THE BLOG

Light It Up Orange? I'm Just Seeing Red

25/11/2015 17:14 GMT | Updated 25/11/2016 10:12 GMT

This year's government Spending Review fell on a day when the international community came together to raise awareness of the global tide of violence against women and girls.

Under the auspices of the United Nations, global powers agree once a year to work together to try to eliminate the appalling statistic that one in three women around the world will experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime.

In Britain, the timing seemed auspicious.

The government was about to make a big announcement about the disbursement of £4trillion of taxpayers' money. It was already in climb-down mode over proposed tax benefit cuts that had been predicted to hurt women - the UK's lowest-paid - disproportionately. Ministers had nodded in recent weeks towards the need for faster progress towards gender equality.

It was the prime moment for Chancellor George Osborne to announce increased funding to vital services providing refuge, counselling and specialist support for the thousands of British women and girls whose lives are shattered every year by violence.

These services are on their knees. Not one Rape Crisis centre in England and Wales has funding fully confirmed beyond March 2016. In fact, 42% of them have no funding confirmed at all. Last week, Rotherham's Apna Haq centre was threatened with closure, despite being the only local specialist service for BME women and girls. Last month, London's Eaves closed its doors after 38 years of support to women victims of violence.

When Osborne started to address the House of Commons about the tampon tax I was confused, but still hopeful. Might the Mother of Parliaments finally witness women-friendly policy-making?

Er, no.

Instead Osborne outlined plans to divert the tax that women pay every month for "luxuries" like sanitary towels and tampons into a fund that he will consider using to prop up domestic violence refuges so short of money that many are under threat of closure.

It sounded like some kind of grotesque healthcare plan under which women pay with blood for blood.

I was staggered. I am still staggered. Not only is this decision incredibly disappointing, it is incredibly revealing.

It reveals that we are not all in it together, despite what David Cameron might say.

It reveals that the government appears to think women are a special interest group who should pay for their own needs separately. Income tax, anyone? Clearly for More Important Things.

And it reveals the paucity of women in the top levels of government. It reveals what happens when women are kept out of key policy-making decisions. A bit like when Jeremy Corbyn touted his women-only train carriages earlier this year as a solution for ending violence, George Osborne's "ta-DA!" suggestion of period payments for rape crisis centres is one you can only think must have been dreamed up by a room full of male advisors.

What a shame. What a waste. Osborne could have been so innovative.

So WE will be instead.

On today's international day of action the Women's Equality Party is calling time on a funding model that is not fit for purpose.

Britain's Violence Against Women and Girls support services are having the heart ripped out of them by budget cuts, short term contracts and crassly simplistic commissioning practices that push specialist units to one side in favour of bigger organisations that lack their expertise but can afford to undercut them.

Those services that do receive funding are often subjected to six month break clauses, so that government can continually assess their worth against other political priorities.

The Women's Equality Party is committed to doing politics differently, and today WE call for cross-party commitment to do this funding differently.

WE think that specialist services should be able to plan and grow their services and not be vulnerable to the ebb and flow of changes in political thinking. WE call on every other party in Britain to sign up to this model.

To mark the United Nations' international day of action, landmarks across the world are being lit up orange.

Until the British government starts to take seriously the levels of violence against women and girls in this country, I can only see red.

Sophie Walker is leader of the Women's Equality Party