Why violence against women charities may be vulnerable

The violence against women (VAW) sector is one that many people, including NPC, say is in trouble. But at a time when so many charities and charitable sectors are in trouble, how can you tell if the VAW sector really has more precarious funding than others?

In 2009, the Government Equalities Office, worried by claims of underfunding, commissioned NPC to do a study into how sustainable and stable the VAW sector was. We talked to experts within the VAW sector and looked at existing evidence of funding problems, and then compared it to evidence about the charity sector as a whole. We then took a random sample of VAW charities, looked at how stable they were, and  compared them to a random sample of charities from another similar sector–mental health.

What did this research show? A mixed picture, as you would expect in a highly diverse sector like violence against women. Overall the numbers of services had risen, but there had been some closures. Given what’s happened since (the field work for this research happened in 2009), the most important finding from this research is that the VAW sector may be highly vulnerable to public sector spending cuts because of its heavy reliance on statutory funding. Domestic violence refuge services make up a large part of the VAW sector, and often have a very narrow funding base (all the refuges in our sample were reliant on two or fewer sources of income for 60% of their funding), making them very vulnerable to changes in local government funding. The VAW sector generally had  a less diverse income base than that of the mental health sector.

Commissioning was a worry for both mental health and violence against women charities–for VAW it might mean that the sector changes as statutory funders seek to commission more generic services from larger organisations. VAW charities have  additional  cause to worry, because of the lack of income diversity mentioned above: if all your funding comes from one main source its worrying when there are changes to how it is given out. Because some smaller, more specialised VAW organisations have no paid management to devote their time to fundraising, there were worries that commissioning might be prompting a downward spiral in the stability and sustainability of these organisations. Those charities operating in the niche areas like female genital mutilation or prostitution, suffered from a lack of obvious funding streams to apply for.

So it seems that we were right to be worried about the VAW sector. The question now is, how can it be helped to become more stable?