On 18 July at the High Court, Southall Black Sisters (SBS) won a major victory against Ealing Council which had cut funding for its services for BME women suffering from domestic violence.
The Court found that the council failed to pay proper regard to equality legislation, in particular the Race Relations Act, when making its decision to cut the entire funding of SBS and to use it instead for the provision of a generic domestic violence service in the borough.
SBS had been funded for many years by Ealing Council but last year, the Council decided to end its funding and invited organisations to bid for the provision of the same service for all women in the borough using the funds previously awarded to SBS to meet the needs of BME women. SBS has maintained that specialist services were needed not only for reasons to do with language difficulties and cultural pressures but also because groups such as SBS had considerable experience in providing advice and advocacy in complex circumstances where legal aid was not easily available and where immigration and asylum difficulties and institutional racism made some women more vulnerable than others.
Ealing Council was charged with the failing to carry out a full and proper equality impact assessment and also misinterpreting the race equality legislation by deciding that SBS’s 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 and for misinterpreting the cohesion agenda by assuming that ‘single group’ funding undermined cohesion when, in fact, as Lord Justice Moses, the presiding judge declared it promotes equality and thereby cohesion.
Ealing Council was unable to defend its actions in the light of extensive evidence which showed that it had committed a series of fundamental errors. The judge commented that aspects of Ealing Council’s actions were ‘blood curdling’ and he was close to regarding the Council as having conducted itself in ‘bad faith’ – a very serious allegation. The Council eventually decided to withdraw its case thereby denying SBS the opportunity of having a full judgement but a shorter judgement (pending) – will take the form of guidance to Ealing and to all other local authorities so that they comply properly with all equalities legislation and to prevent ‘cohesion’ arguments from being used to deny the need for specialist services.
After the verdict Pragna Patel of SBS commented: ‘This victory is important for all grassroots specialist organisations that are faced with or likely to face cuts in their funding on the spurious grounds of “cohesion” and “equality”. Ealing Council has tried to portray us an organisation opposed to the need for all women in the borough to have a domestic violence service. This is far from the reality. Our victory shows that its “divide and rule” tactics will not work.’
Read an IRR News story on: The baby and the bath water: community cohesion and the funding crisis