Clinks has published its 2018 report on the state of the sector, based on research undertaken with support from the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO), presenting the most detailed information we have to date on voluntary organisations working in criminal justice.
There is much in the findings for Clinks and our members to be proud of. The sector continues to work relentlessly and flexibly in the face of the increasingly urgent and complex needs of service users. In particular the sector is seeing greater numbers of people whose basic needs aren’t being met, and who are being driven into desperate situations as a result of issues such as universal credit and poor access to mental health provision in the community.
This year we included a thematic focus in our research to explore how organisations working with people in contact with the criminal justice system (CJS) are working to identify and meet the needs of people protected under the Equalities Act (2010). We know that people in contact with the CJS have protected characteristics and it is essential that voluntary organisations are equipped to recognise and respond to them. As Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service’s (HMPPS) recent Offender Equalities Annual Report 2017/18 shows, people protected under the Equalities Act are often either over-represented in the CJS, such as with those from black, Asian and minority ethnic communities, or are under-represented, such as women. These groups have unique and distinct needs that need to be met - but so often aren’t.
We asked whether people work with those that are protected under the Equalities Act and 57% of survey respondents told us they do. We would expect this to be higher, given that the protected characteristics include age, disability, gender reassignment, race, religion or belief, sex, sexual orientation, marriage and civil partnership and pregnancy and maternity. So what does this and our other findings tell us and how do we need to respond?
During our launch event, Anne Fox, Clinks’ Chief Executive Officer, reflected on the findings from the thematic focus of the research. Her key reflections were:
There is inconsistent understanding of the needs of people protected under the Equality Act by voluntary organisations and the ‘protected characteristics’ the act defines
Our findings present a mixed picture - largely dependent on whether organisations define themselves as set up to meet the specific needs of particular client groups or not.
Some organisations are specifically established to respond to the needs of service users with protected characteristics and are often acutely aware of their needs as a result. These organisations more readily recognise the intersectionality of the needs of their clients, and either alter their services or partner with other specialist organisations to ensure they address these needs appropriately. Examples include the development of specific service models and providing training and support for staff and volunteers. We found that these organisations are embedded in their communities, advocate to partners on their clients’ behalf and actively work to promote and share good practice. But this can be challenging.
Organisations set up specifically to work with people who are protected under the Equalities Act actively seek to work with partners to provide them not only with training and support to enable them to meet people’s specific needs, but to also highlight that those needs exist in the first place. This is not easy. They need to simultaneously advocate on their client’s behalf – which can involve highlighting areas of poor practice where a partner isn’t adequately meeting people’s needs – whilst offering support to help their partners learn and develop good practice.
For some the term ‘protected characteristics’ does not resonate with the way that they work
For some organisations the term ‘protected characteristics’ does not resonate with the way they frame their work, but they are aware of the impact having protected characteristics can have on people’s needs. They provide personalised, one-to-one support that enables them to respond to and meet clients’ distinct needs. This is based on the range of issues that are commonly understood to underlie contact with the criminal justice system and affect the desistance process – for instance, needs relating to accessing accommodation, experiencing poor mental health and experience of trauma.
It was concerning that some organisations told us they provide personalised support ‘blind’ to protected characteristics, and a small number of organisations who took part in the interviews did not have a full understanding of the term or what it might mean for their service users’ needs. Clinks would like to see all parts of the voluntary sector recognising and working to address these issues.
Services are suffering…
Alongside this we found that organisations who work to meet the needs of particular client groups more likely to be reducing their services. 12% of these organisations said they are reducing their services, compared to 4% organisations who do not work in this way.
Of all organisations working with people protected under the Equalities Act, but who do not necessarily provide a tailored service, 14% are reducing their services. This compares to just 2% who don’t work with people protected under the Equalities Act. This is of concern as it indicates not only that these organisations are experiencing more acute challenges compared to others in the voluntary sector, but that there is a reduction in the availability of tailored support for particular groups of people in contact with the CJS who have specific needs.
… which is concerning given people’s basic needs aren’t being met - hitting those with protected characteristics the hardest
Organisations working to meet the specific needs of particular client groups, including those protected under the Equalities Act, are more likely to say the needs of their service users have become more complex (84%) and urgent (79%) than organisations who do not work in this way (68% and 70% respectively).
On the whole, organisations feel able to meet the needs of their clients protected under the Equalities Act. Of those who say they work with people who have protected characteristics, 76% say they agree or strongly agree they can meet their needs. But it was worrying to hear that 20% of organisations either disagree or strongly disagree that they are able to meet the needs of service users protected under the Equalities Act. The research finds that lack of funding, resource and experienced staff are the main contributing factors to this.
Where do we go from here?
We are all part of the solution to ensure the needs of people with protected characteristics can be met. The future relies on the facilitation and support of good partnership working, flexible funding models and the skills and expertise of staff. We must focus on how we can all work collaboratively to ensure the needs of people most likely forgotten can be met so they can be allowed to lead the lives they want to.
During our launch event delegates, including voluntary organisations, funders, statutory partners and civil servants, discussed what the findings from the State of the sector research meant for them. They each made commitments about what they would do to ensure the needs of people with protected characteristics can be met. We will use this to inform our policy priorities and the support we provide for our members in the coming year.