Published On: 1st March 2023

Both Southall Black Sisters (SBS) and Solace Women’s Aid (SWA) have been granted core participant (CP) status in Module 2 of the Covid-19 Inquiry, following applications made on their behalf by the Public Interest Law Centre (PILC). This module will assess the impact of core decision-making and political governance in response to the pandemic, including the decisions surrounding non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) such as lockdown and social distancing policies.

SBS and SWA’s contributions will be crucial to scrutinising the impact that the government’s decisions had on at-risk groups and existing inequalities, in particular women and girls facing domestic abuse.

Incidents of domestic violence dramatically increased when the Covid-19 pandemic hit, and both SWA and SBS were faced with responding to this crisis to support victim-survivors. As CPs, SWA and SBS will give important evidence on the impact that government decision-making had on survivors of VAWG during this period, and the particular effect on women and girls from Black and ethnic minority communities, migrant women and women with no recourse to public funds.

Despite these vital contributions, public funding has not be granted to SWA to participate in the Inquiry. We have appealed this decision but have been unsuccessful at this stage.

Whilst public bodies and decision-makers, such as the Cabinet Office and the Prime Minister, have been granted public funding for their legal representation in the Inquiry, SWA have not. As a result, SWA now face a troubling decision whether to participate effectively in the Inquiry, or to draw resources from their frontline service.

The Inquiry have argued that SWA have sufficient internal funds to cover their legal representation, however SWA’s funding is derived from ringfenced grants and donations which are intended for essential frontline services for survivors, not legal representation. Without public funding, SWA cannot be on equal footing with governmental core-participants and risk having to withdraw from the Inquiry altogether. This is particularly pertinent given the underfunding of domestic abuse services as a result of public spending cuts since 2010.

We are attending the second preliminary hearing today, 1 March 2023, representing SBS and providing legal advice and support to SWA who will be self-represented and speaking personally at the hearing. In our submissions to the Inquiry, we will be making the case that SWA’s contributions are fundamental to the scrutiny of the government’s decision-making in response to the pandemic and requesting that the Inquiry reconsider their decision to deny funding to SWA.

We will provide updates on SWA’s funding situation as they arrive, and further analysis of the Inquiry’s progress as hearings take place.

Rebecca Goshawk, Head of Partnerships and Public Affairs at Solace Women’s Aid, said:

“We are part of the covid-19 inquiry to represent the impact on women and girls, most obviously the increase in domestic abuse as a result of lockdown.”

“The refusal of funding is particularly disappointing given that those whose decisions are being scrutinised by the Inquiry – Government Ministers, public servants – are funded through the public purse to be represented. Without funding, we are being put on an unequal footing when trying to scrutinise those who made the decisions affecting domestic abuse survivors.”

Selma, Executive Director of Southall Black Sisters said:

“The pandemic, and the lockdowns had a disastrous impact on the lives of our service users, 60% of whom have no recourse to public funds. We look forward to shining a light on the impact of government’s pandemic response policies on migrant victim-survivors of domestic abuse through this Inquiry.”

Helen Mowatt, Solicitor at PILC said:

Effective participation by a CP requires both dedicated time and legal expertise. We have set out Solace’s financial position and have stated, unequivocally, that they cannot afford to pay for legal representation in the Inquiry, or undertake that work in-house either.

Paying for legal representation would require Solace to significantly reduce crucial front-line services for domestic abuse survivors. That Boris Johnson and Government ministers have received an award of funding makes this decision all the more unfair.”

Contact – helen.mowatt@pilc.org.uk