Cuts To Domestic Abuse and Sexual Health Services Will Devastate Lives

A local resident with deep concerns about cuts to Portsmouth’s domestic abuse and sexual violence support services writes about the impact of proposed cuts from Portsmouth City Council on victims and survivors of violence in the city. The author prefers to remain anonymous.

Dear Councillor,

I am writing to express my profound disgust and anger at the proposed budget for Portsmouth City Council – financial year 2016-2017 – that looks to cut funding for domestic abuse services and sexual health services in the city totalling approximately £500,000. The effects of these cuts will be devastating for the city and the local community, and make no economic or political sense.

With no exaggeration or hyperbole intended, women will die as a result of the suggested £155,000 cuts to domestic abuse services. With national statistics suggesting that an estimated 1 in 4 women in England and Wales will experience domestic abuse in their lifetime and 8% will suffer domestic abuse in any given year, we can expect that Portsmouth will follow this trend. Accepting that domestic abuse is one of the most under-reported crimes in the UK, and has the highest rate of repeat victimisation that any other crime, we can conservatively deduce that approximately 6,500 adult women will experience domestic abuse every year in Portsmouth. Sadly, this estimate is probably far too low. It is further estimated that 25% of children in the UK have been exposed to domestic abuse, suggesting that around 13,000 of Portsmouth’s children and young people are living with the torment of historic or on-going abuse and are at risk of serious or significant harm.

The Portsmouth News recently ran an article where it quoted Bruce Marr, the Hidden Violence Service Manager for Safer Portsmouth Partnership in which he said “in Portsmouth last year there were 4,745 incidents of domestic abuse reported to the police — an increase of 12 per cent on the previous year – and 31 per cent of all assaults were domestic abuse related”. This statistic alone demonstrates the absolutely essential role of domestic abuse services across the city.

Domestic abuse services not only work to keep victims safe, but seek to end the perpetual cycle of violence and abuse that many of us may encounter time and time again in our relationships. Services such as EIP (Early Intervention Project) work tirelessly to empower survivors of violence and abuse and undertake an essential role in helping survivors to recognise abusive and controlling behaviours and coercion. The proposed reduction of staff within domestic abuse services from 13 to 5, a cut of almost two-thirds, will have a devastating impact on service provision across the city.

Firstly, if we assume for the sake of statistics that one full-time worker will hold approximately 20 cases at any one time, averaging a period of 3 months support for any one client, 13 members of staff currently have the capacity to support roughly 1,000 people a year (this may well be much higher if victims require less support, are supported through group work, or are moved out of area into refuge or could even be lower if the cases are complex, staff have other responsibilities within their roles, or work on a part-time contract). The proposed budget would dramatically reduce the number of people able to access the service to approximately 400, not to mention the additional stress and responsibility on the workers.

Secondly, there is a risk that a reduction in the capacity of a service will result in the threshold and criteria changing. As such, support may be restricted more stringently to ‘high risk’ victims of domestic abuse, meaning not only “standard’ or ‘medium” risk victims of abuse may not have the same access to support, but that early intervention seeking to end the cycle of abuse and prevent any further escalation of violence may not be available. This seems counter-intuitive.

Finally, a reduced capacity also means that the services become even harder to reach for young people experiencing abuse in their relationships, BME women, LGBT+ people, disabled women, older women, and men. Likewise, the service will struggle to engage with such communities in Portsmouth which further entrenches and perpetuates the cycles of abuse.

Concerning children and young people, domestic abuse services provide invaluable support to families indirectly through the support offered for adult survivors. They equip service users with the tools they need to keep their children safe from emotional and physical harm, and constantly strive to ensure that every child and young person exposed to domestic abuse has better outcomes through inter-agency working and a specialist understanding of the way in which abuse effects children and young people.

It is my understanding from Portsmouth City Council’s “Revenue Budget 2015-2016 Savings Proposals” that children’s safeguarding was forecast to be overspending by £2.9m. Whilst Portsmouth City Council has no current statistics publicly available on the current financial situation of Portsmouth Children’s Social Care, nor the breakdown of families working with social care with domestic abuse as a primary risk factor, colleagues and friends working in the sector tell me that they have noticed a sharp rise in the number of cases they are working with that primarily feature domestic abuse. As such, it is perfectly logical to conclude that cuts to domestic abuse services will see a substantial rise in the number of domestic abuse cases coming into social care, a rise in the number of children and young people subject to Child In Need (CIN) or Child Protection (CP) plans, and a rise in the number of children taken into local authority care and foster placements (of which Portsmouth is already “significantly worse than the national average” according to Public Health England). In short, cuts to domestic abuse services will see continued overspending within Children’s Social Care.

On the theme of early intervention and prevention, the £350,300 cuts to sexual health services further exacerbate an already worrying situation in the city. In addition to providing young people with help and support surrounding contraception and “safe sex”, sexual health services promote healthy relationships built on respect and free from violence, abuse, and coercion. With an already limited number of services available to young people in the city promoting healthy relationships, and a lack of adequate PSHE and SRE education in local schools, sexual health services are for many, the one place where their ideas about sexual relationships and relationships more broadly are challenged and their expectations raised. The result of these services being stripped back to the bare essentials does not only risk a rise in STI’s among young people and unplanned pregnancies. It also means that one of the places where young people are taught to have safe, healthy, and respectful relationships will disappear, running the risk of unhealthy attitudes and abusive behaviours going unchallenged and unreported.

The proposed budget is not only dangerous, it is completely misinformed and seems to have little coherence with the actual situation in the city and the issues effecting local residents. Everyone has the right to feel safe in their own home and in their relationships. Everyone is entitled to universal support, free at the point of access. The local authority has a duty and a mandate to safeguard the most vulnerable.

These ‘savings’ proposals contradict this duty entirely, and put thousands of local residents at risk.

I implore you to stand in opposition to cuts and reduced spending in domestic abuse services and sexual health.

Yours faithfully,

A concerned resident.