The economy’s growing faster than it has done in years, the UK’s GDP is climbing quicker than almost any other ‘rich’ country and according to Mark Carney we’re soon going to see our spending power shoot up as real incomes grow in the near future. So, this all signals austerity, the spectre of the last 6 years, is firmly behind us, doesn’t it?
Unfortunately, for the LGBT sector this might not be the case, at least according to findings of the TUC commissioned report into the LGBT voluntary and community sector in England and Wales. The report, based on research by Leeds Met University, painted a picture of dwindling funding reserves and a struggle to provide adequate services on ever decreasing budgets with funding plummeting consistently by 9% since 2010/11. The effects have been catastrophic. This has resulted in the loss of talented staff and an ever increasing reliance on volunteers, as money for paid staff has become scarce, and a growing struggle to provide needed services. However, organisations such as Metro Centre, Positive East and West London Gay Men’s Project have worked hard to maintain servicss and attend clients even in the face of austerity.
Protest against NHS cuts in London
Due to difficulties in raising money (total revenue for the LGBT sector is only 0.04% of that for voluntary organisations), the LGBT sector is largely reliant on statutory funding and the bad news is that in 2015 there will be a second round of austerity driven funding cuts. The worry is that LGBT services are being de-prioritised and will suffer more than voluntary and community sector organisations. This will be combined with welfare cuts that have already taken place, or as the government prefers to deem them ‘welfare reform’, which mean there is less and less support available for those that are LGBT or Q. This has disproportionately affected the LGBT community, which exhibits already exhibits higher levels of mental health problems and addiction versus the general population, and is set to get worse.
According to Bob Green from Stonewall this all indicated we are heading towards the perfect storm. He laments that already ‘We have more clients approaching us with more complex needs’. Statistically there has been a 6% rise in demand for services in recent years, which is putting increasing pressure on already overburdened organisations. But, behind the numbers the effects on service users are emotive. Sadness, anxiety, anger, and frustration are commonplace as social groups, psychological support and helplines up and down the country are closed down and leave those needing help more isolated than ever before.
With this in mind it’s probably more accurate to say the dark clouds of austerity are still firmly overhead and aren’t clearing away as fast as it might seem, as least for those working in the LGBT sector. Does this mean that the future is bleak for those providing or accessing services in the sector? Well, in some ways yes, but in other ways no. Despite the inevitable challenges there are things that we can do as a community to ensure that we are stronger going forward and that can reduce the effects on service users. A 2013 UNISON report suggested this can be achieved by increasing collective action through campaigning and lobbying against cuts and gathering evidence on the nature and effects of cuts. The latter will, in part, counter the stereotype that LGBT people are ubiquitously wealthy, less of a priority and largely unaffected by austerity measures. If this route is followed then there is some hope that the LGBT sector and the people we support can emerge from these challenging times stronger, healthier and more unified. And that, is crucial, not only for those of us who are L,G,B,T or Q, but for society as a whole.