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Southall Black Sisters

 

 

 

This page was posted originally in February 2008 to ask local people in West London visiting this website to support the Southall Black Sisters (SBS) who were facing closure due to a change in funding policy by the London Borough of Ealing (LBE).  It has been updated in July 2008 following the High Court ruling about the implementation of European Race Law which resulted from proceedings brought against LBE by SBS. It will be kept as standing information as an example of how ordinary people and small organisations can stand up to fight for the protection and rights afforded to them without our legal framework. 

 

 

 

The original posting to this page relating to the threat of closure is as below. The drafting including the tenses used has not been changed to reflect subsequent events so could readers please bear that in mind.  The commentary about the threat of closure is then followed by details of the Court action by Southall Black Sisters against London Borough of Ealing and their landmark legal victory in ensuring that European Union Race Law is required to be complied with here in the United Kingdom.     

 

 

The longer term issue of funding for SBS from LBE remains subject to review by LBE. Any relevant developments will be updated on this website.

 

 

 

The threat of closure (as posted in February 2008)

 

Although not directly connected with energy healing, Southall Black Sisters (SBS) are a mainstream organisation supporting women going through very difficult situations in their lives. For those who do not know them, SBS are based just up the road in Southall and provide a range of support services for Asian and Afro-Caribbean women who are suffering various kinds of disempowerment and abuse at the hands of others. SBS is also active in influencing national and local government policy development on issues within its area of operations such as forced marriages and honour killings. You can read more by going to the SBS website by clicking here.

 

SBS is an organisation in the voluntary sector which is dependent upon funding from various public sector and charitable sources for its ongoing financial survival. Its largest funder is the London Borough of Ealing. LBE have decided that with effect from the new financial year starting April 2008 future funding for women’s support organisations in the Borough will go only to those organisations that support all women regardless of ethnic background and will not support any that are focussed on specific ethnic groups. LBE have asked SBS in future to provide their services either directly to all women in the Borough irrespective of ethnic background or indirectly through the development of a consortium of groups to provide such a service, both options without any increase in funding to support a larger number of women. LBE will cease the provision of funding to SBS if it will not follow the new policy. SBS take the view that without increased levels of funding it will not be able to provide good quality support to a larger client base and that its expertise and support delivery in connection with black women will be substantially weakened. In other words it will not be possible to deliver the LBE vision at the intended funding level. Without LBE funding, SBS will have to close. This would mean the loss of an important local and national centre of expertise. SBS wish to be able to continue to provide the same level of support to Asian and Afro-Caribbean women as in the past so have commenced legal action against LBE under the current European Union Directive on Race which was implemented under local national law in July 2003. The law gives legal protection both from direct discrimination and also forms of indirect discrimination such as applying conditions or practices that put people of particular racial or ethnic backgrounds at a disadvantage and which is not a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim. Given that the 2001 National Census results indicated that around a quarter of the population in LBE are of Asian or Black ethnicity, this ethnic mix is likely to be of critical focus in any Court case in connection with the SBS situation.

 

The reason for mentioning SBS on this website is that this organisation needs all the support that it can get from the local community so that it can continue to provide specialist support for Asian and Afro-Caribbean women. If readers of this page would like to help, please write to London Borough of Ealing and to your local MP to express your views and to ask for a change of policy towards SBS. It might be helpful also to write to Harriet Harman at the House of Commons. The SBS website gives a sample pro forma around which a letter of protest could be written and sent to LBE. I have reproduced this below together with an explanatory note about the SBS situation from the SBS website. Although the drafting of the pro forma letter was relevant at the beginning of 2008, it can be adapted to reflect the fact that time has moved on. This matter is not likely to achieve closure until either LBE change their minds on the funding or a Court has made determination on that matter. Up to either of these points, any support that can be given to SBS could help to influence the eventual outcome. 

 

Details of your local MP can be found by clicking here.

 

It would be helpful if readers of this page who would like to help Southall Black Sisters could e-mail their friends and relatives in West London about the current situation.

 

Also, it would be a big help if other potential sources of funding from within the local community could make themselves known to SBS. 

 

If London Borough of Ealing do not change their minds about intended funding conditions for Southall Black Sisters, it is likely to be some time before any determination at Court is reached. I will update this page and the front page of this website as appropriate.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Explanatory briefing about the funding situation issued by Southall Black Sisters

 

From Southall Black Sisters

 

21 Avenue Road

Southall

Middlesex

UB1 3BL

Tel: 020 8571 9595

Fax: 020 8574 6781

Email: southallblacksisters@btconnect.com

 

8 February 2008

 

 

Dear Friends

 

Southall Black Sisters is under threat of closure

 

We are writing to you to request support for our organisation. We are currently facing threat of closure as a result of our local authority’s (Ealing) decision to withdraw our funding as of April 2008.

 

Since the mid eighties our ‘core’ funding has been provided by Ealing. Over the years we have on average received £100,000 per annum from the local authority and this is utilised to provide advice, advocacy, counselling and support services to black and minority women in the borough who experience violence and abuse. The experience and insights gained through this work has led us to become a strategically important service, providing advice on policy and legal developments to government, and international, national and local organisations and professionals. The Ealing grant has, of course, had to be supplemented by funds raised elsewhere.

 

The local authority’s decision is based on the view that there is no need for specialist services for black and minority women and that services to abused women in the borough need to be streamlined. This view fails to take account of the unequal social, economic and cultural context which makes it difficult, if not impossible, for black and minority women to access outside help or seek information about their rights. In effect the council proposes to take away essential life saving services provided by SBS. Ealing council suggests that we either extend our service to cover the needs of all women in the borough or that we set up a consortium of groups to provide such a service for the same sum of money. The amount of funds available to the voluntary sector in Ealing has shrunk year in, year out, but the withdrawal of funds to SBS will have a number of far reaching consequences:

 

  • The attempt to compel us to meet the needs of all women will mean that we will have to reduce our services to black and minority women across London and the country.  Abused black and minority women, who already face considerable racism, discrimination and cultural pressures, will no longer have access to a specialist service. We have never denied our services to any woman who contacts SBS but our focus has out of necessity, and in recognition of the demographic composition of the area, been on meeting the needs of black and minority women who continue to be one of the most disempowered sections of our society. The suicide rates of Asian women for example, are already three times the national average and homicides - where abusive men and families kill their wives, daughters or daughters-in-law - are also high within some black and minority communities. In all likelihood, any reduction in our services will see a rise in suicide and homicide rates amongst black and minority women.

 

  • We will no longer have the same national impact in terms of our input in policy and legal development in relation to black and minority women which has been highly effective over the years. Our campaigns in such critical areas of work as forced marriage, honour killings, suicides and self harm, religious fundamentalism and immigration difficulties, especially the ‘no recourse to public funds’ issue, will have to be drastically cut back .

 

  • A unique, specialist and experienced organisation (members of the staff and management committee have a combined experience of over 50 years) will lose its identity - an identity that has become synonymous with high quality service provision. We are seen as a ‘flagship’ organisation. Indeed Harriet Harman, the Deputy Prime Minister in her speech at the House of Commons on 18 July 2007, made specific reference to SBS as exactly the kind of group that the State should support.

 

…we will work on the issue of empowering women in black and Asian communities. Women play a crucial role working together in their communities, whether they are working to reduce crime in their area, like Mothers Against Guns…, or whether they are Asian women, like Southall Black Sisters, working to support other Asian women. We want to do more to support and empower those women as they tackle problems within, and build bridges between, communities

 

This statement was made in the context of debates on cohesion in which she specifically identified groups like ours as key to building cohesion between and within communities. It is therefore of grave concern that at a time when all local authorities have a duty to promote cohesion, Ealing Council has chosen to undermine a group that has historically and effectively worked across religious and ethnic lines within black and minority communities precisely to bridge differences and build a sense of citizenship. Ironically, the Council is seeking to set up Muslim women only groups under its ‘cohesion’ strategy – the demand for which does not exist!

 

We also need to address the new challenges posed by immigration and asylum difficulties, growing racism and religious intolerance. But without adequate funding, SBS is now in danger of closing down.

 

Current Position

 

Following legal action, we have compelled Ealing Council to carry out a race equality impact assessment. This had not been undertaken prior to making a decision to withdraw our funding.

 

Although the Council has now undertaken such an assessment, it is only in relation to the new domestic violence policy. In other words it only assesses whether or not all women ‘may’ be able to access the new service. The Council maintains that withdrawing funding from SBS will have no adverse consequences for black and minority women! The assessment is also flawed since it does not consider the consequences for black and minority women if SBS services are cut or closed. We have submitted detailed representations pointing out the flaws in their assessment procedure with a view to taking further legal action if necessary, Over 50 users of our services have also written to the Council protesting at their high handed decision.

 

Your Support

 

The issues raised by the Council’s actions have wider ramifications for all black and minority women’s organisations. It is imperative that we act now. We ask you to write to the leader of Ealing Council, Jason Stacey whose details are to be found on the model letter that follows.

 

We would be grateful for any support that you can give us. If you do not have time to draft a letter, please find enclosed a model letter which you may amend as you see fit. Please also let us have a copy of your letter and any reply that you receive.

 

If you are able to support us in any other way please contact us. We look forward to your response.

 

Yours sincerely

 

 

 

Pragna Patel

Chair of Southall Black Sisters

 

 

 

 

 

Pro Forma Letter of Support

 

MODEL LETTER (on letter headed paper/with your address)

 

Jason Stacey

Leader of Ealing Council

Ealing Town Hall

Uxbridge Road

Ealing

W5 2BY

Jason.Stacey@ealing.gov.uk

 

Date

 

 

 

Dear Mr. Stacey,

 

We are writing to you to express our concern at Ealing Council’s decision to withdraw funding from Southall Black Sisters, a flagship organisation that has brought credit to your borough through its extremely valuable work locally, nationally and internationally.

 

Over the years, SBS has provided a much-needed service to local black and minority women. Its work has been vital in bringing about much needed change to policy and good practice on a range of issues from domestic violence to honour killings and forced marriage. It has also served the borough well by organising services for minority women across religious, caste and ethnic lines - a central aim of your cohesion strategy. Given the Council’s record of support for the organisation for the last 29 years, this must have been a view shared by the Council itself.

 

As you are aware, black and minority women constitute one of the most vulnerable groups in society. Recent national reports confirm that in addition to the problems that all women encounter in exiting from an abusive relationship, black and minority women face additional barriers to accessing advice and support. Consequently they are in need of targeted specialist support.

 

You will also be aware that SBS raises additional funding from a variety of sources in order to continue to provide a comprehensive and high quality service to minority women. It seems entirely unreasonable then to expect the group to provide a service to all women from the same pot of money, which had not adequately met the needs of minority women.

 

We are concerned that you decision to withdraw the organisation’s funding appears not to be not based on any proper assessment of the needs of black and minority women or the impact that the closure of SBS will have on them.

 

We therefore urge you to consider your new domestic violence policy and continue your support for this important organisation.

 

Yours Sincerely,

 

 

 

 

 

 

Contact details

 

The contact details for Southall Black Sisters are as follows:

 

21 Avenue Road

Southall

Middlesex

UB1 3BL

 

Tel: 020 8571 9595

Fax: 020 8574 6781

 

 

Website : http://www.southallblacksisters.org.uk/

E-mail : southallblacksisters@btconnect.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

The High Court Hearing in July 2008

 

The application for proceedings against London Borough of Ealing by Southall Black Sisters resulted in a Trial at the High Court in mid-July 2008. On 18th July LBE withdrew its defence with the result that a full trial could not be completed. The outcome of the proceedings was the issuing of guidance by the High Court relevant to LBE and to other similar funding organisations regarding the interpretation and implementation of Race Law.

 

The following replication from the SBS website dated 25th July 2008 gives the official SBS summary of events and opinion.

 

 

Southall Black Sisters – Funding Situation Update

LATEST NEWS (Updated 25 July 2008)

Southall Black Sisters’ Victory against Ealing Council

‘There is no dichotomy between funding specialist services and cohesion; equality is necessary for cohesion to be achieved.’ Lord Justice Moses

On 18 July at the High Court, in a dramatic turn of events, Ealing Council withdrew their case after one and a half days of a hearing which saw their defence rapidly unravelling.

From the outset, it became apparent to the presiding judge, Lord Justice Moses and to all those present in the courtroom including the packed public gallery, that Ealing Council was skating on really thin ice in attempting to justify its decision to cut funding to SBS and to commission instead one generic borough wide service on domestic violence on the grounds of ‘equality’ and ‘cohesion’.

Amongst other things, Ealing Council was charged with the failure to:

  • Have proper regard to the race equality legislation and other equalities duties or its own policies when it made its decision to end funding to SBS. It failed to carry out a full and proper equality impact assessment and when it did, it was only to justify its decision;
  • Interpret correctly the race equality legislation by deciding that our very name and constitution (to meet the needs of Asian and African-Caribbean women) was in breach of the Race Relations Act because it ‘excluded’ white women;
  • Interpret correctly the cohesion agenda by assuming that it was contrary to the race equality legislation.

As the two days wore on, Ealing Council found it difficult to maintain its defence in the light of extensive evidence which showed that it had committed a series of fundamental errors and was in fact close to being regarded as having conducted the matter in ‘bad faith’ – a very serious allegation. The judge was disturbed by the way in which the Council had behaved and was demanding that it account for aspects of its actions which he found ‘blood curdling’. The Council had misinterpreted statistics which showed that black and minority women have rates of reporting domestic violence in Ealing that are disproportionate to their size of population and a crucial letter from the author of a report on gaps in domestic violence services in Ealing was not taken into account by the Council when deciding to provide a generic service, leading her to make a formal complaint.

The Council eventually decided to withdraw its case thereby denying SBS the opportunity of having a full judgement setting out the facts of the case and the litany of failures on the part of the Council………………... But we were able to secure a shorter judgement (pending) – which will take the form of guidance to Ealing and hopefully to all other local authorities so that in future they comply properly with the racial and other equalities legislation.

Essentially the principles that will be reiterated are:

  • Local authorities must have proper regard to the Race Relations Act which also means undertaking proper equality impact assessments at the formative stage of the decision making process;
  • Cohesion does not mean disregarding the need for equality. Local authorities cannot hide behind cohesion arguments to cut specialist service provision;
  • Positive action is an essential part of the duty to promote racial equality. Special services run for and by BME groups (whatever their name) are not contrary to the Race Relations Act.

This result of all this is that Ealing Council must now go back to the drawing board and although the outcome could be the same again, hopefully, our victory will make it more difficult for it to ignore the guidance and therefore SBS. The Council has agreed to continue to fund SBS at the previous level until it completes the process of commissioning based on any new decision on domestic violence services.

Ealing Council also agreed to pay the costs of our legal representation and unusually the costs of the Equality and Human Rights Commission which intervened in the case as an interested third party. The total costs are likely to amount to about £100,000 – the amount that the Council previously gave SBS on an annual basis!

Victory for the entire voluntary sector

This case has raised important questions about the meaning of equality and cohesion and reminded us of the need to maintain solidarity between white and black women in the face of ‘divide and rule’ tactics. We hope that our victory will encourage other grassroots groups to fight back. We believe this case has set a precedent and that the guidance that will be available should enable all specialist groups to fight for the right to exist as autonomous groups.

When we began the process of challenging Ealing Council exactly one year ago, we were not sure where our journey would lead us. We received tremendous support from our users and many, many other individuals and organisations along the way. It is impossible to list everyone who supported us but we really would not have come this far without such encouragement and support. Above all, the support that we received reminded us of our responsibility in building a civil society based on the principles of justice, equality and humanity. We thank you all for making this victory possible.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Original date of posting : 28th February 2008

Updated : 26th July 2008

 

 

 

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