Baroness Thornton: We need more money to tackle violence against women and girls
The government’s Violence against Women and Girls strategy recognises the scale of the problem but is not backed with sufficient funding, writes Baroness Thornton
Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) has multiple and lasting impacts on victims as well as society. It is estimated that 4.3 million women suffer domestic violence over their lifetime, 1.2 million women suffer domestic violence each year and 3.4 million women are victims of sexual violence over their lifetime.
It is to be welcomed that the Government’s VAWG strategy recognises the scale of the problem but is not backed with sufficient funding for either victims’ services or preventive interventions to reduce the incidence of VAWG in the longer term. Ministers initially committed £80m to supporting the VAWG strategy, with an additional £20m announced for domestic violence services in the 2017 Spring Budget – a total of £100m over the life of the parliament. However, if you consider that the total costs of VAWG to society are estimated at £40bn annually, this seems very modest indeed.
Research by Agenda, the alliance for Women and Girls at Risk, reveals that many of these women often face very high rates of problems like mental ill-health, addiction, homelessness, and poverty. More than half have a common mental health condition, one in three have attempted suicide, so for some of these women abuse, violence, and disadvantage combine meaning they have very complex, overlapping needs.
The impact of this has a huge personal cost to the women and their families, and it is costly to the public purse, children taken into care, use of A&E and other health services, the involvement of the police and justice systems. Therefore, I am asking my question about how to ensure resourcing of mental health treatment for women who have suffered abuse.
The funding to address this huge issue is patchy. Agenda and Mind, the mental health charity, are currently running a £1.3m women’s mental health peer support grants programme which seems to be funded from the tampon tax, and Big Lottery, and will reach 4,500 women. This is great but not sufficient. And as the Women’s Budget Group point out, the level of funding for VAWG services should be determined by the level of need rather than by the level of (unfair) tampon tax receipts.
The Government Strategy notes that the NHS budget for mental health amounts to £11.7bn, out of which mental health interventions to address domestic and sexual violence and abuse can be funded. It goes on to state that ‘Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) play a vital role in local commissioning of services to tackle VAWG including mental health’. However, the amounts that reach front-line specialist support services in reality are vanishingly small: just 13 out of 46 Rape Crisis Centres got money from their local Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) last year, and this has now plummeted to single figures, leaving the vast majority without any NHS funding. This is both cruel and counterproductive.
Baroness Thornton is a Labour peer. Her Oral Question takes place on Thursday 22 November