When Nicola Benge saw on social media the breaking news that Brighton domestic abuse charity Rise had lost their council contract, she felt sick. For Nicola, a service user, this brought back all those moments of fear that led her to seek help from Rise.
Domestic violence has increased by 20% globally during the pandemic. There have been an estimated 50 killings in the UK and a huge rise in calls to helplines and service providers. Refuges, helplines, support, legal advice and community groups are all things that can help people fleeing dangerous situations. So for Nicola and many others, Rise losing their contract has been triggering. This is the story of a community shocked and confused, rising to support Rise.
Rise provide essential services to people in tough situations. They run a refuge, a helpline, legal advice service, therapy and support. They started offering support to women in 1994 with a helpline and by 2007 they had two refuges running. Since then, they have developed their services and been pioneers in how they support people. They work with hospitals and GPs, and their phone number is found on many noticeboards throughout the city.
Why did Rise lose their funding?
It’s difficult to find out exactly what happened. In essence, the withdrawal of funding results from a decision in 2018-19 to tender and commission sexual abuse services Sussex-wide rather than locally. To give independence to the legal process, councillors are excluded from this process. Moreover, ‘social value’ was not included in the evaluation criteria, so Rise’s local networks, community and the trust it has built locally were not taken into account.
“I am concerned that for Rise their social value was not given its proportionate weight.”Anusree Biswas Sasidharan, local campaigner and standing invitee at Brighton & Hove City Council’s Policy & Resources Committee
The national organisations who have been awarded the contracts have more resources to put together their bids and already provide generic services across the country. The new contract in Brighton and Hove splits the domestic abuse services between Victim Support for the helpline and web service and Stonewater for the refuges, which means that service users will no longer have one place to go to for everything they need.
This is a broader national issue, as there are several other stories like this around provision of domestic abuse services across the country. Labour MP Jess Phillips commented and has spoken to Rise.
Women are more likely than men to be victims of domestic abuse. According to the Office for National Statistics an estimated 1.6 million women and 757,000 men aged 16 to 74 years experienced domestic abuse in the year ending March 2020. That is why Rise, and many charities like them, started by offering refuges to women and their children. Rise have expanded their services and would have been able to expand further. They already do great work with the LGBT+ community, and work specifically on projects to help Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic and Refugee (BAMER) communities. One person we spoke to said that Rise “have done great work to help break down barriers and taboos that often prevail in BAMER communities”. She continued:
“Building trust is tricky. It will be such a shame to lose this much-needed service only to be replaced by an organisation with no local connections, especially with the more vulnerable migrant community. When services for the most vulnerable are removed, it’s almost always the vulnerable migrants/BAMER community who suffer the most.“
Women’s Aid commented: “The council said ‘the tender was intentionally ‘non-gendered’ which meant that Rise, being primarily a service for women went against them, even though they have a specialist LGBT service.” Gina Miller commented about the expansion of services to include more services for LGBT+ and men who experience domestic violence and need support:
Surviving domestic abuse is no quick fix, so service users maintain a relationship with Rise, and those relationships continue and develop. Previous service users often become helpline volunteers, fundraisers and employees at the charity.
Rise are the people who are known to support any victims of domestic abuse in Brighton and Hove. They regularly speak at local events, and people are used to seeing a sea of pink vests at events like the Brighton marathon. They run peer group discussions and appear at community events.
A petition in support of Rise to Brighton & Hove City Council (BHCC) started by Nicola Benge on 13 February is close to reaching 30,000 signatures (the highest number of signatures on a petition to the council ever).
All three MPs in Brighton and Hove – Lloyd Russell-Moyle, Peter Kyle and Caroline Lucas – have expressed shock at Rise losing their contract. The campaigners have been brilliant at raising awareness of their campaign, asking people to write ‘#RiseUp’ on their hands and post on social media.
The petition was presented to BHCC on 17 March.
What happens now?
Rise want people to know that support will still be available to anyone who needs it. Kate Dale from Rise told us they are shocked by this decision but “continuity of service is our main objective”. They have been overwhelmed by the support they have received from the local community.
Rise and the petitioners are in discussions with the council and with MPs. They are working to ensure a smooth transition to the new providers, doing transfer notes to help with case information. Rise will continue to work on projects they have funding for and are bidding for more. Their work with refugees will continue, so they can help women with no recourse to public funds. And, more importantly, Kate said their helpline will continue: “People will still phone Rise!” What they are working on now is how to become sustainable for the next few years.
In the BHCC budget meeting on 25 February, cross-party amendments secured commitment for £95,000 for the year from 1 April and then £50,000 each year thereafter to support children and women survivors of domestic abuse. Rise have issued a statement in response to this highlighting the gap it leaves for them.
BHCC councillors have since pledged an investigation of the procurement process, and campaigners have met with the council’s chief executive Geoff Raw to put forward a series of proposals. They are calling on BHCC to help Rise find new premises, where survivors can meet workers in privacy, and to prioritise locally provided specialist services for women when additional funding from the government is allocated later this year.
To support Rise in their continuing work, you can donate here.
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