Int'l Women's Day: Public Meeting

Tagged as: austerity cuts domestic_violence gender international_womens_day notts_tuc women womens_aid
Neighbourhoods: east_gate nottingham

Tuesday March 8th 2011 was the centenary of International Women's Day. To mark this anniversary, Notts TUC organised a public meeting at the offices of Thompsons Solicitors, to discuss the impact of the cuts on services for women, particularly domestic violence services.

The event followed a demonstration in front of the Council House and this slightly delayed the start time as people made their way up to the office on City Gate from the Market Square.

The first speakers was Cheryl Pidgeon, regional secretary of Midlands TUC. Cheryl presented a wide ranging exploration of the connections between patriarchy and the economy, particularly in times of economic crisis. She described the current government as the "most anti-women in living memory," but the talk was not entirely negative. She argued that bad times are always also an opportunity and that in the anti-cuts movement, "Women will be leading from the front."

The second speaker was Melanie Jeffs from Nottingham Community and Voluntary Service, which represents many voluntary groups in the city. Melanie noted that voluntary groups were experiencing cuts of around £18m in Nottingham City alone. She was dubious about the Tories' "Big Society" talk, pointing out that volunteers already give 1m hours a year in Nottingham and may not be able to do much more. She pointed particularly to the closure of Noelle House, the only women only homelessness shelter in the city. This is to be shut, despite evidence that women only shelters are often much better for women on the streets.

Melanie suggested that equality impact assessments were a possible point of challenge, noting that last June's budget was not assessed for its impact on women. She also pointed to the sell-off of the forests as evidence that the government could be swayed.

Caroline from Unite then gave a brief talk about her involvement in domestic violence services in Walsall, which are now being seriously cut.

The final speaker was Chris Knight from Women's Aid Nottingham (who had earlier spoken in Market Square). Chris noted that 1 in 4 women suffer domestic abuse (which is not always actual violence), with 1 in 10 suffering such abuse at any time. In fact Nottingham has the highest reported rates of such abuse, although she suggested this might actually be a good thing as it indicated people were reporting it.

In other places domestic violences services have been seriously hit with Devon cutting all its funding and Hull heading in the same direction. In Nottingham, the picture is more complicated and Chris described a "sleight of hand" happening in the city. This is possible because funding comes from various bodies. The council is claiming that its budget (set the previous day) wasn't cutting anymore refuges. This is true, but ignores the fact that 3 have already gone this year, reducing spaces in the city from 48-31.

The Crime and Drugs Partnership (CDP) meanwhile has slashed 80% of its domestic violence budget. This it emerges is not a public body so does not have to publish its minutes. (Chris didn't mention this, but according to the CDP's website, its acting chair is currently Jon Collins, leader of Nottingham City Council.)

Chris echoed many of Melanie's sentiments about the Big Society, noting that while volunteers do much important work within Women's Aid, their is a need for specialist with continuous knowledge.

After the speakers, there was an opportunity to take advantage of the food laid on (presumably) by the Notts TUC.

Overall this was an interesting meeting, although it wasn't terribly well-attended. Many of the people there appeared to be staff at Thompsons and most of the remainder were drawn from the "usual faces." This is unfortunate, as it was a good meeting on an important issue.