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The value of women’s centres
Women in Prison report shows Women’s Centres generate a nearly triple return on public investment, but that nearly half are concerned about their survival. 

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Cost benefit analysis

We have known for many years that a disproportionate number of women are in prison for (very) short sentences and that their, often complex, needs would be much more appropriately me tin the community by our network of women’s centres. A new (7 October 2022) report by Women in Prison, provides a helpful cost benefit analysis. The report, The Value of Women’s Centres, shows that Women’s Centres – safe spaces which provide support on housing, domestic abuse, mental and physical health, and other issues – deliver a nearly threefold return on taxpayer investment by keeping women out of prison and easing demand for other services.

A strengths-based approach

The report builds on previous evidence by the Women’s Budget Group, and provides the results from an independent cost-benefit analysis on the value of Women’s Centres by Alma Economics. It also focuses on how Women’s Centres operate and provides information about the challenges they are facing from a survey of Women’s Centres and specialist women’s services from across England and Wales.

Women’s Centres

The Women’s Centre model is well established and has delivered positive outcomes for women, including women at risk of offending, or involved in the criminal justice system, over many years. There is already a network of around 40 Women’s Centres across England and Wales with skilled staff who are experts in their field. But this currently isn’t enough to meet the needs of all the women who would benefit from these services.

CBA

Independent analysis by Alma Economics shows that the benefits generated by Women’s Centres outweighs costs across different funding scenarios. The research found that a hypothetical Women’s Centre receiving £1m investment in a given year can support over 650 women and generate £2.75m in socio-economic benefits, including savings for public services and significant gains in welfare for women and their children. 

Through prevention and early intervention, support from Women’s Centres can mean reducing long-term or crisispoint demands on services such as health and housing, more survivors accessing support for domestic abuse, and a reduction in the number of children entering the care system. Among the agencies and departments that benefit, nearly half (47%) of the public sector savings is returned to the local authority, 17% to the Ministry of Justice and 15% to the NHS.

Funding problems

However, the report emphasises that the full potential of Women’s Centres and the benefits that could be gained from their services is not currently being realised due to unsustainable funding arrangements.
The provision of these projects and services is geographically inconsistent and many are unable to plan for the long term. Even where services do exist, the level of provision does not always match local demand.

About half of Women’s Centres responded to a survey undertaken for this report with worrying results. Only around half of the respondents said that they were likely to achieve full cost recovery on the contracts that they were delivering, and nine out of the 19 respondents were concerned about their organisational survival. 

Services also reported that as a result of the pandemic, the circumstances of women they supported changed, with more debt and financial issues materialising and an increased need for benefits and foodbank support. 

Services are facing a perfect storm of unstable funding, increasing demand and soaring costs at a time when the cost-of-living crisis is further increasing the needs of women and families.

Wrong priorities

Women in Prison welcomed the new funds announced last month for women’s services in the criminal justice system but say that it won’t meet need because they fall short of the system-wide investment needed. The £24m committed during the final week of Boris Johnson’s premiership to support women in contact with the criminal justice system pales in comparison to the £200m set aside for creating 500 new spaces in women’s prisons.

The report calls for a shift in priorities (and associated funding) away from incarceration and in favour of community rehabilitation.

Thanks to Anawin, Birmingham Centre for Women for the header image.

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