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This page was first posted in February
2008 to ask local people in West London to support the Southall Black Sisters
who were facing closure due to a change in funding policy by the
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
The longer term issue of funding for Southall
Black Sisters (SBS) from
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 a page about SBS on this website by clicking here or by going to the SBS website direct 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 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
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
Also, it would be a big help if other potential sources of funding from within the local community could make themselves known to SBS.
Explanatory briefing about the funding situation issued by Southall Black Sisters
From Southall Black Sisters
21 Avenue Road
Tel: 020 8571 9595
Fax: 020 8574 6781
8 February 2008
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
- 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.
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.
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.
Chair of Southall Black Sisters
Pro Forma Letter of Support
MODEL LETTER (on letter headed paper/with your address)
Leader of Ealing Council
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.
The High Court Hearing in July 2008
The application for
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.
The High Court Ruling
The full text of the ruling given by Lord Justice Moses may be found in a Word document by clicking here.
The contact details for Southall Black Sisters are as follows:
21 Avenue Road
Tel: 020 8571 9595
Fax: 020 8574 6781
Website : http://www.southallblacksisters.org.uk/
E-mail : email@example.com
Original date of posting : 28th February 2008
Updated : 26th July 2008 and 18th November 2009