Vera Baird DBE KC

Writer, Lecturer, Parliamentary Consultant and Co-Director of Astraea: Gender Justice

Everywoman Safe Everywhere: Labour’s Commission into Women’s Safety – Interim report

Everywoman Safe Everywhere, Labour’s Commission on Women’s Safety is a consultation established in November 2011 in response to concerns that, not only were government policies disproportionately impacting upon women economically, but may be risking their safety too. Yvette Cooper asked Vera Baird, former Solicitor General with a strong record working to reduce violence against women, to chair this new Women’s Safety Commission assisted by Kate Green and Stella Creasy.

In the last three months the Commission has held 14 evidence gathering sessions in different towns and cities; has engaged with more than 100 organisations and experts, and received upwards of 160 submissions from women and men around the country on the status of services which safeguard the personal safety of women. It has also analysed up-to-date background literature.

A wide range and breadth of issues were discussed, but a number of consistent factors were repeatedly raised. In the course of these discussions, participants have raised many distinct and diverse concerns, from the provision of services for those who are victims of rape or domestic violence, to the impact of cuts in street lighting, station staffing and car parking charges on how safe women feel.

Yvette Cooper MP, Labour’s Shadow Home Secretary and Shadow Minister for Women & Equalities, said:

“These findings are serious and deeply concerning. They show the Tory-led Government is out of touch with women\’s lives and has no idea of the damage it is doing to women\’s safety.

“We have already uncovered strong evidence showing women are being hardest hit by the Government’s economic policies  but what has become clear is that women’s safety is also being disproportionately affected.

“The response to the Commission in its first three months has been extremely strong, and its first report makes powerful and worrying reading – it details a disproportionate 31% cut in funding to refuges and services tackling domestic violence, 17,000 rape suspects being taken off the DNA database, chaotic changes to commissioning in the NHS, police and councils, street lights going off across the country and failure to deliver on a new stalking law.

“This Government and this Prime Minister are blind to the needs of women. From family finances to street lighting, from tax credits to services to tackle domestic violence women are under pressure.

“Rather than warm words tomorrow on International Women’s day the Prime Minister should commit to a full audit of the impact of his government’s decisions on women’s safety, with new safeguards to prevent vital services being badly hit. And he should agree to back our amendments in Parliament to introduce a new law on stalking to keep more women safe.

Vera Baird QC, Chair of Everywoman safe everywhere: Labour’s commission on Women’s safety, said:

“I have campaigned against violence against women for many years and played a role in the significant advances made by the last Labour Government in tackling it. However, the Commission’s first evidence session shocked me. Twelve national women’s organisations, ranging from Mumsnet to Women’s Aid, shared their recent experiences and painted a grim picture.

“Refuge providers facing unprecedented financial pressure. 230 women fleeing violence being turned away on a typical day because of a lack of beds. Experienced Domestic Violence Co-ordinators being lost. Specialist Courts are under pressure. Streetlights are going out to the concern of women coming home late from work.

“And most worryingly, a Government that doesn’t seem to have noticed the impact this is all having on the lives of ordinary women because it hasn’t conducted any analysis of the changes it is making.

“Like many of the women who came to talk to us, I thought the time had long passed when the need for women\’s safety services could be called into question or their provision put into reverse. Women should never be trapped in a violent relationship or in a cycle of sexual abuse because of a lack of support; nor should they be worried walking home.

“But our findings make me concerned that the clock is being turned back and women are now less confident that their needs  are even understood let alone being pursued by Government now.”

You can read the first Interim Report (March 2012) here.