NEW FUNDS ANNOUNCED LAST MONTH for women’s services in the criminal justice system will fall short of the system-wide investment needed, new research from Women in Prison suggests. The £24 million committed during the final week of Boris Johnson’s premiership to support women in contact with the criminal justice system is welcome, but pales in comparison to the £200 million set aside for creating 500 new spaces in women’s prisons, says the charity.

The report, The Value of Women’s Centres, shows that the 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.

“We should be investing much more in supporting women to stay out of prison than in locking more of them up,” said Sonya Ruparel, Chief Executive at Women In Prison. “Our research shows that Women’s Centres not only bring huge benefits to those struggling the most, they save taxpayer money too.”

The research shows that a typical Women’s Centre receiving £1 million in a given year can support over 650 women and generate £2.75 million in public sector savings, while providing a lifeline for vital services and significantly improving wellbeing for women and their children. The savings would go to local authorities (47 per cent), the Ministry of Justice (17 per cent), the NHS (15 per cent), the Police (10 per cent), the Department for Work and Pensions (nine per cent) and HM Revenue and Customs (two per cent). Nearly half of Women’s Centres surveyed said they are concerned about their survival.

Joy Doal, Chief Executive of Anawim Women’s Centre said: “We are struggling. The needs of the women we work with are becoming more complex. We are witnessing the fallout from Covid-19 – which is driving mental health problems – and an alarming number of women driven into poverty due to rising bills. On top of that our own costs are skyrocketing due to inflation and the rise in living costs. Now more than ever, we need sustainable, long-term funding to ensure we can continue meeting the ever growing needs of the women we work with.”

Ruparel added: “While the £24 million announced last month is a welcome step in the right direction, it doesn’t go nearly far enough. Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng should use the opportunity of the new government to look again, and redirect funding across government to these vital support services – it would be much better for women and for society as a whole.”

Liz, from the Women4Change campaign group, said: “The Women’s Centre offered me support in areas I didn’t know were available, like debt, housing and accessing clothes for job interviews. I have been able to confide in my Women’s Centre and they’ve provided me with a reference so I can secure employment. I think every woman should be able to access support from a Women’s Centre if she needs to.”

* Read The Value of Women’s Centres here.

* Source: Women in Prison