The Government spending cuts will have a disproportionate effect on women leading to greater inequality between women and men; and for some women the combination of cuts may have a negative impact upon their human rights. These stark conclusions are the findings of a human rights and equality impact assessment of public spending cuts and their impact upon women in the city of Coventry entitled ‘Unravelling Equality’ , published in May 2011 by the Centre for Human Rights in Practice at Warwick University and Coventry Women’s Voices.
The report analyses the public spending cuts that are currently underway and their potential impact upon women in Coventry. The authors chose Coventry due to its diversity as a city. Coventry contains a large number of people potentially hardest hit by the cuts, for example public sector workers, lone parents, carers and the unemployed. Coventry Women’s Voices were also eager to quantify the impact of the cuts upon the lives of women.
The report, after consultation with women and women’s voluntary organisations, examines eight broad areas where spending cuts are likely to have an impact. They are: employment, housing, incomes and poverty, education and training, violence against women, health, social care and other support services and legal advice services.
It is worth focussing on one area, perhaps the most obvious, victims of violence.
For victims of violence the findings are disturbing: ‘as a result of the cuts there is a high likelihood of significant worse outcomes for women in terms of the violence they suffer and its impact upon them. The most obvious impacts include less successful investigation and prosecution of offenders, more ongoing mental, physical and sexual health problems for women, and more women trapped in violent relationships.’
Organisations such as Valley Housing and Panahghar, which provide emergency housing, counselling services, specialist services for Asian women, child and family support as well as advice received funding from a central government programme called Supporting People. However the fund has lost 11.5% of its funding, Coventry City Council has topped up some of the funding but will be making a decision in September as to what will happen to its Supporting People contracts. Who will provide these services to women if these organisations lose their funding?
The report quotes that 38,575 women in Coventry are likely to experience domestic violence in their lifetimes. The West Midlands police have to make a saving of £40 million in this year’s budget and a further £38 million in 2012/13. This may lead to cuts of 2000 jobs. As part of these cuts the number of specialist domestic abuse officers, who are specially trained to deal with domestic violence cases, has been cut from eight to two.
The impacts of violence against women and indeed female children and young persons are well documented and can be severe and life long, being physical, mental, psychological as well as sexual. They can require compassionate and consistent services to be available over time, rather than a one time application fix. The cumulative impact of cuts in services for women, the police and CPS, the NHS, legal aid, benefits and housing benefit will have a direct impact upon women’s right to life (Article 2 ECHR) and freedom from inhumane and degrading treatment (Article 3 ECHR) as well as freedom from discrimination (Article 14 ECHR).
Their report, while noting some positive initiatives where the Coventry City Council has tried to supplement funding cuts, nevertheless makes for depressing reading.
The findings and indeed the study may be unique as they provide a snapshot of the overall potential impact of the cuts, and crucially predict in real terms their impact on the lives of women. I am unaware if other such studies have been conducted in the UK, and I would be keen to know if anyone reading this knows of other such studies, in order to try and paint a national picture.