In the past, statistics have suggested that multiple disadvantage is a predominantly male phenomenon. Following on from the Hard Edges report in 2015, Lankelly Chase began work to explore how multiple disadvantage may manifest differently in the lives of women. Their latest report, Gender Matters, redefines severe and multiple disadvantage to include homelessness, substance misuse, mental ill health and violence and abuse – a  different definition of multiple disadvantage to that used within the Fulfilling Lives programme (where violence and abuse is not included but offending is). The report starkly highlights that out of the 17,000 people who experience all four of these domains of severe and multiple disadvantage at any one time (violence and abuse included), 70 per cent (nearly 12,000 people) are women.

From the data reported in Gender Matters and the wider literature, we can assume there is be a substantial number of  women experiencing multiple disadvantage, who because of factors such as stigmatisation or fear of having their child taken into custody avoid accessing necessary support or treatment. We also know that multiple disadvantage can be the cause as well as consequence of abuse, for example, women being forced to accept or remain in abusive relationships because no other accommodation is available to them.

To mark International Women’s Day (Sunday 8th March), we’re highlighting what just a few of the Fulfilling Lives partnerships are doing to support women. To date, Fulfilling Lives has worked with almost 4,000 beneficiaries across 12 partnerships. Nationally, women represent a third of all beneficiaries. This does, however, differ between partnerships. For example, Fulfilling Lives Lambeth, Southwark and Lewisham work predominantly with women in two of their boroughs. They are part of the ‘Lambeth Prostitution Group’ and  contributed to the Women and Equalities Commission Inquiry into prostitution as part of their learning programme last year.

The South East Partnership have three women’s specialist workers who provide gender-specific trauma-informed support. They also work closely with a range of local women’s services as well as more generic services in order to coordinate holistic care and support for their female beneficiaries. Reflecting this gender responsive approach, women account for 62 percent of the South East Partnership beneficiaries.

Findings from our briefings published last year support that multiple disadvantage is experienced differently in the lives of women. For example:

  • Women are more likely than men to have higher levels of overall need and risk on entering the programme. In particular, they are more likely to be affected by poor mental health, have higher levels of risk of self-harm (both intentional and unintentional) and to be more at risk from others
  • During their first three months with the programme women are more likely to be staying temporarily with friends and family and less likely to be rough sleeping than men.

With the right support, women’s engagement with services can lead to transformational outcomes. This support doesn’t always have to be formal either – Changing Futures recently set up a community group for women experiencing multiple disadvantage who have also been involved in prostitution. Whilst this group offers access to a range of support, it also gives women the chance to socialise with one another and try out new activities (examples including kick boxing and crochet).

Fulfilling Lives Islington and Camden (FLIC) have a particular focus on gender-responsive approaches to supporting women experiencing multiple disadvantage in their local area. Here’s an overview of some of the work FLIC are involved in:

  • A specialist Housing First pilot for women experiencing multiple disadvantage and domestic abuse. This was designed and funded by FLIC and delivered by domestic abuse specialists Solace Women’s Aid. This has now been taken on as a commissioned service funded for the next three years by the Islington violence against women and girls budget. Similar Housing First pilots for women have also been seen in other Fulfilling Lives partnerships including VOICES (Stoke-on-Trent) and West Yorkshire Finding Independence (WY-FI).
  • An innovative assertive outreach approach to supporting women experiencing violence and multiple disadvantage. This is a consortium project led by Solace Women’s Aid. FLIC are also one of 7 specialist partners within the WISER project.
  • Team Around Me, a strengths-based and trauma-informed framework for case conferences/multi-agency meetings, created in partnership with Pause Islington, which captures system blockages and empowers women to take the lead role in their support.
  • A Multiple Disadvantage Rep pilot within the Camden MARAC (multi-agency risk assessment conference). This aims to improve responses and case coordination for women experiencing violence and multiple disadvantage.
  • Creation of specialist guidance for front line staff supporting women experiencing multiple disadvantage who remain with their perpetrators. This is in partnership with Standing Together and a range of partners from the homelessness, domestic abuse and perpetrator sectors.
  • Research that will explore women’s hidden homelessness in Camden. This is a partnership with University of York and will gather and analyse a range of cross-sector data.

The gender responsive work being carried out across the Fulfilling Lives partnerships demonstrates where service provision is targeted and tailored, women will engage and there is clearly a need for this. While there is still work to be done to ensure women feel supported and able to access and engage with support, the examples given above are a testament to what can be achieved. We must learn and adopt trauma and gender informed approaches to supporting women facing multiple disadvantage and look how this work can best be implemented across the system.