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All-Party Parliamentary Group on Sexual Violence report into the Funding and Commissioning of Sexual Violence and Abuse Services 2018

Sexual violence and abuse support services have been described as at crisis point. Need and demand for their specialist services from victims and survivors of all forms of sexual violence and abuse are at unprecedented levels and continue to rise year on year. Many Rape Crisis Centres and other specialist providers operate waiting lists for their services and some have had to take the difficult decision to close their waiting lists. It can take a lot of courage to reach out for support and services describe it as ‘agonising’ and ‘soul-destroying’ to not always be able to provide this.

Funding and commissioning opportunities that services are able to access vary widely across the sector, partly as a result of the agenda of devolving funds to local levels. Many services feel they survive on a ‘hand to mouth’ basis, with the prevalence of short-term grants and contracts meaning too much time and energy is diverted to sourcing the funds for survival each year. Difficult decisions frequently have to be made to make experienced staff redundant or reduce or suspend services. Some services report pressure to merge and/or stop providing dedicated single sex services from Commissioners who do not understand their Equality Duty responsibilities and prefer to issue larger contracts to generic providers with minimal track record, despite the cost effectiveness and considerable expertise and experience of smaller, specialist providers.

Government must resolve the evident contradiction between their move to local commissioning to achieve tailored, locally appropriate solutions, and the pressure on local Commissioners to let large service contracts to single, generic providers in order to deliver savings through economies of scale.

As it stands the Government’s commitment in the 2016 Violence against Women and Girls (VAWG) strategy that by 2020 ‘no victim will be turned away’ will not be achieved. But this is not an insurmountable problem. Specialist third sector organisations provide high quality services at a low cost to the state. With political will and substantial investment in a long-term, sustainable funding model for these organisations, access to specialist, holistic services for all sexual violence and abuse victims and survivors, whenever they need and want them, could become a reality.