Ellie Hutchinson, of The Empowerment Project, said that stipulations set by the Government means Scottish organisations will miss out on vital funding
When George Osborne announced in 2015 that the £15m raised annually from the sale of menstrual products would be spent directly on charities that help women and girls, many expressed outrage. Fighting gender-based violence should be an issue for society as a whole, led by what victims and survivors need, and supported by the government. It’s not a cause for women to champion (and pay for) alone.
But as a manager of a small charity focusing on gender-based violence, any funding stream with this mission is right up my street. Especially at a time when the austerity agenda has devastated us as a sector.
The criteria seemed simple enough – to apply for this fund you must be delivering work in the violence against women and girls field, be innovative, fill gaps and support mental health and wellbeing.
The Empower Project grew out of a need to create spaces for young people to participate in these discussions. We wanted to hear what young people make of sex and relationships in the digital age, and learn how we could support positive sexuality, counteracting abuse and violence. We also wanted to move away from a purely judiciary response to issues around violence, and explore what community justice and prevention looks like. Nine of us work and volunteer on the project; we host discussion groups and deliver training on issues like revenge porn, sex and relationships in the digital age, and online forms of violence.
We are innovative. We tackle violence against women and girls. We are doing work not found anywhere else in the country. We also support positive mental health. We should be perfect for the tampon tax fund. Apart from one problem. We need at least £2 million turnover to apply.
You read that right. In the 2017/18 guidance for applicants (pdf), the government has specified that applications should be for £1m or more, and that the value of the grant requested should not represent more than 50% of the organisation’s annual income.
The government has now announced that there will be funds allocated to groups who have a turnover of less than £100,000 a year. This is a positive step, but leaves a huge gap for all the organisations who find themselves in the middle.
The idea that expert organisations doing this work have anywhere near a £2 million turnover is laughable. Women’s refuges have closed. Staff have been made redundant. Most funding streams barely cover project costs, let alone staff overheads. Our reserves are stretched. Pay has been cut in real terms. We do things for free, all of the time. We volunteer our skills, ideas and labour to keep services going because we know what will happen if we don’t.
We suspect this move might be to encourage collaborative working. But there’s no one organisation in Scotland with a big enough turnover to act as the lead organisation. It’s much the same all over the sector – with a few UK-wide exceptions. Why then, would the government decide to exclude so many charities? This is not a fund for women and girls groups, despite what the guidance says.
This is wilful ignorance of what the sector looks like and what it does. Violence against women and girls’ services have always worked at the grassroots level. We listen, learn and support. We are not a sector filled with large charities. We are a sector of small, community-focused groups, with a few umbrella bodies thrown in to support that work. We do not have anywhere close to £2m.
This was not a fund developed with women and girls in mind. The tampon tax fund is nothing more than a further diversion of scarce resources away from the vital work that we do. Ludicrously, just like menstrual products, ending gender-based violence would appear to be a luxury.