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Comment: More needs to be done to protect LGBT services against budget cuts

Peter Purton September 4, 2014
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TUC policy officer for disability and LGBT rights Peter Purton, writes for PinkNews on the importance of ensuring government funding for LGBT services.

Every year since its election in 2010, the coalition has cut government budgets, leading services to be scaled back and closed. The impact on some groups, such as disabled people, has been devastating and high profile with disabled activists fighting back vigorously. But the same has not happened with LGBT communities.

The cuts to LGBT services are just as real, but the greater complexity of LGBT funding streams may be masking their impact. To uncover how hard the LBGT community is being hit, and to highlight the importance of our community’s role in the resistance to government austerity policies, the Trades Union Congress commissioned academics at London Metropolitan University to survey the LGBT Voluntary and Community Sector (VCS) in England and Wales.

This week we published their report: Staying Alive: The Impact of Austerity Cuts on the LGBT Voluntary and Community Sector in England and Wales.

The overall message is that the sector is struggling to continue providing the services many LGBT people need. LGBT VCS organisations are running down financial reserves and relying on the heroic endeavours of committed staff – and increasingly volunteers – to ‘stay alive’. The majority of the 184 organisations surveyed said that they expect this difficult situation to continue for the foreseeable future, or get worse.

Being able to get married is an enormous step towards equality – and the TUC welcomes it and campaigned for it – but it doesn’t end prejudice overnight. There are ongoing problems of popular prejudice, leading some of our community to experience isolation, rejection by family and hate crime. We’ve come a long way in twenty years, but with a third of the population still believing we don’t deserve to be treated as equals we remain at risk of prejudice from millions of people. Trans people especially are at risk.

LGBT people who are victims of prejudice at work can turn to a trade union wherever there is one, but if discrimination happens elsewhere they will turn to community organisations for support. LGBT VCS organisations have developed expertise in representing our community and in resolving people’s problems; and they have provided crucial support, information, advice, counselling, advocacy and other services.

Only 4p in every £100 of voluntary sector funding goes to LGBT community groups. Because LGBT groups have traditionally found it more difficult to raise money, more than half of the sector’s funding is reliant on statutory sources, including local government funding streams. As a result, after four years of relentless cuts our community services have struggled to continue.

Many have been forced to make experienced staff redundant, or to replace paid workers with volunteers. Valuable staff time has had to be diverted into fundraising.

Some have succeeded well in gaining financial support from other sources, but many have not. For these, the worst is yet to come as the latest round of cuts will take effect in 2015, and many groups have already been using up their reserves to keep going so far.

Exacerbating the austerity impact on LGBT VCS organisations is the austerity impact on the economic well being of their service users. Austerity in Britain is hitting everyone apart from the already rich, so even LGBT people in professional positions may find themselves hit by public sector pay freezes and higher inflation. And if someone loses their job, perhaps as a result of funding cuts, they’ll struggle to survive the unprecedented scale of benefit cuts and the dismantling of social security protection under the veil of ‘welfare reform’.

Those most hit are those with the least voice at work: people with a precarious job, perhaps a zero-hours contract, agency work, self-employed or unable to find work at all. Young LGBT people without a secure income may find themselves without a roof because they’ve been thrown out of the parental home and can’t afford to rent.

It is no wonder then that a disproportionate number of young LGBT people are being treated for mental health problems.

The LGBT voluntary and community sector does an amazing job supporting people from the community who need it most, but as the report shows it’s under severe pressure as a result of the austerity regime. It’s an agenda that has failed to restore people’s living standards and has led to a resurgence of support for bigoted politicians blaming Britain’s woes on minorities, rather than the bankers who caused the crisis. LGBT people are not immune from either this austerity, or the reactionary backlash that follows in its wake, so we must resist it.

The Trades Union Congress has been campaigning against austerity and for a future of fairness and equality. The next step in the campaign is the TUC national march under the slogan “Britain needs a pay rise” in London on 18 October. And fairer pay will increase the government’s revenue base – it’s not ordinary workers on ordinary wages who are the tax dodgers – ensuring there is more money in the public purse to pay for services. Many LGBT people will be on the march – we hope you’ll be there too!

Peter Purton is the TUC policy officer for disability and LGBT rights.

More: austerity, budget, LGBT, Peter Purton, poverty, Trade Union Congress, tuc

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