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GUEST BLOG POST: Why localism harms domestic violence services by Sisters Uncut

On Monday the Sisters will take to the streets to demand that women’s needs are met and that cuts to domestic violence services are reversed and more – that they are properly funded.

We have just a few days left to the election and we are tired of the politics on offer. We are here to demand an end to austerity and to call on the government to stop colluding with the violence inflicted on women.

Next week, we may see a new political agenda. But at this point it’s crucial for us to remember the last five years: to understand the vicious, brutal and lasting impact of austerity on women. I have firsthand experience of how the cuts have devastated domestic violence services, and I believe that if more people understood what’s happened, they would be as furious as I am about it.

Local authority budget cuts
Austerity has been enacted in a number of ways. Firstly, local authority budgets have been decimated – this has led to less money to spend on services and thus a rise in cheaper service provision and closures. Specialist services have been cut and the life-saving professionals in them have been replaced with untrained agency workers. Deskilling and low pay of those working in services has been a common theme; wages for refuge workers, for example, have significantly decreased in the past five years. This has also lead to cuts in one of the biggest employers of women – the public sector – and the cuts mean a loss in women’s employment.

Localism
Austerity has gone hand-in-hand with localism. The 2011 Localism Act was heralded by central government as bringing innovation to local communities – finally allowing local authorities to trade as if they were individuals and thus create a context for competition in services. Local communities, we were told, would be empowered to make choices around spending.

Yet the consequences of competition have been brutal for those seeking help for domestic violence: instead of rising standards, we’re seeing a vicious race to the bottom: services are being run on a shoe-string by non-specialist agencies, short term contracts mean at any time a service could lose its funding and be withdrawn. And the women who use these services? Well, they lose access to lifesaving specialist support in an instant.

A culture of blame
Austerity has cut more than money. It has gone hand-in-hand with an insidious and creeping language of blame: blame women for not leaving, blame bad parenting, blame the poor, blame immigrants, blame teenage mothers, blame feckless youth. Austerity’s cultural consequence has apportioned blame on those who are the victims of an increasingly unequal society.

Look no further than the cuts to domestic violence services, where the biggest cuts have been to specialist services: services for BME women and those with disabilities, where specialist expertise saves women’s lives. Austerity has driven up inequality in everyway possible.

Localism has created a cycle of blame within politics as well – it’s given central government a means of diminishing their responsibility – by pointing out that cuts were being enacted at the local level. Yet, it also handed local authorities a get out of jail free card – they can blame central government for cutting budgets and minimize their own agency in the cuts, allowing them to ignore the communities they pertained to serve. In the midst of this are individuals who are trying to live their lives in under the tyranny of domestic violence.

State collusion with perpetrators
Domestic violence is a pattern of behaviour that, at its core, takes away the rights of those on whom it is enacted; it is a brutal, dehumanizing and calculated effort to rip away the self of the person it is inflicted on. The language used by perpetrators of abuse is one of minimization and blame – it holds the victim / survivor responsible for the violence inflicted on them. In cutting domestic violence services in the name of austerity, the government, both local and national, have colluded with every perpetrator. They’ve created the cultural conditions for the oppression of women in the most violent way.

I’ve seen this oppression happen first hand. When the economic crash hit, I’d just begun working on the national domestic violence helpline. In the last seven years I have continued to work in this field: as an advocate supporting women through the courts, with young women facing violence and exploitation and now in trying to improve service responses to women’s needs. In the last seven years within the sector, I’ve seen the violent erosion of women’s rights, I’ve seen doors close, I’ve seen women brutalized, harmed and shamed by a system that should be there to help them. I’ve seen the language of austerity offer a violent mouthpiece to those that wish to do women harm, to blame us for the violence inflicted on us and to refuse to hold perpetrators to account.

Yet amongst this violence I’ve seen incredible resistance – for some women it was resistance of the mind, for others it was managing to call a friend while a perpetrator was out, or to learn English or to take public transport for the first time. In those defiant acts that women took against those who wished to control them I was nourished, I was empowered to know that if women can resist such brutality then we can stand and rise to the mass brutality being inflicted against us now.

With a week to go to the election the Sisters are left with no choice. Not one of the main Westminster parties have shown themselves willing to grasp the violence of the inequality that women face. For them cuts equate to services being farmed out for the profits of the few. For women cuts mean death.

On Monday, Sisters Uncut are taking to the streets to say that no longer will we be silenced by a politics that refuses to take our needs seriously. No longer will we accept the excuses of national and local government. We will fight and resist because we have a right to stand up to the violence inflicted by those that wish to control and punish us for who we are.

Sisters Uncut will be taking direct action against cuts to domestic violence services on Monday 4th May – join us at the scoop, Queen’s Walk, London SE1 2DB at 13:00pm https://www.facebook.com/events/883360388398243/