Making places work for women
Our new research Making Places Work for Women explores how place-based systems change can work for women in local areas.
Authored by the Point People for Agenda, it warns that the system aimed at helping vulnerable women is instead failing them.
Drawing on new qualitative research and the existing literature on gender, place-based approaches and systems change, it highlights a number of obstacles to women getting the support they need, including: poor data collection, unrealistic commissioning practices, siloed working, funding cuts and cultural barriers.
It suggests that not only do councils, the health service, police, charities and other bodies need to take gender into account, but they must also work together in a more ‘open and inclusive’ way to make a positive difference to the lives of the most disadvantaged.
It says ‘place-based systems change’ – a deliberate effort by organisations in a specific area to work in a more joined-up way to support people – could help women if implemented in the right way, with gender taken into account.
The discussion paper, funded by Lankelly Chase, sets out recommendations specifically for councils, central government and funders.
As well as calling for action on a local level, it urges central government to ensure that they provide the leadership and funding to support place-based systems change in local areas.
Women facing multiple disadvantage are amongst the most vulnerable and excluded in society, facing complex and overlapping problems like abuse and violence, poor physical and mental health, homelessness, offending and involvement in prostitution. Research for Agenda found one million women in poverty have faced the most extensive violence and abuse. This group has high rates of mental health disorders (55%); alcohol addiction (28%); and experiences of homelessness (21%).
The way current services are configured do not work for this group of women and too many fall through gaps in support. Specialist services are few and far between and increasingly struggle for funding. Gender is rarely thought about in service design, commissioning and delivery. 75% of clients in homeless and drug services are men, meaning they can be intimidating and unsafe places for women. Only around 10-30% of women who have experienced sexual and physical abuse are identified as survivors by mental health services. At the same time, some domestic and sexual abuse services are limited in their ability to support women with complex needs. For example, referrals into refuges for women with substance use support needs are less likely to be successful than referrals for other women.
Agencies and services women and girls at risk come into contact with too often lack a gendered understanding; work in siloes and provide inadequate support meaning women and girls are unable to get the help they need to turn their lives around.
When women are unable to access support or accommodation not only do their needs go unmet but they can be trapped in abusive relationships or in other insecure and precarious situations. Without the right support, women spiral from crisis to crisis, with huge resulting costs to them, their families and society as a whole.
Agenda believes that, in order to make systems and services work better for women and girls at risk, both national policy change and local place based systems change are critical and that these two approaches are mutually supporting. This is particularly important in a context of devolution where strategic and financial decisions are increasingly made at local levels.