Rallies Planned as Portsmouth Councillors Prepare for Budget Cuts Meeting

Following the launch of a petition this week that has quickly generated over 38,000 signatures in support of domestic violence and sexual health services, UP Antifascists release a statement calling for Portsmouth residents to protest the impact of forthcoming cuts. 

The rally coincides with the Full Council meeting at 2pm in the Guildhall to decide on the recent Budget Savings Proposals for 2016/17 to deliver £11 million of savings in the next financial year.

The statement reads:

On Tuesday 8th December feminists, women, students, trade unions, and anti-cuts activists will come together in a rally outside Guildhall in condemnation of Portsmouth City Council’s proposed financial budget for 2016-2017. We will be meeting at 1pm on the steps to Guildhall. The plans look to make £11m in cuts across the city’s “controllable budget” and will force 200 redundancies within council posts.

The impact of the cuts on women is apparent, particularly concerning safeguarding women from violence and abuse. Domestic abuse services in the city are being cut back beyond recognition, sexual health services are being stripped to the ‘bare minimum’, and the Hate Crime Prevention Unit will cease to exist. These cuts combined total some £663,000 and will have a devastating impact.

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 that “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.

The dissolution of the Hate Crime Prevention Unit further limits the support available to LGBT+, BME, and disabled women in city that are victims of hate crime and violence. It also creates an additional barrier to those seeking to report their experiences to the police with the knowledge that there will be little aftercare.

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 cut runs the risk of unhealthy attitudes and abusive behaviours going unchallenged and unreported.

Octavia McClean from Sisters Uncut said: “It’s disgusting that Portsmouth council, like so many councils across the country, are proposing cuts to life saving domestic violence services. Playing with the budgets of such services in such a devastating way will put women’s lives at risk. Reduced services will condemn women who want to leave abusive relationships to living in violence. At a time when the need for services is on the up, councils should be increasing funding to domestic violence support. Women’s safety should not have a price tag. Britain is one of the richest countries on the planet: the idea we don’t have enough money to keep women safe from abuse is absurd.”

Siân Brooke , Portsmouth Student’s Union (UPSU) Women’s Officer said: “It is often said that the measure of a civilised society is how it treats its weakest members. Portsmouth City Council are proposing cuts that are systematically detrimental to the city’s local and student community. Women, and other members of society, should not find their refuges from abuse and hatred curtailed in the name of austerity. The Council has a duty of care, and such cuts only serve to alienate and ostracise the vulnerable.”

Sian further said: “Sexual health services are a fundamental feature of modern society. They are crucial for healthcare as well wellbeing. Sexual health and reproductive rights go hand in hand with true equality in regards to gender and sexuality.”

Grace Statham, former refuge worker said: “Anyone who has worked with victims and survivors of domestic violence knows how stretched the services are, and how dedicated staff are to continue to meet need despite the pressures. It’s appalling to think of how many lives will be affected by these decisions. The repercussions of not receiving help not only make victims more likely to die at the hands of their perpetrators, but also leaves damaging, life altering scars. For children involved, the longer they are living in an abusive home, the greater the impact on their emotional and social development. The overall cost impact on survivors and their children far outweigh any savings made by these cuts in services.”

“If you have ever accessed a domestic abuse service or know someone who has, come along to Guildhall on Tuesday 8th to show the council how vital these services are! Cuts Kill!”

Hampshire-based charity Aurora New Dawn tweeted in response to a recent anonymous open letter to Flick Drummond – from which parts of the UP Antifascists statement is taken –  published on S&C last week:

EIP refers to the Council’s own Early Intervention Project, which delivers a range of services to victims and survivors of domestic violence in Portsmouth and works closely with numerous other similar services  delivered by the charitable and voluntary sector in the city and across the region. Cuts to EIP will affect current interlinked services in Portsmouth allowing different service providers to provide a wide range of access points to victims and survivors, including volunteer helplines, referrals from GPs and health professionals and self-referrals offered by a range of other partner organisations.

Aurora New Dawn aired concerns on Twitter that the impact of such cuts to local services could be devastating.

The rally will coincide with a broader demonstration at 1.00pm as councillors enter the Guildhall, organised by Portsmouth  Against the Cuts Together (PACT) . The group was formed in 2010 “to fight back against the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government’s austerity agenda in Portsmouth.”

Posting on Facebook, PACT said:

“The proposed Tory Council budget plans the slashing of services across a whole range of areas and the slashing of jobs in the domestic violence unit and the effective closure of the hate crimes unit when we are seeing a spike in race hate incidents. Osbourne’s climbdown on slashing Tax Credits have shown that these attacks can be defeated by a fight back. Please join us there.”

The group will also submit a ‘needs budget’ arguing “there is alternative to all the cuts to our essential public services. More tax from the rich, jail the corporate tax dodgers and scrap trident – invest in services and climate jobs!”

Trade union UNISON Scotland highlight that needs-based budgets are a potential tool for local authorities to demonstrate the resistance of their constituents to central government cuts to local councils, and to convey to communities the impact of the significant reductions in funding to local government over the last 5 years.

“One way for councils to distance themselves for responsibility for reductions in services in their areas is to highlight the difference between their aims and intentions – and the reality of what they are being allowed to deliver.

“If councils prepare a draft budget which outlines what they would have delivered in differing circumstances (say the previous year’s settlement, or if Council Tax had been allowed to rise with inflation) as well as the budget derived from this year’s allocation. Then a clear comparison can be made. People will see that any disparity in the services they are used to is not the fault of the council. This will be made even clearer if the council publish a guide pointing out the differences between the two budgets. This guide could be combined with economic and equality impact assessments of the cuts.”

As the Conservative-led Council in Portsmouth prepare to form decisions on how the local authority’s rapidly shrinking budget should be allocated, there are serious concerns nationally about the long term impact of the government’s austerity programme. Former head of the civil service, Lord Turnbull,  was quoted in the Guardian last week accusing George Osborne of creating a ‘smokescreen’ to hide their ideological support for a shrinking public sector and the expansion of the private sector into public service delivery.

“I think what you’re doing actually, your real argument, is you want a smaller state.

“But you don’t tell people that’s what you’re doing. What you tell them is a story about impoverishment and debt, which I think is a smokescreen.”

Photography and additional reporting from Sarah Cheverton.