The announcement of the impending closure of MEDFASH, a charity dedicated to ensuring quality in HIV and sexual healthcare is yet another assault on services focused on serving marginalised people by the policy of austerity.
This week, MEDFASH announced that it would soon be closing and cited that it was due to a decline in income and that maintaining its services was “not sustainable”.
— MEDFASH (@MEDFASH) September 21, 2016
The climate of austerity since 2010 has made operating any charity body increasingly difficult. Those services which manage to remain open often see an increase in demand (but with little funding available to cope) as other services around them close. Austerity is creating a contagion of closures and those services which are least likely to secure sufficient funding in times with less pressure are far less likely to do so during periods of austerity.
Marginalised communities have been particularly targeted, and services in particular which are dedicated to fighting HIV have faced dramatic cuts. From April 2015, the government has halved the money it has spent on HIV prevention. The budget at that time alone was only £2.4 million, but this compares to the cost of treating just one person with HIV for a lifetime of around £360,777 which meant that the NHS only had to prevent seven incidents for the transmission of HIV and it would have saved the healthcare system money.
The cuts have been felt across the country; Oxfordshire’s council cut its entire budget for HIV prevention budget (of £50,000) while areas such as Portsmouth and Bexley have also faced severe funding cuts.
Most recently, the government has fought all attempts to be prompted to fund Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) on the NHS. PrEP can be given to a patient at risk of contracting HIV and a course of treatment can reduce the risk of HIV by 99%. The government has argued that it cannot meet the costs of offering the drug but the drug will overwhelmingly be likely to save money in the long run, and ministers have not hesitated to back renewing Trident or carrying out military strikes in Syria (which are far more expensive policies) which suggests that the decision is ideologically motivated. There is the money but little will.
Just last year in the run up to the general election the then leader of UKIP, Nigel Farage, made HIV a centre point for his campaigning as he argued that the UK should turn away HIV+ migrants. While he was roundly shouted down by opponents, he did win public support and he was able to set the tone for much of the debates leading up to the election. The very real impact was that people continued to question just who was deserving of support.
Gay and bisexual men, transgender women, people in poverty and sex workers make up a significant part of the group of those at risk for contracting HIV. While preventative funding for HIV has been cut, the UK has seen a phenomenal rise in cases among gay men, with over 100,000 people in the United Kingdom now living with the virus.
The alarming increase is a direct result of the lack of funding and the government is resistant towards taking any action to combat the situation.
Those with limited access to healthcare and support around their sexuality and sexual behaviours are always going to be more prone to exposure of sexually transmitted infections. The Conservatives have a shambolic legacy over the issue of HIV, as the squeamish leadership Thatcher offered left thousands of gay and bisexual men to die in the 1980s. The prudish sentimentality was what led to the introduction of section 28 in schools, meaning that teachers were banned from discussing LGBT issues when young gay and bisexual men needed to be taught the risks of certain practices and offered support when they needed it the most. Section 28 may have gone but the same prudish sentimentality lives on when the Conservatives have resisted all attempts to bring in compulsory sexual, relationship and emotional education in schools.
HIV services alone have not been the only targets but charities and causes generally who cater towards lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender service users. HIV is merely one issue against a background of cuts targeted against marginalised people.
LGBT services are sorely lacking in the UK, with most spaces designed as bars and pubs but the few services that do exist offer support around youth homelessness (of which LGBT people make up over 25% of the youth homeless population despite estimates suggesting only 3% of the general population are LGBT), mental health and abuse. Many of these however have faced cuts, less opportunities to access funding for new projects and/or initiatives and even closure.
The much relied upon mental health charity PACE recently announced its closure, as did Broken Rainbow which was the only service committed to supporting LGBT survivors of intimate partner violence even though studies suggest that LGBT people (particularly bisexual people) are at higher risk of experiencing IPV. Other services have also faced closure, such as the only organisation in Sunderland We’Ar Out which found its services being ended within the early era of austerity and Carlisle’s LGBT HQ. The list is staggering.
Funding is often first stripped from marginalised people as expenditure on them is viewed as a frivolous by proponents of austerity, and in short that means their lives are seen to be worth less. However, with marginalised people more likely to experience poverty, abuse and requiring access to medical care the backdrop of austerity makes life far harder for those who are the worst off.
The broad nature of the cuts against issues affecting the LGBT population and services which cater to the LGBT population specifically show the nature of the government’s progressiveness. The Conservative Party stands by its record, citing marriage equality as its proud achievement but it fails to neglect the fact that marriage equality wasn’t delivered with the unfair trans spousal veto and the fact that the issue of same gender couples being able to access the institution of marriage nearly tore the party apart (even more so than the issue of Europe). Marriage equality in America also brought a major boost to the economy and the US Supreme Court’s decision to allow same gender couples to marry was predicted to inject $2.6 billion into the economy and create 13,000 jobs.
The Tories then have only supported LGBT issues when it has quite literally paid off but their cuts are targeted to hurt the poorest among the community. The cuts are therefore particularly harmful to LGBT people of colour who are far more likely to be in poverty.
The Harrow equalities watchdog (the only one in the area) has already closed its doors despite the increased demand for its services due to its focus on delivering services to migrants and tackling inequality as a result of Brexit. The Community Development Foundation also announced that it was to close last year and although it was initially created in Wilson’s era to support young people, its focus had shifted to other issues such as tackling racism and economic inequality.
Furthermore, the government has shown little willingness to step in to encourage private stimulus of charities. Banks have targeted Muslim charities by closing their accounts, citing that they are too great a risk. Not only is this rooted in racist and unfounded beliefs but it shows a significant lack of concern by the government for any charity committed to tackling inequality. The display of reticence is in spite of the fact that Britain may be the most generous country of the developed world to charities but that is largely in part to Muslim donors.
The fact that marginalised people are more likely to be in poverty and therefore rely on charitable services means that any class war is also an attack on their identities too. Services have been targeted specifically for attempting to support those who face discrimination as their lives are seen as not worthy of support, or because prevailing attitudes in government are uncomfortable with talking about the issues around identities even though they are supposed to bear the responsibility of governance. Austerity shows little sign of slowing even with May’s new era, and charities aimed at diversity will continue to be in the firing line.