SDLP MP Claire Hanna has hit out the decision by the Department of Health to end core funding of the Women’s Aid Federation.
The organisation was informed by a letter from the Department of Health earlier this year that their funding would end in September 2023,
‘Ms Hanna said: “I recently raised the issue of budget cuts to Women’s Aid with the Prime Minister following the senseless killing of Chloe Mitchell. Some 39 women have died violently in Northern Ireland since 2017 and the police are called to a domestic violence incident every 16 minutes. The Executive office is now consulting on a much needed, long-awaited strategy to tackle Violence against Women and Girls. It can’t be a coincidence that this is the only part of these islands without a strategy, and also the region with the highest levels of gender based violence.
“In this context it is absolutely indefensible to consider cuts to the Women’s Aid budget. As well as the critical services for women in need, Women’s Aid have had a vital role in shaping and improving policy and legislation and we need them around to ensure the best implementation of a strategy to tackle this.”
Alliance Party MLA Connie Egan, earlier this year, said: “Before the collapse of government here, the Executive Office was pursuing a strategy to tackle violence against women and girls, while the seven-year domestic and sexual abuse strategy between the Department of Justice and Department of Health is up for renewal.
‘Women’s Aid have had a vital role in shaping and improving policy and legislation and we need them around to ensure the best implementation of a strategy to tackle this’
“To then cut this funding is at complete odds with that, leaving strategies with no resources How can we protect and support victims of domestic abuse and violence if these groups are not funded to do so. This decision needs to be reversed immediately. It will literally save lives.”
Women’s Aid Federation, who are centrally involved in helping to draw up the End Violence against Women and Girls strategy, have had their annual £147,000 funding axed.
Sonya McMullan, Regional Services Manager, with Women’s Aid Federation, hit out at the decision: “We’re the lobbying and campaigning arm of Women’s Aid. Our future now is very uncertain.
“Myself and our Chief Executive Sarah Mason were in London earlier this year trying to talk to anyone who would listen to us.”
Whilst in London the two women appealed directly to MPs at Westminster over the impending funding cut. They have warned it will be a “massive blow” to their ability to help vulnerable women.
“For too many years we have been under-resourced and under-funded. They don’t see that investing now saves money later,” said Ms McMullan.
“it’s like banging your head up against a brick wall. You get so frustrated because the amount of work that we actually put in for government departments and they don’t want to fund that. Do they actually want us to go away, because that’s how it makes you feel.”
Northern Ireland is the only part of the United Kingdom that does not have a specific funded strategy dedicated to tackling gender-based violence.
“We are now the only Federation in the UK that does not receive government funding,” said Ms McMullan.
‘I believe that if there was an Assembly sitting, it wouldn’t happen. There is not a brave enough politician in Northern Ireland to say we are no longer funding work on ending domestic violence’
Ms Mason said: “Woman’s Aid has been in receipt of funding from the Department of Health for over 35 years. The impact of this funding cut on our work will be major. It makes it more difficult for us to obtain other funding opportunities from trusts.
“Right now, we are being used like a game of chess, because we have no minister.”
“I believe that if there was an Assembly sitting, it wouldn’t happen. There is not a brave enough politician in Northern Ireland to say we are no longer funding work on ending domestic violence.”
Kelly Andrews, Chief Executive with Belfast-Lisburn Women’s Aid said: “It’s absolutely astounding, especially in light of the range of work that the Women’s Aid Federation has co-ordinated and led on in developing a raft of legislation aimed at protecting victims of domestic abuse.”
The Department of Health said in a statement. “Like all other Departments, the Department of Health is facing significant financial challenges in 2023/24. This has meant taking a number of unpalatable decisions which are not necessarily in the best interests of the health and social care system but are in line with the legislation and guidance in place. One of these has been the decision to reduce the Core Grant Scheme budget by 50% for 2023/24. Women’s Aid has therefore received £73,973 for the current financial year instead of its previous 2022/23 total allocation of £147,946.
“The decision to reduce Core Grant funding was made in the face of the overall budgetary position. The Department ensured six months of funding was set aside in order to provide sufficient time for organisations to prepare for the funding reduction. This is against a context where the Department invests around £25m in direct service provision with the Voluntary and Community Sector and we have sought to protect this spending. Indeed, Women’s Aid continues to receive over £730,000 worth of funding from HSC contracts this year in addition to its core grant allocation.
“The Department does not expect to be in a position to reverse this decision in the absence of additional funding becoming available, but we will keep this under review.”