Southall Black Sisters ‘worried about funding after Covid-19’


By Barnie Choudhury   

ONE of the country’s leading national charities which helps south Asian women escape domestic abuse says it fears Cov­id-19 will make it more difficult to get funding in the future.

For the past 40 years, London’s Southall Black Sisters has helped hundreds of wom­en flee violent relationships. High-profile cases include that of Kiranjit Ahluwalia – the charity successfully campaigned to over­turn the murder conviction against her in 1992 and changed the law on provocation.

Its head of policy, research and fund-raising, Hannana Siddiqui, told Eastern Eye, “The biggest fear is after Covid we’re going to face more austerity in the future. We get our money from local authorities and chari­table trusts. In maybe a year’s time, councils won’t have as much money coming in from central government. We’re worried councils aren’t going to have money to commission charities like us which specialise in helping black, Asian and minority ethnic women who’ve experienced violence.”

Her concerns come at a time when calls to the charity’s national helpline, just one way women can contact the Southall Black Sisters, rose by 16 per cent last month, com­pared to the previous April.

Siddiqui said the lockdown also means that charities cannot fundraise. Post-pandemic, organisations which give grants, she said, would be inundated with applications, creating even more competition for fund­ing. She was also concerned that commis­sioners will give money to organisations which were not culturally appropriate, cul­turally competent or culturally sensitive.

“That’s a trend that’s been around for years now. Larger, more generic, organisa­tions are saying they can cover things like domestic violence for black and Asian com­munities by having a worker in their organi­sation,” said Siddiqui.

“The problem is that small organisations, like ourselves, who have a 30 or 40-year track record in helping south Asian com­munities, and who are experienced and are experts, are not going to be able to compete with them. As a result, the speciality is going to be lost. The cultural competence, the cultural sensitivities, the knowledge, the expertise, all of these will disappear.”

Latest figures from the Crown Prosecu­tion Service show that in 2018-19, 3,774 south Asians were prosecuted for domestic abuse. But organisations say domestic abuse cases in south Asian communities continue to be under-reported. Last week the domestic abuse bill passed its second reading in the Commons. Among the meas­ures being discussed is to make sure local authorities in England provide victims, and their children, places in refuges or other safe accommodation. But Southall Black Sisters said the bill does not go far enough.

“We don’t think the bill is wide enough to help Asian women, especially migrant women,” said Siddique. “It doesn’t cover all their specific needs. The big one is recourse to public funds, but there are others such as funding for refuges, funding for specialist services. It’s not something that is guaran­teed by government.”

In 2012, the government brought in laws to help provide financial help to abused women who could enter Britain on their husband’s visa. It provides them access to public funds for three months, during which time they must apply to remain in the UK. Eastern Eye understands that the cur­rent bill is exploring whether this needs to be extended to those on other visas.

Campaigners say that women from south Asia who are trapped in violent marriages are told they will be deported if they walk out of their marital home. During Covid-19, when the police have greater powers to stop people, women say they are even more afraid they will be arrested and sent back to their country of birth. Eastern Eye under­stands that the government is aware of this fear, and, as part of the bill, it is consulting on how to separate the policing and immi­gration functions of the Home Office.

Southall Black Sisters is also concerned that specialist charities like it are not getting enough funds for doing more work than mainstream organisations. It cites the mul­ti-agency risk assessment conferences (MARAC) casework, which examine the “highest risk domestic abuse cases between representatives of local police, health, child protection, housing practitioners, inde­pendent domestic violence advisers, proba­tion and other specialists from the statutory and voluntary sectors”.

Siddique said, “We have to deal with high-risk cases being considered by local authorities and over 50 per cent are black or Asian cases. So, we’re having to take on these disproportionate number of cases, more than the generalists, yet we get the same money as those who don’t have to deal with as many MARAC cases.”

Last Tuesday (28) the government an­nounced a £1.5 million pilot fund from which organisations can bid to get money to help migrant women. Eastern Eye under­stands the ‘use it or lose it’ approach to these funds, set to be available later this year, will inform ministers whether, during a spending review, they need to put more or less money into this area.

Safeguarding and vulnerability minister, Victoria Atkins told Eastern Eye, “Those who have had to endure the horrors of do­mestic abuse should be treated first and foremost as victims. I am determined that help should go to those who need it most, including migrants in the Asian communi­ty. That is why I announced a £1.5m pilot fund to go towards charities later this year, helping those victims of domestic abuse with no recourse to public funds.”