Compact in action: Rape crisis centres

The Government must address a Compact breach that has jeopardised centre funding.

Funding for rape crisis centres is notoriously fragile. There were 84 in 1985; today, only 32 remain. But getting money is only half the battle. Securing it over more than a year is equally tough.

Many centres rely heavily on the Victims Fund, which is administered by the Ministry of Justice. It distributes £1.25m each year to voluntary organisations that help victims of sexual violence and abuse.

However, the grants run for only one year - a flagrant abuse of the national Compact to which former Prime Minister Tony Blair committed government departments nine years ago. The Compact says: "The Government has introduced three-year settlements for all departments. This should mean that three-year funding is provided for charities." Recent rhetoric from ministers has supported the drive towards three-year funding.

The NCVO is drafting a letter to justice minister Maria Eagle about the Compact breach. "It is generally accepted in government that these support services should exist, but there is not enough clarity and communication about funding," says Ingela Andersson, a Compact advocate at the NCVO.

Rugby Rosa, which supports rape and sexual abuse victims in Rugby, Warwickshire, did not get its £30,000 one-year Victim Funds grant renewed this year, halving its income. "There is no stability in the organisation because there is no three-year funding," says volunteer coordinator Tammy Sharp, one of three paid staff. "We have had to introduce a charging system for clients for the first time in 15 years." Even that may not be enough without imminent funding. "December will be a crucial time for us because that is when our reserves are due to end," adds Sharp.

Sheila Coates, director of South Essex Rape and Incest Crisis Centre, says every rape charity would feel the effects of the loss of funding from the Victims Fund. "Some groups will close and some will lose staff, but all in all it's quite devastating," she says.

The Survivors' Trust is an umbrella body for many small charities working with rape victims. Chief executive Fay Maxted says: "The Victims Fund initially provided a lifeline for many groups, but is failing to effectively support the sector because it is not being given enough priority. The fund needs to be increased to a realistic level and to offer three-year grants."

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