Our annual State of the sector research presents the most detailed information we have on how voluntary organisations working with people in contact with the criminal justice system are faring. This is the first in a series of snapshots of the key trends and issues uncovered by our research, as well as what we think needs to change to address the challenges organisations are facing.
We explore a variety of topics, including the number of people organisations support and their needs, the services being delivered and the people delivering them, and how organisations are funded. Our latest research had a thematic focus on how organisations both identify and respond to the needs of people protected under the Equalities Act (2010).
Working with people protected under the Equalities Act (2010)
Our research has consistently demonstrated that voluntary organisations working with people in contact with the criminal justice system are incredibly diverse, in terms of who they support and how they go about it. 57% of respondents support people protected under the Equalities Act (2010). Of these, the majority say they agree or strongly agree that they are able to meet their needs. Some organisations provide tailored services to meet the needs of a specific client group. We found that:
- 16% work to meet the specific needs of black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) people
- 21% are not established specifically to meet the needs of particular client groups
- 24% work to meet the specific needs of young adults
- 25% work to meet the specific needs of women.
Interestingly, when asked to indicate which group they specifically provided services for, the most common response was ‘other’ (38%). Of the organisations providing further detail, 22% said they provide services tailored for people who have offended or at risk of offending, demonstrating that this group of people will have specific needs and vulnerabilities based on the very fact that they have a conviction.
We are conscious that organisations may not describe themselves as having been established to provide tailored services to meet the specific needs of particular service user groups, but may none- the-less provide a service or project to meet the specific needs of particular groups of service users. When we explored this further we found 49% of organisations that don’t describe themselves in this way told us they provide a service tailored to particular groups of service users, with:
- 19% providing services tailored for women
- 31% providing services tailored for young adults (18-25)
- 13% providing services tailored for black, Asian and minority ethnic people.
There is inconsistent understanding of the needs of people protected under the Equalities Act (2010) and the ‘protected characteristics’ the act defines
Organisations working to meet the specific needs of particular client groups have a clear understanding of the term ‘protected characteristics’, are aware of how this could have an impact on the needs of their clients and tailor their services appropriately. For others, the term ‘protected characteristics’ does not resonate with the way they frame their work, but they still work with people in such a way that takes account of and responds to the needs of people protected under the Equality Act (2010). On the other hand, some organisations do not consider protected characteristics when assessing people’s needs but provide an individualised, tailored service in a way that is ‘blind’ to protected characteristics.
“We track ethnicity, we track age, we track disability, we track whether they're a care leaver… That’s all stuff that we do take into account in our initial assessment and our ongoing support. I guess it’s not necessarily a case of us tailoring our work depending on what boxes people tick…It’s a relationship with an individual regardless of background or race or whatever else, but those things are obviously a huge part of the individual and are very, very carefully considered in the way that our mentors would work…It’s highly personalised and is about the individual and what they're telling us they need for themselves” – Research contributor
A smaller number of organisations revealed that they did not have a full understanding of the term ‘protected characteristics’ or what it might mean for their service users’ needs. This is concerning, given the overrepresentation and/or specific vulnerabilities of people protected under the Equalities Act (2010) in the criminal justice system. Clinks would like to see all parts of the sector recognising and working to address these issues. At the launch of our research, we explored how we respond to this with representatives from the voluntary sector, civil service and charitable trusts and foundations. We will report back on this in the last blog in this series.
The number of service users continues to rise, with people’s basic needs no longer being met
55% of organisations told us the number of people they are working with increased for the financial year 2016/17. For the second consecutive year organisations tell us that service user need is becoming more complex (80%) and urgent (78%) as people’s basic needs are no longer being met. Organisations working to meet the needs of particular client groups, including those protected under the Equalities Act (2010), are more likely to say the needs of their service users have become more complex and immediate.
The change in service user need is taking place for a variety of reasons, including welfare reforms which are pushing people into poverty and homelessness, a lack of secure and appropriate housing options, mental health provision in the community becoming more difficult to access, and limited resources for criminal justice organisations. One survey respondent told us:
“More people are vulnerably housed, in complex benefit situations and/or in debt which contributes to higher levels of depression, anxiety, substance misuse and offending. More people are coming here with severe and enduring [mental health] needs as they are not getting support anywhere else.” – Research contributor
The increased needs of service users is a consistent finding from our research, which should give us pause for thought, especially as responding to changing service user need is continuing to put staff and volunteers under pressure as staff continue to take on higher caseloads. Clinks is acutely aware of this issue and is working to explore options for how we can provide support to our members to enable them to respond to these challenges and continue to provide their much-needed services.
The next blog in the series will look at the services that organisations are delivering. If you have any questions or comments in the meantime we would love to hear from you - please contact Nicola Drinkwater, Policy Manager at Nicola.firstname.lastname@example.org