
• No more cuts to domestic violence services
• Restore funding that has been cut
• Secure funding for specialist domestic violence services; this should be ring-fenced at a national level.
• Local Authorities to fully meet the demands of their communities, recognising that different women have different needs.
• Guaranteed access to legal aid for women experiencing domestic violence.
• Provide access to safe and secure social housing for women who otherwise cannot afford to flee.
• Panic rooms should not be classified as a spare room under the Bedroom Tax.
• Safety should not be subject to immigration status; extend access to safe housing to women with no recourse to public funds.
Sisters Uncut is a specifically feminist campaign group. One of the activists who has been involved from the start said, “A group of us set up Sisters Uncut because we were feeling rageful about the effect of austerity on women. A lot of us work in domestic violence services and we can see the devastating impact that the cuts are having. It has to stop! We wanted to organise with women and create a safe and open space where women feel empowered to take action.”
Sisters Uncut is committed to an intersectional approach, meaning that there is an understanding that women’s experiences of violence are affected by race, class, disability, sexuality and immigration status. Sisters Uncut’s weekly London-based meetings are open to all self-defining women.
• For more info: Sisters Uncut