Southall Black Sisters – Funding Situation Update

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.

Refuge

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.

What you can do:
* For those of you who have not written to Ealing Council protesting against its decision to withdraw funding from SBS, there is still time. (Please see our letter requesting support on our website.) Please write to Jason Stacey: Leader of Ealing Council, Ealing Town Hall, Uxbridge Road, Ealing, W5 2BY, Jason.stacey@ealing.gov.uk. Don’t forget to send us copies.
* Please write to Sandra Horley at Refuge protesting against her decision sandra_horley@refuge.org.uk – Please also write to Refuge patrons which include cherie Booth QC, Fiona Bruce and Refuge Trustee Dame Stella Rimington. Please let us have copies of any letters sent and replies received.
* Join the Facebook group in order to keep up to date with the campaign http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=36723275296&ref=mf
* Write letters to national/local newspapers or other media raising this issue
* Lobby your MP to sign the Early Day Motion 1122 tabled by Ealing Southall MP Virendra Sharma. http://edmi.parliament.uk/EDMi/EDMDetails.aspx?EDMID=35341&SESSION=891. Find your MP here: http://www.writetothem.com/
* Sign the online petition on the Downing Street website here: http://petitions.pm.gov.uk/SaveSBS/
* In the long term, in order to free ourselves from funding uncertainties, we wish to build an endowment fund. Donations small or large marked ‘SBS endowment fund’ will be gratefully accepted.
* Attend a demonstration on 1st April at 6pm outside Ealing Town Hall, Uxbridge Road, W5. Nearest tube: Ealing Broadway.

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