The economic case for women’s centres

The UK Women's Budget Group makes the case for sustainable funding for women's centres instead of imprisonment.

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The business case for reducing the number of women in prison

Women’s Centres are specialist community-based support services for women facing multiple disadvantages, including women involved in or at risk of involvement in the criminal justice system.

  • A place at a Woman’s Centre ranges from £1,223 to £4,125 per woman depending on needs, whilst a place in prison costs £52,121
  • It is estimated that £1.7bn is spent on issues linked to female offending, whilst in the long term £2.84 is saved for every £1 spent on women’s centres
  • The Women’s Centre model shows one centre making a saving of £18 million over a 5-year period.
  • An initial review of 15 women’s services specialist providers has revealed a £10m gap in core funding for Women’s Centres for the year from March 2021. For many, this funding ‘cliff edge’ and the inability to plan beyond the short-term, risks the closure of vital support services for women who might otherwise end up in custody.

A report by Women’s Budget Group in collaboration with Women in Prison, Brighton Women’s Centre, Anawim – Birmingham’s Centre for Women, The Nelson Trust and Together Women published on Tuesday (20 October 2020) called on the Government to deliver the objectives of the Government’s Female Offender Strategy by reducing the number of women in prison through investing in Women’s Centres.

  • Research shows that there are now more than 2,200 more women in prison than there were 25 years ago.
  • It is estimated that 17,000 children are affected by maternal imprisonment every year. This is due to women’s disproportionate levels of caring responsibilities.

The report, The Case for Sustainable Funding for Women’s Centres highlights the staggering savings that can be made by investing in Women’s Centres, the financial cost of the current model and its failure to address the root causes of women’s offending, leading to a ‘revolving door’ of imprisonment. Overall, women’s interaction with the Criminal Justice System is a cause and consequence of women’s economic inequality:

  • In 2018, 82% of women sentenced to prison had committed a non-violent offence, such as shoplifting or even non-payment of council tax, compared to 67% of men.
  • Women’s offending is often rooted in poverty or financial exclusion.

Complex and inefficient funding

The report addresses the central report that despite there being a long term cross-party political consensus of the importance of women’s centres, funding remains inadequate and precarious with some women’s centres having to close down in recent years. It highlights some of the main problems well known to people running services in the criminal justice voluntary sector and women’s centres in particular:

  • Funding is often on a short-term basis leaving Women’s Centres unable to plan for the future and staff at constant risk of redundancy.
  • Commissioners’ and funders’ focus on ‘innovative projects’ can leave proven core services struggling to secure funding.
  • Commissioners and funders are often unwilling to meet the full cost of services, including the necessary contribution to overheads and core costs.
  • Women’s Centres are managing multiple (up to 20) funding streams. This results in a massive duplication of management costs and is highly inefficient.
  • The creation of a competitive market through the procurement process attracts large generic service providers who lack specialist knowledge. Women’s Centres are often unable to compete for a range of reasons, including lack of resources to enter bureaucratic tendering processes and because their specialist skills are inadequately recognised in tender criteria.
  • When large generic providers fail, Women’s Centres who have been subcontracted to deliver services on their behalf are left bearing the cost.
  • There is no central strategic overview of provision, meaning that many areas of the country are not covered by services.
  • Charitable trusts and other voluntary funders are making up for the shortfall in statutory funding.

The report breaks down the funding streams of a number of women’s centres (see an example below) to demonstrate this complexity.

The report makes a detailed economic case for women’s centres, presenting an in-depth cost benefit analysis and a detailed explanation of how different government departments derive return on investments in the centres. The report concludes by making two recommendations for a more reliable, long-term approach to funding. 

  1. We recommend that a significant amount of core funding be provided centrally and matched funding granted from a local consortium of commissioners. Charity funds should only be sourced for extra services above the core requirement.
  2. We recommend that the Government provide mandatory commissioning guidance to local commissioners (police and crime commissioners, local health commissioners, and local authorities) to ensure that a network of appropriate services is available nationwide.

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