David Blunkett: 'Don't end funding for Victim Support'

The service must remain national, not be handed to local commissioners
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The Independent Online

These are anxious days for those who care about victims of crime. Within the next week, we expect the Government to announce whether it is going ahead with its controversial plans to end national funding for Victim Support.

There is little sign yet that the Government has listened to the many thousands of people who have protested about the plans. But I hope that, even at this late stage, ministers will stop this threat to desperately needed support and services for victims.

This is an area where I have a strong personal interest. As Home Secretary, I helped to bring local Victim Support groups together to create a strong, effective national charity. I was convinced at the time that this was the right move, and everything that has happened since has confirmed my view. Victim Support has gone from strength to strength, and victims and our society have benefited.

Last year, Victim Support's 7,000 trained volunteers offered help and support to one million victims and witnesses across England and Wales. They included 80,000 victims of violent crime and 8,000 victims of sex attacks.

But by no means all those helped have been the subject of serious crimes. For as I have heard for myself, even what might seem to others to be a relatively minor crime can have a disastrous impact on the lives of victims.

Each receives expert, sympathetic and confidential advice and support. It can be vital in helping victims overcome the trauma of the crime. But importantly, it can also give them the strength to help bring those guilty of the crime to justice.

This is why Victim Support also offers help to witnesses. By offering support and information, they can help to guide victims and witnesses through the often confusing criminal justice system, explaining what is happening and reassuring them about the role. Without it, many may not find the strength to press charges or give evidence in court.

So Victim Support not only gives invaluable help to people when they need it most. By doing so, it also helps our society to bring to justice those who are guilty of offences and cuts crime in the long run.

It is clear, too, that the organisation and its volunteers can be proud of the level of service it provides. More than nine out of 10 people who have been helped say they are happy with the support they receive.

That is why I am very disturbed to hear of Government plans to break up the network and threaten its funding. I accept that it is not the Government's intention to abandon victims of crime. But it will be the consequence of the decision to stop funding Victim Support nationally and to hand the budget to the new local police and crime commissioners.

I have heard the Government describe Victim Support as a "monopoly provider" in its justification of the need for change. It receives only 58 per cent of the national budget spent on help for victims and witnesses, with the rest going to a range of providers. The Government also says that Victim Support does great work. So why change what isn't broken and clearly isn't a monopoly?

Victim Support estimates that the change could cost £21m a year that would otherwise have been spent on directly helping victims and witnesses. When only 1p in every £1 currently spent on the criminal justice system goes to help victims, this is money that can't be spared.

I also find it hard to see how local services could cope with the most serious crimes, which often involve victims and witnesses from outside a single community. The result will not just be that the level of support will depend on where they live but also could discourage people from coming forward to give evidence.

Victim Support is a wonderful and valued organisation, with a remarkable track record in offering help when it is needed most. So it does not surprise me that thousands have signed petitions urging ministers not to take action that threatens to undermine Victim Support.

I hope that ministers will listen to these pleas, and I believe, over time, they will be glad they did. As someone who as Home Secretary had the job of running the criminal justice system, I know there are more than enough problems that come along unexpectedly without creating your own.

David Blunkett is a former Home Secretary