Guest post: The road to Hell is paved with good intentions
Posted on July 3, 2011
A friend and I were discussing the impact of the cuts on the voluntary sector, in particular the Poppy Project. My friend said nobody was exempt from the cuts and having failed to win the tender, Poppy can’t complain. Moreover why should government only and continuously fund one organisation? He also felt that the decision to award the tender to the Salvation Army was fair. He drew a parallel with the many organisations of other faiths who have received funding to help their own communities. In this he echoes DCLG Minister Eric Pickles, who said he wished to remove obstacles to religious organisations delivering public services – in fact he talked only of “Our” religion. In my view, the dilution and exemptions to the equalities duties may indeed be part of achieving that aim.
So what is my problem? Poppy, and other organisations agree there should be a greater quantity and range of service providers but not at the expense of quality. By attempting to stretch virtually the same amount to cover all victims, however, this in fact represents a cut of about 60% per head.
Supporting victims of trafficking is not just about giving them a roof over their head and a square meal for the 45 days recovery and reflection period that we currently allow for. In the study “Stolen Smiles” by London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine 2006, 57% of victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation had 12-23 serious physical health symptoms in the first 14 days after their release from the trafficking situation. Physical injuries, fractures and associated problems included vaginal, anal, intestinal, gynaecological, head, jaw, dental and vision problems. After 90 days 6% were still showing 11 or more symptoms. As for mental health, it is recognised that women exhibit symptoms similar to, or exceeding, those of torture (Basoglu M. 1992). Over 70% of the women reported ten or more mental health symptoms within the first 14 days, this receded only after 90 or more days. Women released from trafficking often prioritised their sexual and reproductive health needs. This may include access to maternal health care for some but also access to terminations and to treatment and counselling for sexually transmitted diseases for others.
It is necessary to be identified as a “victim of trafficking” in order to access services, or even purely accommodation. The UK Border Agency frequently initially rejects a claim. Poppy project works with victims to access legal aid and often attends lawyers’ interviews with service-users. There is a very high rate of initial mistaken trafficking refusals being overturned on appeal – the passport to accessing services.
There is a well known proverb that “the road to Hell is paved with good intentions”. Evangelical Christian organisations like Salvation Army are very well-intentioned and have a valuable history of running soup kitchens, clothes banks and hostels for the homeless. But good intentions are not enough and trafficking is not a comparable service.
Salvation Army have undertaken, with a range of similarly motivated providers, to support victims for 45 days at massively reduced cost. It is unlikely that this will include the time and expertise in facilitating legal challenges. It is questionable how comfortable with them a Muslim, Buddhist or indeed atheist woman in need of an abortion would feel. It is questionable the extent to which any non-specialist, albeit well-intentioned, organisation could cope with such complex and challenging needs.
The issue here is less about Poppy and more about ensuring and funding the necessary quality, specialism and expertise, of services to meet the particular needs and rights of victims. Specialist services – seeming to be more expensive – are the first to go. But value for money is about effective service at a reasonable price not about lowest unit cost. The failure to invest in specialist services ultimately costs more as interventions are inadequate and the harms persist.
Poppy is raising funds and will continue to exist albeit in a reduced fashion to pick up the pieces. In short, Poppy is prepared to subsidise government in order to try to make up some of the shortfall in what government is prepared to invest to deliver on its obligations to victims. They will give them for free what the government paid for before. But then I suppose that’s what we mean by the “Big Society” – a cover for cuts, as Rowan Williams himself says. Not much of a cover though!