WRDA has submitted evidence to all 5 consultations by health and social care trusts on their proposed savings plans. We are joining with the trade unions in calling on the Department of Health to halt this process and access the money that has already been committed to investing in health and social care services.
5 th October 2017
Dear Chief Executive,
This response to the consultation on the Financial Planning Savings Plan 2017/18 is on behalf of the Women’s Resource and Development Agency.
The Women’s Resource and Development Agency (WRDA) is a regional organisation operating across Northern Ireland, with a mission to advance women’s equality and participation in society by working to transform political, economic, social and cultural conditions. The organisation was established in 1983 and focuses on working with women and community organisations located in disadvantaged and rural areas. WRDA is a membership organisation with over 190 members including women’s groups, organizations and individual members.
As a leadership organisation within the women’s sector we aim to present the concerns of women in the community and evaluate policy with a view to ensuring women’s rights and equality are protected. As we consider the current proposals that the Belfast Trust has presented we are deeply concerned. It is our view that the £70 million of in year cuts demanded by the Department of Health are not driven by necessity and they are completely at odds with the needs of service users.
WRDA echoes the position expressed by the trade unions through the NIC-ICTU Health Committee who have directed their response to the Permanent Secretary of the Department for Health and challenged his decision to impose these cuts on the trusts. We share their disgust that the decision making of the Department appears to not only breach their own Equality Scheme but also comes at a time when we know additional funding has been committed for health and social care services. In addition to the recent announcement of increased spending on the Health Service in England which would translate to an increase in the Northern Ireland allocation, these cuts come in the aftermath of a promised £200 million for health and social care in the DUP/Conservative deal at Westminster. We are also mindful of the agreement by the Executive back in May of last year to spend an extra £200 million on health each year and the £40 million already agreed to address the transformation issues raised in the Bengoa report.
For years now anti-austerity voices such as the women’s sector having been highlighting that the narrative which suggests there is no alternative to cutting public services is a false one. Never has there been such as stark example of the unnecessary, political nature of spending cuts as this current crisis in the health service. The public are not fooled – it is clear from the examples above that there is money to spend on these vital services and it is simply not being accessed by those with decision making power.
For this reason WRDA supports the position of NIC-ICTU that the public consultation is no more than a sham. Asking worried and vulnerable service users to argue against the loss of the services that will most affect them is irresponsible and quite disgusting in light of the political backdrop and the unnecessary imposition of the in-year cuts.
We are calling on you as Chief Executive, along with your colleagues in the other trusts, to demonstrate the leadership that is required to halt this current process. We will be writing to the Department for Health in recognition of the responsibility held by the Permanent Secretary for this current crisis. We will also be calling on all political representatives to end the political stalemate that has led to this vacuum of accountability for public spending. But we would also like to see the Chief Executives take a similar approach to that of the school principals who in April of this year refused to implement the Department of Education’s budget. They wrote a public letter outlining their opposition to the budget which they described as ‘untenable’ and ‘seriously damaging their pupils’ education’. These principals had the courage to risk their own reputations as they were effectively declaring that they would have to plan for ‘deficit budget positions’ in order to meet their children’s needs. They told the department they would be spending what was required and put the ball back into their court to come up with a ‘meaningful and sensible budget.’
What is needed at this crisis point in the health service is not a conversation about which services should be cut first. The delivery of health and social care is already at breaking point due to chronic underfunding. To make further cuts as the winter months approach is alarming and unacceptable. What we need is for leaders in health and social care to demonstrate courage and send a message to the Department that this process will place you in breach of your own equality schemes and your duty to your service users.
Women’s Sector Lobbyist
On 21st September Reclaim the Agenda and Women’s Aid Federation NI are organising a rally in Belfast City Centre against the latest welfare cuts that target low income families. They are calling for the public to join the women’s movement and stand up to the UK government’s ‘two child cap’ policy that restricts tax credits and Universal Credit to a maximum of two children per family. Anne McVicker, Chair of Reclaim the Agenda says “This policy is an attack on women and children’s rights and a cynical attempt to make financial savings off the backs of the most vulnerable.”
The government has also put in place a ‘rape clause’ which is an exemption for any woman who can prove to a 3rd party assessor that she has become pregnant as a result of rape, including a stipulation that she must name the child conceived in this way on the application form. Children’s rights organisations are concerned about the stigmatising of children and domestic violence groups believe this practice of ‘forced disclosure’ along with a requirement to no longer be living with the attacker will traumatise women and put their lives in danger.
The SNP MP Alison Thewliss has been campaigning against the policy at Westminster since it was first announced back in 2015 and will be attending the Belfast rally. She spearheaded a parliamentary petition calling on the UK Government to ‘repeal the “family cap” measures in the Welfare Reform and Work Act 2016, including all of its exemptions.’ This was on track to reach the threshold for a debate in parliament but was closed early due to the general election being called.
Organisations and individuals continue to lobby MPs to call for the 2 child cap to be repealed. Northern Ireland MPs have previously signed an Early Day Motion opposing the rape clause and many campaigners are now looking to current representatives to see if they will continue to take this stance. The Labour Party has pledged to repeal the cap if it gets into power and in July the Shadow Secretary of State Owen Jones claimed that the rape clause in unworkable in Northern Ireland due to our unique criminal law on disclosure of information about serious crimes.
Civil society organisations are united in their opposition to these measures with children’s charities, trade unions, human rights and equality groups set to join the women’s movement for the rally on the 21st. Most of the professional bodies representing healthcare workers have also heavily criticised the cap and rape clause and will be supporting the rally.
As GPs, midwives or social workers may be called on to participate in rape exemption applications their professional bodies have voiced their concerns that they could be liable for prosecution under section 5 of the 1967 Criminal Law Act (Northern Ireland), for failing to report a crime.
Louise Kennedy, policy worker at Women’s Aid Federation, says “Requiring women to prove that they conceived a child through rape to access child tax credits is cruel and inhumane. The policy will re-traumatise many victims of rape, while others will simply not come forward to claim what they are entitled to, leaving them and their children in poverty. As this policy punishes some of our society’s most vulnerable, it’s our duty to stand together and support them. We have to give victims of rape and domestic abuse a voice.”
Kellie Turtle, the Women’s Sector Lobbyist, says “We aren’t prepared to accept welfare cuts aimed at low income families that demonise women and stigmatise children. The Department for Communities is about to implement a measure that will have a terrible impact on women and children. While we are fighting this policy at Westminster, in the absence of a functioning Executive at Stormont we have no choice but to take to the streets and make our voices heard.”
Note to Editors:
The rally will take place at 1pm on Thursday 21st September at Causeway Exchange on Bedford Street, the office of the Permanent Secretary of the Department for Communities. All those in attendance will be invited to sign and submit a letter calling for the repeal of the 2 child cap and rape clause to the Secretary of State James Brokenshire and a letter to the Perm Sec of DfC Leo O’Reilly calling for a halt to its implementation in Northern Ireland.
Alison Thewliss will be addressing the rally alongside speakers from local women’s organisations. She will be in Belfast all day and available to the media for interviews.
Reclaim the Agenda is a collective of women sector representatives, grassroots feminist activists, trade union activists and interested individuals who campaign on 6 key themes; 1. To live free from poverty 2. To live free from discrimination 3. To have healthcare services that meet our particular needs 4. To live our lives free from domestic and sexual violence and abuse 5. To live in a society where women are equally represented as decision maker 6. To have access to good, affordable and flexible childcare provision Women’s Aid Federation NI is is the lead voluntary organisation in Northern Ireland addressing domestic and sexual violence and providing services for women and children. The Women’s Aid movement in Northern Ireland began in 1975 and is made up of nine local women’s aid groups and Women’s Aid Federation Northern Ireland. Each Women’s Aid group offers a range of specialist services to women, children and young people who have experienced domestic violence. They are all members of Women’s Aid Federation Northern Ireland.
Kellie Turtle, Women’s Sector Lobbyist
Louise Kennedy, Women’s Aid Federation NI
The 2 child cap came into effect across the UK on 6th April. It applies to child tax credit and universal credit. Since UC has not yet been rolled out in Northern Ireland, it currently mainly affects families here in receipt of child tax credit. Anyone who makes a new claim for a 3rd or subsequent child will have that claim denied. If a family’s circumstances change they may also find they become subject to the 2 child cap.
The rape clause also came into effect on that date, having been rushed through as a statutory instrument without full parliamentary debate. Many opposition MPs in Westminster are now calling for the rape clause to be debated in full in parliament.
It is not clear yet how this is affecting families on the ground in Northern Ireland. We do not have access to recent data and at the minute advocacy organisations are actively seeking people to come forward if they have had a claim rejected under this new policy. In relation to the rape clause, almost all of the agencies earmarked to be 3rd party assessors (those that the woman would have to discuss the circumstances of her pregnancy with and convince that she had been raped) have so far refused to participate. It is not yet clear how this will therefore be implemented.
Media analysis of the impact of the 2 child cap and a range of other cuts that came in on 6th April 2017. Including a key insight from Alison Garnham, Child Poverty Action Group’s chief executive, who said: “This is a particularly pernicious cut because it suggests some children matter more than others. It’s also illogical because no parent has a crystal ball. Families that can comfortably support a third child today could struggle tomorrow and have to claim universal credit because, sadly, health, jobs and relationships can fail.” This demonstrate that the UK government is intent on creating an ‘us and them’ narrative around people who claim benefits. Whereas in real life poverty is not fixed – families can face hardships that push them into reliance on benefits and families who are well supported to get through hard times rather than being further constrained, can work their way off benefits.
Child Poverty Action Group UK highlights that the 2 child cap will push an additional 200,000 children into poverty in the UK http://www.cpag.org.uk/content/two-child-limit-universal-credit-200000-more-children-put-poverty
Women’s Policy Group NI Briefing Paper setting out their opposition to the 2 child cap and rape clause – includes human rights and equality issues and problems with implementing the policy in Northern Ireland: http://www.womensaidni.org/assets/uploads/2017/05/opposing-the-two-child-cap-and-rape-clause.pdf
The spotlight on Northern Ireland has come about as a result of the Labour Party’s focus on Section 5 of the Criminal Law Act NI which creates a duty to report details of a serious crime, of which rape is included. This makes the rape clause extremely unworkable in Northern Ireland and undermines the whole policy. https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/jul/23/labour-sounds-alarm-universal-credit-rape-clause-northern-ireland
Women’s Aid Federation NI Statement on the Labour Party’s Opposition to the Rape Clause (24th July 2017) https://www.womensaidni.org/labour-stand-rape-clause/
Women’s Aid short guide to the policy ‘Everything you wanted to know about the rape clause but were afraid to ask. (7th Sept 2017) https://www.womensaidni.org/everything-wanted-know-rape-clause/
Reponses from medical professional bodies:
RCN, RCM & GPs: http://www.irishnews.com/news/healthcarenews/2017/06/09/news/-rape-clause-in-new-tax-credit-rules-described-as-inhumane–1049047/
WRDA’s innovative ‘Reclaim the Bonfires’ workshops have finished. The workshops explored the long, rich, diverse and shared history of bonfires internationally, and locally and how they can be used as culturally inclusive events. As part of Community Relations and Cultural Awareness Week our Good Relations worker, Kellie O’Dowd will be presenting the learning from these sessions. This was an exciting programme and will have generated some interesting results.
The event will be held at Small Wonders, 17 Morpeth Street, Belfast on the 19th of September and will run from 10.30am – 12pm. To secure your place please email Megan at email@example.com.
WRDA received a letter from the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust seeking our views as a consultee on the proposals in their 2017/2018 Financial Planning Savings Plan.
As you will no doubt have seen in the news, all of the health trusts have been told by the Department of Health that they must make £70 million of cuts to their in year spending – that leaves them with the huge task of finding ways to save £70 million in the next 6 months.
In the absence of political leadership the situation that has been created by the department’s demand is nothing short of dangerous and chaotic. In an attempt to try to bring some sense of public accountability to the process, the trusts have initiated a public consultation and held a series of public meetings seeking views on how best to make the savings. A number of trade unions, professional medical bodies, political representatives and campaign groups have quite rightly used their place at these meetings to urge the health trusts to go back to the department and refuse to cut vital services any further. Read More