What’s best for women is best for Bri­tain

The New European - - Agenda -

Since aus­ter­ity slashed fund­ing, women’s ser­vices have been left reel­ing. And Brexit is set to make things even worse, says CARO­LINE CRIADO PEREZ

In the past year, an es­ti­mated 1.3 mil­lion women have been vic­tims of do­mes­tic abuse.

The po­lice re­ceive a do­mes­tic vi­o­lence re­lated call ev­ery 30 sec­onds. Ev­ery week, an av­er­age of two women are killed by their part­ner or ex-part­ner.

And in West­min­ster, the much wa­tered-down Do­mes­tic Abuse Bill is tor­tur­ously snaking its way through par­lia­ment. Re­peat­edly de­layed, in no small part thanks to the ma­lin­ger­ing pres­ence of Brexit, the gov­ern­ment is due to de­fine do­mes­tic abuse in law for the first time any day now. The in­tent is for women to have a bet­ter chance of re­ceiv­ing jus­tice — and pro­tec­tion against vi­o­lence.

Vi­o­lence against women ser­vices are still, as they have been since the coali­tion gov­ern­ment first started slash­ing spend­ing in 2010, in cri­sis. Lo­cal author­i­ties have cut fund­ing for refuges by at least £7 mil­lion since 2010, and one in six do­mes­tic abuse refuges have closed due to lack of fund­ing. More than one in 10 of the do­mes­tic abuse ser­vices re­spond­ing to Women’s Aid’s an­nual sur­vey had no lo­cal author­ity fund­ing at all in 2016/17 and 60% of re­fer­rals to refuges had to be turned down for lack of space. That’s more than 10,000 women, many of them ac­com­pa­nied by chil­dren, who were left with nowhere else to turn.

In des­per­a­tion, in­creas­ing num­bers of women are tak­ing to sleep­ing rough. Some of them re­turn to their vi­o­lent part­ner. Some of them are killed.

You might think, then, that this Do­mes­tic Abuse Bill can’t come soon enough. But as with so many of this gov­ern­ment’s ini­tia­tives when it comes to women, this Bill may never progress be­yond promis­ing-sound­ing words, be­cause un­less it comes with ad­di­tional and, cru­cially, sus­tain­able fund­ing for vi­o­lence against women ser­vices, all it may end up do­ing is putting in­creased strain on an al­ready over­loaded sec­tor.

But this Bill doesn’t come with this nec­es­sary ex­tra fund­ing. In fact, on this press­ing ques­tion, the Bill has noth­ing to say at all. And how can it? Since we voted to leave the EU, this coun­try has been haem­or­rhag­ing money – £500 mil­lion a week, ac­cord­ing to the Cen­tre for Euro­pean Re­form. And it’s only go­ing to get worse if we leave.

Anal­y­sis re­leased this week by the Na­tional In­sti­tute for Eco­nomic and So­cial Re­search (NIESR) found that an “or­derly no deal” – there’s an oxy­moron if ever I heard one – would cost the UK £140 bil­lion a year, and re­duce GDP by 5.5%. Not quite the Brexit div­i­dend we’d been sold, is it?

May’s deal is hardly bet­ter: NIESR’S anal­y­sis found that it will cost the UK econ­omy 3.9% – or £100 bil­lion a year – com­pared to just stay­ing in the EU. That’s the equiv­a­lent of los­ing the eco­nomic out­put of Wales or the City of Lon­don. The av­er­age per­son would be more than £1,000 a year worse off, and tax rev­enues would fall by up to 2%, which trans­lates as the equiv­a­lent of up to £23 bil­lion less to spend on pub­lic ser­vices at to­day’s prices. You’d want to be tak­ing back quite a lot of con­trol for that.

This dire eco­nomic en­vi­ron­ment would be bad enough if we were in the EU and could still plug in gaps with EU fund­ing. But, of course, if we leave, we lose our ac­cess to EU money. So, where is the fund­ing go­ing to come from?

Back in 2017, the gov­ern­ment promised they will guar­an­tee any EU funds that have al­ready been agreed pro­vided that: the projects are good value for money, and are in line with do­mes­tic strate­gic pri­or­i­ties. But given pro­tect­ing women from male vi­o­lence hasn’t ex­actly been a gov­ern­ment pri­or­ity be­fore a chunk the size of Wales is wiped off the econ­omy, it’s hard to be­lieve it will sud­denly seem cru­cial when we Brexit.

So what now? Brexit has al­ways been a dis­as­ter for women. But be­cause women have been ex­cluded from the de­bate from the begin­ning, these cru­cial is­sues never got a se­ri­ous air­ing be­fore the 2016 ref­er­en­dum. No one voted for vic­tims of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence to be less pro­tected – but if we Brexit, that is the sure fu­ture we face.

Theresa May has a strong track record of tack­ling vi­o­lence against women. If she wants to pro­tect that record, there is one very easy thing she can do. In­deed, there is one very easy thing that she must, and ul­ti­mately, given par­lia­men­tary arith­metic, will al­most cer­tainly have to do. Now that the dire im­pacts of Brexit for women are be­com­ing clearer by the day, May should do what’s best for the coun­try, and what’s best for women, and give the UK a Peo­ple’s Vote.

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