The Women in Prison charity is calling on the government to level up access to vital specialist provisions for women in every local authority across England and Wales. A report by the charity assessing women’s centres has recommended that the government needs to ‘spend to save’ when it comes to the result for women.
The charity calls for funding as women’s centres have a beneficial impact on the economy. Independent analysis shows that a centre receiving £1m can, in a year, support over 650 women and generate £2.75m in socio-economic benefits, including a saving for public services. Unsustainable government funding is not only raising concerns as to centres’ survival, but also hindering the potential positive impact they can have on women, public welfare, and the economy.
Women are a minority in the criminal justice system, and often have their needs overlooked. Criminal behaviour in women is often linked to experiences of trauma such as sexual or physical abuse, debt, poverty and substance abuse. Women’s centres play a vital role in assisting women in these situations and addressing their issues.
The community-based centres have been labelled as a ‘one-stop shop’ where women can access support on housing, domestic abuse, mental and physical health and other issues. The centres offer services which some women use as a lifeline, and some have reported that they can ‘speak freely to non-judgemental ears’ and ‘comfortably relay’ any fears. The needs of women facing multiple disadvantages cannot be addressed to the same extent by any other government department.
While many centres received emergency funding during the pandemic, it did not cover many of their needs. Support during the pandemic also focused on day-to-day self-management rather than on other needs such as community services. The report shows that the centres are not being used to their full potential due to unsustainable funding arrangements. The government was urged to work with local commissioners to help benefit women who have been affected by the criminal justice system as well as their friends, families and the larger community.