Southall Black Sisters – Funding Situation Update
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LATEST NEWS (Updated September 2008)
Southall Black Sisters’ Victory against Ealing Council – Judgement from Lord Justice Moses Released
‘There is no dichotomy between funding specialist services and cohesion; equality is necessary for cohesion to be achieved.’ Lord Justice Moses
Download Lord Justice Moses’s full judgement
On 18 July at the High Court, in a dramatic turn of events, Ealing Council withdrew their case after one and a half days of a hearing which saw their defence rapidly unravelling.
From the outset, it became apparent to the presiding judge, Lord Justice Moses and to all those present in the courtroom including the packed public gallery, that Ealing Council was skating on really thin ice in attempting to justify its decision to cut funding to SBS and to commission instead one generic borough wide service on domestic violence on the grounds of ‘equality’ and ‘cohesion’.
Amongst other things, Ealing Council was charged with the failure to:
- Have proper regard to the race equality legislation and other equalities duties or its own policies when it made its decision to end funding to SBS. It failed to carry out a full and proper equality impact assessment and when it did, it was only to justify its decision;
- Interpret correctly the race equality legislation by deciding that our very name and constitution (to meet the needs of Asian and African-Caribbean women) was in breach of the Race Relations Act because it ‘excluded’ white women;
- Interpret correctly the cohesion agenda by assuming that it was contrary to the race equality legislation.
As the two days wore on, Ealing Council found it difficult to maintain its defence in the light of extensive evidence which showed that it had committed a series of fundamental errors and was in fact close to being regarded as having conducted the matter in ‘bad faith’ – a very serious allegation. The judge was disturbed by the way in which the Council had behaved and was demanding that it account for aspects of its actions which he found ‘blood curdling’. The Council had misinterpreted statistics which showed that black and minority women have rates of reporting domestic violence in Ealing that are disproportionate to their size of population and a crucial letter from the author of a report on gaps in domestic violence services in Ealing was not taken into account by the Council when deciding to provide a generic service, leading her to make a formal complaint.
The Council eventually decided to withdraw its case thereby denying SBS the opportunity of having a full judgement setting out the facts of the case and the litany of failures on the part of the Council – which would have been devastating for the Council and in particular for its leader. But we were able to secure a shorter judgement – which takes the form of guidance to Ealing, and hopefully to all other local authorities, so that in future they comply properly with the racial and other equalities legislation. Essentially the principles that have been reiterated are:
- Local authorities must have proper regard to the Race Relations Act which also means undertaking proper equality impact assessments at the formative stage of the decision making process;
- Cohesion does not mean disregarding the need for equality. Local authorities cannot hide behind cohesion arguments to cut specialist service provision;
- Positive action is an essential part of the duty to promote racial equality. Special services run for and by BME groups (whatever their name) are not contrary to the Race Relations Act.
This result of all this is that Ealing Council must now go back to the drawing board and although the outcome could be the same again, hopefully, our victory will make it more difficult for it to ignore the guidance and therefore SBS. The Council has agreed to continue to fund SBS at the previous level until it completes the process of commissioning based on any new decision on domestic violence services.
Ealing Council also agreed to pay the costs of our legal representation and unusually the costs of the Equality and Human Rights Commission which intervened in the case as an interested third party. The total costs are likely to amount to about £100,000 – the amount that the Council previously gave SBS on an annual basis!
Victory for the entire voluntary sector
This case has raised important questions about the meaning of equality and cohesion and reminded us of the need to maintain solidarity between white and black women in the face of ‘divide and rule’ tactics. We hope that our victory will encourage other grassroots groups to fight back. We believe this case has set a precedent and that the guidance that will be available should enable all specialist groups to fight for the right to exist as autonomous groups.
When we began the process of challenging Ealing Council exactly one year ago, we were not sure where our journey would lead us. We received tremendous support from our users and many, many other individuals and organisations along the way. It is impossible to list everyone who supported us but we really would not have come this far without such encouragement and support. Above all, the support that we received reminded us of our responsibility in building a civil society based on the principles of justice, equality and humanity. We thank you all for making this victory possible. We also hope the judgment will help other organisations to fight any funding cuts that they may be facing. If you use the judgement then please let SBS know.
Join the demonstration at the High Court on the Strand (added 7 July 2008)
17th and 18th July 2008 from 9.30am. The High Court will hear a challenge brought by our users against Ealing Council for its failure to have proper regard to existing equality legislation, especially the Race Relations Act, in reaching its decision on our funding. Find out more here on how to join the demonstation!
SBS is facing the threat of closure as a result of our local authority’s (Ealing) decision to withdraw our funding as of April 2008 (Ealing Council has now postponed its decision about funding for domestic violence services in Ealing until May 2008).
The local authority’s decision is based on the view that there is no need for specialist services for black and minority women and that services to abused women in the borough need to be streamlined. This view fails to take account of the unequal social, economic and cultural context which makes it difficult, if not impossible, for black and minority women to access outside help or seek information about their rights.
In effect the council proposes to take away essential life saving services provided by SBS. Read the letter Southall Black Sisters has sent to Ealing Council.
Support is still needed
A big ‘thank you’ to all those who have and are supporting us in our hour of need! We have been truly humbled by the tremendous support that we have received from around the country and even internationally!
At a full cabinet meeting on 26th February 2008, despite a lively protest involving users and supporters of SBS, Ealing Council went ahead with its decision to have only one service provider on domestic violence for the borough. The Council will now make a decision on 1 April 2008 as to who will get the funds. Although SBS has made a bid for the funds (£100,000 per year for 3 years), we are unlikely to succeed as we are insistent that without extra funding, it is impossible to provide a borough wide service without cutting services to black and minority women. On the other hand, a number of organizations including the national charity Refuge, has applied for the recycled funds that have previously been awarded to SBS to meet the needs of black and minority women.
Equality and Cohesion
It is of great concern to us that across the country, at the local and national level, a number of policies and initiatives are being instituted which will have a profound impact on projects such as ours. We are witness to a redefinition of the notion of equality in the delivery of services. Equality no longer appears to be linked to the needs of the most vulnerable and deprived, (traditionally this has included black and minority communities). Instead it is linked to the view that all services must reflect the needs of the majority community because it has been traditionally ‘excluded’ from regeneration policies. In other words, equality means providing the same services for everyone. Under this misguided ‘one size fits all’ approach, unequal structural relations based on class, gender and race are ignored. So, in our situation, due in part to budget constraints, Ealing Council has made full use of the backlash against multiculturalism and feminism to ‘restructure’ its services so that there is only one service provider of domestic violence. They argue that this will not have an adverse impact on black and minority women since they can access the service if they wish. Specialist services likes ours are needed not only for reasons to do with language and cultural differences but just as importantly because organisations like ours have considerable experience and expertise in providing advice and advocacy services in complex circumstances where legal aid is no longer easily available and where immigration difficulties make some people much more vulnerable than others.
At the same time, in a somewhat contradictory fashion, the implementation of ‘cohesion’ strategies in Ealing and around the country are resulting in the promotion of single faith (Muslim) based groups that are provided with funds to build capacity to address a range of social issues. For a number of reasons, this is an extremely worrying development. It also spells the death knell of secular groups like SBS. Our main concern is that social issues like domestic violence and forced marriage in faith based groups will be addressed from within a religious framework which will be disastrous for women’s rights within minority communities. It will close down the options that are available to the most vulnerable in our communities and will violate their fundamental human rights.
We are extremely disturbed to note that the organisation Refuge has decided to make a bid for the recycled funds that should be awarded to SBS. Refuge is a national domestic violence charity that has considerable resources at its disposal. In 2006/7 for instance, its total annual income was £9.4 million. Refuge has made a bid for the £100,000 to provide a domestic violence service in Ealing. Needless to say, this move undermines our struggle for funding and for our autonomy. By way of a gesture of support, Refuge wrote to Ealing Council requesting it to make reserve funds available for SBS following the bidding process! It is a matter of great disappointment to SBS that a well known, well resourced national organisation like Refuge is colluding in the closure of a vital specialist organisation. Given its annual income, its bid for the £100,000 represents a ‘drop in the ocean’, but the same funds will make all the difference to our work with black and minority women. Its attitude displays a patronising, unprincipled and indifferent approach to our struggles as black and minority women.
Demonstration for 1st April 2008 CANCELLED
We have had to cancel this demonstration because at the last minute, (28 March 2008) Ealing Council decided to postpone its decision about funding for domestic violence services in Ealing until May 2008. The Council is unable to decide as to which organisation to award the funding to! Although it is extremely unlikely that the grant will be awarded to SBS (we have made it clear that we need the funds to continue to meet the needs of black and minority women in Ealing), it does show that your support is making a difference. It is making it difficult for the Council to take decisions! This means that there no decision will be made at the Council’s Cabinet Meeting on 1 April 2008 and SBS will be given an interim grant for a further two months.
At the end of May 2008, SBS will still be faced with the need to cut or severely reduce our services to black and minority women in Ealing. Your support is therefore still vital, especially as legal proceedings are still contemplated on the grounds that Ealing Council has acted unlawfully by not carrying out a proper race equality impact assessment.
We will now be planning a demonstration in May and will keep you posted about further developments including our legal challenge.
A big THANK YOU for all your support so far. Please continue your support.
- Read all about the protest held on 26th February and attend any future protests
- Send a letter of protest to Ealing Council (download a template here)
- Live in Ealing? Find out who your local councillor is, and contact them or attend their surgeries (most hold regular local sessions)
- Sign the online petition on the Number 10 website to urge the Department for Communities and Local Government to clarify it’s position on ‘community cohesion’ in relation to organisations providing non-generic, essential services to vulnerable people, such as those provided by Southall Black Sisters
- Write to your MP asking them to sign the Early Day Motion (a formal motion submitted for debate in the House of Commons) in support of SBS – EDM 1122 (find your MP through Write to Them)
- In the longer term, in order to free themselves from funding uncertainties, SBS wish to build an endowment fund. Donations of any size marked ‘SBS endowment fund’ will be extremely gratefully accepted. Click here to visit the donations page
- Join the facebook group “Save the Southall Black Sisters” to show your support for SBS, or join the ‘Friends of SBS’ sister Facebook group to keep informed of the organisation’s future developments beyond this campaign
- Download the update and action sheet
“The government is out of touch with those working at the coalface. We need good guidance for funders that genuinely promotes equality and cohesion and ensures that invaluable organisations like Southall Black Sisters do not become victims of a ‘one-size-fits-all’ funding culture.”
Vivienne Hayes, Director, Women’s Resource Centre in a letter to the Guardian
“Little at Large: No cash for ethnic group – is it because they is black?
Southall Black Sisters, the campaigning group that supports migrant women who have suffered domestic violence, could close when Ealing Council withdraws a £100,000 grant next month.
A raucous protest meeting saw a Tory councillor defend the decision by pleading that “the Government is telling us to curb our funding to ethnic groups”. Is this government policy? I think we should be told.”
By Mathew Little, Third Sector, 12 March 2008