Years of neglect for groups supporting victims of crime must be rectified by Boris Johnson, argues North West England’s former Chief Prosecutor.
Boris Johnson’s Government appears to have discovered an enormous amount of money behind the settee.
It thinks we can police our way out of the rise in crime, but the whole justice system needs refinancing if it is serious about it. The 20,000 extra police officers which have been promised in the next two years aim to replace the 500,000 years of experience which we lost through austerity cuts since 2010 – as well as that of the tens of thousands of police civilian staff, court staff, prosecutors and probation officers who were also slashed.
However, nothing is being said about the pain of funding cuts that victims support groups have endured and how their role is increasingly important when statutory services have been cut. Why is their anti-crime and pro-victim work any less important than 20,000 new police officers?
Leeds-based Karma Nirvana has for many years been running the world leading national helpline for victims of forced marriage and honour based violence and receives thousands of calls a year. It was, until recently, a 24/7 service. But, as victim numbers increase, a reduction in funding has reduced it to a 9-to-5, Monday to Friday, operation. Considering most victims of these crimes are the most vulnerable of any, the ability to seek help outside of business hours is critical to their safety. They can’t call for help until it’s safe for them to do so.
Additionally, Karma Nirvana also trains hundreds of police officers annually in identifying these crimes and handling the victims appropriately and it has had to reduce the amount of training it delivers by more than half. With the number of such crimes being prosecuted falling, more officers require more training. Who will deliver that, if not NGOs?
Since its founder survived the 7/7 bombings, the Jan Trust, in London, has been working with families who are at risk of extremism. It’s likely that those at risk of this will also have other vulnerabilities. So Jan Trust has developed a groundbreaking scheme which works with whole families, particularly mothers, to address these issues before they become a policing risk. Yet, its funding too has been attacked, leaving the organisation surviving on a shoestring. Isn’t protecting our communities worth shaking the money tree? It would be small fry for the Government – once again, allowing it to reduce harm before crime manifests.
The Halo Project, in Middlesbrough, has for a decade worked with the most vulnerable women in the north-east. Its service includes the only refuge for victims of abuse from a minority background in the region. Although it receives hundreds of referrals a year, it too has been diminished by funding cuts. Instead, these victims are left in the hands of their abusers, suffering multiple crimes. The police need the Halo Project to counsel and support. If it could do more, the police would have to do less.
To me, it’s a no-brainer. We will reduce the burden on the police, on the justice system, on communities and – most importantly – on victims, if we refinance the NGOs that the Government have been bleeding dry. Another 20,000 police officers alone won’t help reduce crime.