Staff and volunteers at Nottingham Women’s Centre (NWC) have been supporting many women facing crisis during lockdown. It’s a difficult time for everyone at the moment, but it’s been especially hard for women who were already struggling with their mental health, poverty or discrimination.
We’ve been monitoring the issues impacting women that come into contact with us and our partners, and regularly sending briefings to local decision makers about what support is needed at a policy level. We’re pleased to have successfully worked in partnership with Alex Norris MP, Nottingham City Council (NCC) and Wider Nottingham Clinical Commissioning Group to take action on school places for vulnerable children and improve communications around medication changes for women who cannot read.
This blog is based on those briefings and should give you an understanding of the main issues that women are struggling with in Nottingham.
Issue: Women not having access to food
“A client messaged our Facebook page requesting a food bank voucher. She had no money, no transport and a small baby with no pram and was in desperation”
We have seen a marked increase in the number of women asking for foodbank vouchers and food parcels. Food Banks were initially struggling to stay open because of a lack of volunteers, which complicated the process of referring women to them. Food Banks also assign a limited number of vouchers to each person, which has resulted in some women going without enough food.
NWC has been able to help some women in crisis, but this is not sustainable as we do not have the funding or infrastructure for this work. We are asking Food Banks to be flexible about how many vouchers they can assign to each woman and highlighting the need for more food bank funding to NCC and Government.
Issue: Decline in Women’s Mental health
The main reoccurring issue has been a huge decline in women’s mental health. For the women we’ve been in contact with, there have been the following trends and issues:
- Marked increase in suicidal thoughts, calls to Crisis teams and Samaritans.
- Marked increase in self harm including cutting, burning and excessive hand washing causing injury
- Severe increase in anxiety exacerbating obsessive compulsive symptoms and paranoia
- Development of agoraphobic type symptoms
- A ‘reversal’ in recovery progress for pre-existing conditions, depression, complicated grief, post-traumatic stress
- Pressure of home schooling/lack of childcare support leading to anxiety, insomnia
NWC’s counselling service is still operating online for existing clients and we are carrying out wellbeing checks for our most vulnerable clients, which are appreciated. Plus our Peer Support Mental health group has moved online since lockdown, meeting on Zoom once a week. We are also signposting women in crisis to Notts Healthcare Trust helpline and other local voluntary sector support, but we are all running on short term funding.
We believe there is a major mental health crisis on the horizon and a second epidemic is around the corner: a mental health epidemic. We are calling for increased and longer term funding for mental health services in Nottingham, especially trauma-informed and gender sensitive services that effectively serve the most vulnerable in our city.
Nearly all mental health support is now online or over the phone, which is a barrier to accessing support for women who do not have access to a laptop, tablet or an internet connection. This leads us to our next issue.
Issue: Women not having resources such as Wifi and laptops
“A client who has recently fled domestic violence is unable to access mental health support, such as our online Peer Support group, as she doesn’t have access to wifi or the funds to pay for mobile data to access the internet.”
Some women don’t have access to the internet, or they lack the appropriate technology (laptop, tablet or smartphone). In the current climate this makes them totally isolated from their support networks and unable to access mental health support, information about benefits or educational courses. This also impacts the home-learning capacities of those families without appropriate technology and/or access to the internet.
“A client wants to join an online course which would help her get a place in college, but she hasn’t got a laptop or the funds to buy one.”
We are advocating that vulnerable women should have access to the appropriate technology and/or internet for an affordable price or for free. Already vulnerable women are being further disadvantaged and isolated because they are digitally excluded from our society, which is even more sharply felt during the epidemic. The simple intervention of a preloaded dongle or being lent a laptop would make a tangible difference to a large proportion of the women who are accessing our services.
Issue: Women being laid off or having a reduced salary due to Covid-19 and problems with the welfare system
“One woman who was laid off from her job in a hotel in Nottingham has a baby and is a single parent. She has been struggling to access food, baby milk and clothes for herself.”
A large number of our clients have been laid off or had their salaries reduced due to Covid-19. This is leaving women financially reliant on Universal Credit or family members. The monthly assessment period for UC means that women are forced to manage on a small amount of money for a long period of time, and they have a whole month of uncertainty about what they will get next time. Some clients have been very uncertain about whether they are going to get Statutory Sick Pay, how much is the correct amount, or how to check it.
NWC can provide food bank and clothes bank vouchers, but this is not enough. We are asking for the development of emergency hardship grants for women to support those in financial crisis because of Covid-19.
Issue: Increase in Domestic Violence
There has been an increase in the number of women we refer to Nottingham’s specialist domestic violence organisation Juno Women’s Aid, which normally runs from Nottingham Women’s Centre but is currently functioning remotely. There has been a 25% increase in calls to the National Domestic Abuse Helpline since the lockdown started.
Juno Women’s Aid and Women’s Aid UK are better positioned to understand the needs and support required by the increasing number of survivors of domestic abuse – https://junowomensaid.org.uk/
Issue: Parents of disabled children struggling without support
Many women with vulnerable children are providing complex, round-the-clock care with no respite or outside help. Many have to cancel home carers’ services because of the lack of sufficient PPE or testing, and some are struggling to cope without family support.
“One of our clients is dealing with multiple issues including low income, mental health conditions, and looking after small children – one child has severe learning disabilities. The client normally gets considerable help from her mother, but is unable to do so because her mother is shielding due to her own health condition.”
What do our women need? PPE should be prioritised for carers and families with disabled children, and the impact of quarantine for women who rely on intergenerational family networks for caring and domestic support must be considered by policy makers and recovery planners.
Issue: Child contact centres are closed
Women who are currently going through family court proceedings and see their children at a Child Contact Centre are currently only allowed video contact. This is causing distress to some women. We have one client whose child’s foster parent won’t allow video calls so she can only speak to the children on the phone. In response to our clients’ needs, we are asking that Child Contact Centres are prioritised for reopening as soon as possible.
If you’re interested in this work, please keep an eye on our website and social media and feel free to email our policy and influencing officer on [email protected] to join the policy mailing list.
We have recently set up a new crisis fund for the women we are supporting. If you’re able to, please help us expand our crisis fund by donating through our new Local Giving page. Any donation small or large is really appreciated and will go directly to women in crisis.