THE BLOG

Let's Get On With The Job

16/06/2017 12:04

As the dust settles after the General Election, it is crucial that Government does "get on with the job" - and that must mean not only dealing with Brexit but also not ignoring pressing social issues at home.

We can't afford to put on hold the reforms so desperately needed to transform women's lives.

There are thousands of women and girls across the UK who are being failed by the system and consigned to a life of poverty, violence and inequality. They need action now. They can't afford the policy inertia that might accompany political uncertainty.

The urgency of the situation has been horrifically illustrated by the case of Angela Wrightson, a 39-year-old woman murdered by two teenage girls in 2014.

Yesterday, three separate reports into what happened found a series of failures in the system that should have been there to intervene and support both Angela and her young killers before the murder happened.

Because not only was Angela Wrightson vulnerable - a women with a traumatic and unhappy childhood who struggled with alcohol - but the reports highlighted the sustained parental neglect and abuse the girls who killed her had also endured before they committed the murder at the ages of just 13 and 14.

The blame does not lie entirely with the system of course, but it remains an extreme and unusual example of what can happen when it does not work. It also illustrates why there is a real and pressing need for change.

One in 20 women have experienced violence as both a child and an adult: that's 1.2 million women in England alone.

Women and girls who have these experiences are often deeply traumatised and face multiple problems. More than half (54%) have a diagnosable mental condition, 21% have been homeless, 31% have an alcohol problem and 8% are dependent on drugs. Many end up involved in prostitution or in prison. These are women and girls at the sharpest end of inequality.

Without proper support, they can move from one expensive crisis - trips to hospital, contact with the police - to the next at a great cost to themselves, their families and society as a whole.

And yet, it remains that there is just not enough support for women and girls at risk. Evidence shows that women-only services that take into account the specific issues women face, especially their experiences of abuse and trauma, can make a real difference. Yet they struggle for funding and are constantly under threat.

Many existing services - such as for addiction or homelessness - are dominated by men and do not have the expertise to respond to the specific issues women face. Sometimes they can even make bad situations worse, with women not listened to, blamed or treated as a problem.

This needs to change urgently and we have some suggestions as to where to start.

The problems women like Angela Wrightson and the girls who killed her face don't sit in any one government department. They cross health, justice, the home office, education, work and pensions and local government, so we want to see the creation of a cross-government approach to ensure that women and girls facing multiple disadvantage are getting the support and protection they need.

Policies and services across all these areas must take into account women's needs so that the system works to support them, not marginalise or disadvantage them further. In particular, we know that poor mental health underpins many of the issues women face and is closely linked to abuse, so it is vital that mental health services recognise and respond to women's experiences of trauma.

Funding specialist services specifically for women and girls struggling with multiple issues must also be a priority. For this to happen, the government must again take a joined-up approach. We want to see the creation of a central funding pot to support women and girls addressing the whole spectrum of their needs. Currently, funding tends to come through different departments, commissioners and authorities separately, with a focus on tackling one issue at a time. This is short-sighted and inefficient, not to mention often ineffective - and means services doing good holistic work are missing out on valuable funds.

The reviews into Angela Wrightson's death ultimately concluded that it could not have been prevented. But there is more that we can do to prevent many women's lives being blighted by disadvantage, pain and suffering.

Like Angela and the girls who killed her, many girls in the UK are growing up in chaotic, abusive and unhappy environments. They deserve a chance to rebuild their lives and fulfil their potential - not to end up homeless, in prison or dead. We should not wait for the worst to happen before they become a priority.

So we look forward to the government "getting on with the job" and that starts with ensuring women and girls are right at the top of the to-do list.

For more information about Agenda visit www.weareagenda.org and follow on Twitter and Facebook.

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