Struggle not submission – SBS win over Ealing

12:17 am - July 21st 2008

by Cath Elliott    

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It was back in April this year that Ealing Council voted to withdraw funding from Southall Black Sisters, a women’s support group, on the spurious grounds that targeting services at black and minority ethnic groups ran contrary to the “equality” and “integration” agenda.

In a complete misinterpretation of the Race Relations Act, Ealing Council’s Conservative-run council furthermore proposed that in the interests of “community cohesion”, domestic violence services in the borough should henceforth be generic.

Specific services to vulnerable women were then in serious danger of being lost, and one of the women’s sector’s most powerful and influential campaigning organisations was under threat of closure. That all ended on Friday, when Ealing Council conceded defeat in the High Court.

After two days of listening to the evidence from the other side, including from a third-party intervention by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, Ealing was forced to acknowledge that their interpretation of Race Relations probably left something to be desired.

As the court heard, generic services do not ensure equal access for all, and indeed, as the SBS barrister made clear, more often than not they lead to inequality, as those with language difficulties or those facing cultural pressures are less likely to feel able to access such non-specific services.

The legal action brought by SBS service users against Ealing Council ended in jubilant scenes on Friday when it announced its decision to withdraw from the case.

I turned up for the protest outside the High Court on Friday expecting to spend yet another day in the cold and the rain after two days spent picketing for the Local Government workers’ strike. It was with relief then that I learned that the SBS supporters were all indoors in the warm, packing out the courtroom, and so I went inside and joined them.

Even though I’d arrived quite late on in the hearing, it soon became clear from listening to the proceedings that Ealing Council were on a hiding to nothing. When you hear a judge making remarks like “perverse statistics” and “blood-curdling submissions” in relation to your evidence, it’s probably a pretty big hint that things aren’t going your way.

And when the case resumed after lunch and the Ealing barrister announced their withdrawal, it seems the message had finally gotten through.

Although the case could have ended there, with no ruling needed from the judge, the SBS barrister went on to argue that it was in the public interest for there to be a judgement, to provide guidance for other local authorities who might be thinking about going down the same generic route as Ealing. Lord Justice Moses, who was presiding over the case, agreed, and his judgement is expected to be announced soon.

Ealing Council then agreed to foot the bill, and are paying not only SBS’s costs for the case, but part of the costs incurred by the EHRC.

Southall Black Sisters have once again shown that their tradition of “struggle not submission” is the right way to go. Let’s hope that other women’s sector organisations take heart from this case, and realise that the best thing any of us can do when faced with those who want to see us silenced or shut down is not to give in, but to fight back against any and every threat that comes our way.

[Picture from Helen’s photostream under a CC license]
More pictures at Harpymarx.

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About the author
Cath Elliott is a regular contributor. She is a feminist, a trade union activist, and a freelance writer and blogger. Also at: Guardian CIF.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Equality ,Events ,Feminism ,Race relations

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Reader comments

Great article, and even better news! I’m celebrating!


I have to say many of us, incl at SBS, were pretty depressed about all this and thought the decision would go against them. But they won, and I have to say I’m amazed at their tenacity and perseverance. Well done SBS and all those who went to the demo. I was trying to find the Royal Courts of Justice but couldn’t 🙁

“on the spurious grounds that targeting services at black and minority ethnic groups ran contrary to the “equality” and “integration” agenda.”

And yet another sign that the “equality” bill will be counter productive to diversity as far as I’m concerned.

Good result though, congrats to them!

Yeah, it is fantastic. And agree with Sunny about SBS re their tenacity and perseverance.

I was at the High Court on Thursday and it was such a good protest and vibe (though coulda done without the rain!). And am so pleased they won.

6. Mike Killingworth

Many congratulations.

Sunny – “I was trying to find the Royal Courts of Justice but couldn’t”

Lol! How did you manage to miss all the tv crews parked outside? I turned up, saw them, and thought “great, some media interest in SBS.” Turns out they were only there for the Dwaine Chambers Olympic ban result.

What I failed to mention in the piece was that we all went off for a celebratory drink afterwards, and once ensconced in the pub we sang a rousing rendition of “I will Survive”, with lyrics specially adapted for the occasion. Someone filmed it, and there were hints that said video will shortly be making an appearance on YouTube… if the film-maker is reading this – Please! DON’T DO IT!!

I am so happy to hear this.

My boyfriend and I came on Friday, but we didn’t see anyone around! We then tried to find where the case was being heard – but had no luck with that. So then, we just looked around the High Court for a while and then went to the Tate…

Hey Cath, you chose a pic with me in it, fun!

Sunny, I’ve already laughed at you for not being able to find us on PP.

From SBS’ press release on their victory:

“UPDATE: Southall Black Sisters’ Victory against Ealing Council

“‘There is no dichotomy between funding specialist services and cohesion; equality is necessary for cohesion to be achieved.’ Lord Justice Moses

“On 18 July at the High Court, in a dramatic turn of events, Ealing Council withdrew their case after one and a half days of a hearing which saw their defence rapidly unravelling. From the outset, it became apparent to the presiding judge, Lord Justice Moses and to all those present in the courtroom including the packed public gallery, that Ealing Council was skating on really thin ice in attempting to justify its decision to cut funding to SBS and to commission instead one generic borough wide service on domestic violence on the grounds of ‘equality’ and ‘cohesion’.”

10. Whataresult!

Oh, thank god for this! I work for Ealing Council so could not join in the campaign, but I am so very pleased.

The current Southall Black Sisters must be very proud to be carrying on the tradition of fighting and winning that their predecessors began. You totally rock, Sisters!

Yes well done SBS and many congratulations to you all for fighting your corner so well and for winning.

And well done Cath also for being there, and for writing it up so brightly and concisely.


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