VAWG: That’s the talking done, so now where’s the funding?

Hopscotch charity warns that money must be found

Monday, 29th November 2021 — By Isabelle Stanley

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A vigil outside the Crowndale Centre

THE Town Hall chamber was filled with anger on Monday night as councillors came together to condemn violence against women and girls – but the special debate finished without a clear programme of action.

Ahead of the debate, the New Journal called for an end to slogans and a detailed action plan for the way forward from  the special session – held little more than a month after the death of Nicole Hurley, the mother-of-four who was stabbed in Primrose Hill.

Council leader Georgia Gould had assured us last week that there would be “a set of recommendations and actions to debate”. But these did not materialise.

Candles were lit before the summit as councillors held their own vigil outside the Crowndale Centre to remember the women who have died at the hands of male violence.

A banner reading “NO violence against women and girls” was held up while Cllr Gould read out the list of victims’ names.

Some councillors wore T-shirts saying “WE’RE TAKING ACTION to end violence against women”.

After a minute’s silence, participants filed into the chamber and the debate began.

Speakers from Solace Women’s aid, Hopscotch and Outspoken Sex Ed were there, along with Camden and Islington’s Borough Commander, Andy Carter.

Councillor Angela Mason, co-chair of the Women’s Forum, said: “We’re having this debate today on violence against women and girls because I think we all believe we’ve reached a watershed moment.

“Male violence and abuse is endemic in our society and things are getting worse, not better, and indeed did get worse during the most intense period of the pandemic.”

Cabinet councillor Angela Mason

Speaking to the New Journal after the debate, she added: “The work we have to do is almost endless, we’ve charted some of the frontiers that we’ve got to cross but we’ve got to cross them.

“We’ve lost half our income, we have to look at how we can regain our resources so that we can fund issues like this that are priorities.”

At the end of the debate, community safety chief Councillor Nadia Shah added: “I just wanted to end with talking about some really practical steps that we’re working on in Camden at the moment in terms of safe women’s safety in the public realm.”

The meeting in full

She went on to list a new streets safe reporting app, which will allow women to report areas where they feel unsafe, an increase in police officers which will be coming in due to the Met’s new Town Centre teams and an increased effort to sign up to the London women’s night safety charter and adapt licensing agreements to prioritise women’s safety.

She added: “We commit to taking a feminist approach to tackling this, from street harassment to domestic violence and abuse with a coordinated approach and we will continue to campaign for misogyny to be recognised as a hate crime nationally.”

Conservative councillor Maria Higson

While these actions were welcomed steps, some worried they would not go far enough.

Tory councillor Maria Higson said: “We had no specifics, no focused achievable goals, none of those came through, there was no additional commitment from the meeting – it was a missed opportunity to do something different.”

“There was no turning point, no great big push for something new. Everything was something they were already planning to do.”

Cllr Higson was a member of the Women’s Forum which has been working on a report about domestic violence which will be presented to cabinet councillors next month.

Funding for more services was skirted around with one councillor referring to it as “the F-word”.

At the end of the meeting, Cllr Gould said: “I’m really pleased that we, despite the cuts, have found £400,000 to invest into the recommendations of the Women’s Forum.”

Benaifer Bhandari, chief executive of the charity Hopscotch

The recommendations have not yet been published, so it is not clear what this money will be spent on, or when.

Benaifer Bhandari, chief executive of the charity Hopscotch, told the council the problem was a lack of funding: “Sometimes when I can’t sleep at night I think it feels like the council is actually abusing VAWG [violence against women and girls] services.”

She added after: “It’s hard enough to run a service, but to be constantly chasing for money for them is what brings me to my knees. We have a waiting list for our domestic violence services.

“The more challenging the subject the bigger the elephant in the room, no one will discuss the money. People like to talk about equality but they don’t like to talk about the money to support it.”

Ms Bhandari added: “Obviously they’ve had austerity cuts, but they need to find the money, Monday evening’s meeting should have been about finding the money.”

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