...on the cuts and how they affect us
More from Patrick Strudwick
Britain’s most vulnerable gay people are having the rug pulled from under them. Services for people with mental health problems, and for those in crisis and danger, are being slashed with brutal abandon. Whether you agree that the cuts across the public sector are for ideological reasons, the choices the government – along with local authorities – make about which groups they reduce funding to reveals precisely where their sympathies lie.
And, it seems, compassion stops when it reaches gay people in distress. 16 years old and suicidal? Traumatised from a violent relationship? Having panic attacks after an HIV diagnosis? The Tory-led government and several Tory councils don’t think you’re sufficiently worth helping.
The evidence is there, as clear as the print on this page. Tim Franks, the chief executive of PACE, a key charity that provides counselling, advice and support to LGTB people, explained to me: “We’ve had cuts of £141,000, which is 20 per cent of our total budget. This puts a huge strain on our counselling service to the point where it becomes questionable whether it’s sustainable.”
Already, what PACE can offer young gay people in need has been severely compromised. “We’ve had to close two out of three of our youth groups. And our one-to-one support for youngsters has stopped altogether. That was vital as it’s where we could be most flexible – if someone is in crisis we could get them help very quickly. One in four of the people who come through the door are suicidal.”
So far, this might sound pretty devastating. But such cuts aren’t just savage. They’re self-defeating. Tim explains again: “Because we want to reduce the effect of these cuts, we’ve slashed the money we normally spend on areas such as publicity. But what that means is that our profile becomes lower and when you lower your profile you receive much fewer donations from companies and private individuals.”
So the cuts impinge such charities’ ability to attract money from outside the public sector. This makes them even more reliant on the state – precisely the reverse of Cameron’s Big Society ideal where everyone chips in to help.
Even if you are successful in attracting corporate donations, there are strings attacked. As Jonathan Penny from the gay homeless charity The Albert Kennedy Trust (who have also been subject to cuts despite offering practical and psychological help) reveals: “The money you get from these sources is restricted to being spent on specific projects. So, say it costs £20 to give a homeless gay teenager a bed for the night, the corporate funding might pay for that but could not be used for the things that need to be in place to deliver that service, such as staff and admin.”
These charities are far from cherry-picked examples. London Friend, which has been offering vital therapy to gay people for over 30 years, has been told by Islington council that unless they come up with £200,000 in six months to buy their property, they will be thrown out. The Naz Project, which provides counselling and support to HIV positive people from ethnic minorities, is facing closure. The Gay Police Association, which runs a helpline for coppers facing discrimination and bulling, has had its budget cut completely.
But it is not these examples per se that illustrate the sympathies of those in power - you might, understandably, be thinking that everyone is suffering equally. But they are not. Let’s look at two examples of who is getting funding.
First, The Catholic Children’s Society. This anti-gay group has been awarded an £89,000 grant from the London Borough of Richmond – a Tory council – to provide counselling to young people in the area. The hard line organisation has a history of putting their regressive ideology before the needs of young people.
They chose to shut down their adoption services rather than comply with new anti-discrimination laws that would require them to treat prospective gay parents the same as anyone else. So, they would rather not help an abandoned baby because they might have to consider giving it to a loving same-sex couple.
What’s more, they require their counsellors to “uphold the Catholic ethos”. Given that the Pope considers homosexuality “a destruction of God’s work”, imagine what kind of reception a depressed gay teenager would receive when they went to the Catholic Children’s Society for help.
Example two: The Salvation Army, which opposes “sexual intimacy between people of the same sex” has been given a £6million grant to take over the Poppy Project, which offers help, advice and counselling to victims of sex trafficking. So, again, imagine you’re a gay woman from, say, Romania, who’s been forced into prostitution. You finally manage to seek help but the counselling offered is with someone who may not judge you for being a prostitute but will judge you for loving women.
All of this amounts to more than simply ideological cutting. This is psychological warfare. Averaged out across all mental illnesses gay people are twice as likely to be sufferers. With depression, it’s four times as likely. Attempted suicide? Fourteen times. How long before these funding cuts start cutting short the life of desperate gay kids?