Reports of gender violence have been increasing throughout lockdown – with data and anecdotal reports showing violence against women and girls increasing. Refuge, the national domestic violence and violence against women and girls charity, have reported a 61% surge in calls to their helpline. When Sarah Everard disappeared walking home to Tulse Hill it sent a shock wave through our area. Lambeth’s response, both politically and across the community, was clear that the Government was not doing enough nationally.
Two of Lambeth Council’s Councillors, Cllr Anna Birley (Thurlow Park) and Cllr Jess Leigh (Ferndale) worked with community groups and others they knew to organise a vigil to enable people to come together to express their sorrow at what had happened. As you will be aware, this vigil was stopped by the Metropolitan Police – but was transformed into a fundraiser that generated over £500,000 in donations for women’s charities. We were shocked by the way that the police subsequently approached those who still attended the cancelled vigil on Clapham Common and Lambeth Labour Councillors issued a statement calling for an investigation into the way it was handled. This need not have happened had the Metropolitan Police worked with Reclaim These Streets, who were working with Lambeth Council and the local Lambeth Police. Subsequently there was the opportunity to address disproportionate laws in relation to protests through the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill the Conservative Government is pursuing – but unfortunately the Government voted down attempts to improve this legislation. We are proud to support Anna and Jess and all those working on the Reclaim These Streets campaign.
In response to the rise in violence against women and girls Lambeth Council was already in the process of reviewing the services it provides. Lambeth is one of the few councils to have protected this service from cuts and kept our funding of the Gaia and Beth centres in place despite ten years of central government cuts to Lambeth Council’s budget. Our renewed programme will prioritise specialist support, communities working together on prevention and awareness raising, violence towards children and young people, and perpetrator interventions.