"We need to use the privileges we have as Cambridge students to oppose austerity measures"Varsity Video

Content note: this article contains a brief mentions of rape.

Whitworth House is a hostel specifically for vulnerable women in Cambridge, and it’s about to be shut down. As part of their strategic review of housing provision, Cambridgeshire County Council has withdrawn the £65,000 annual funding which keeps the house running, and, as things stand, its residents will have to leave by June.

The house provides a vital place of refuge for women who are homeless, or at risk of becoming so. For many residents, it is the last line of defence between them and the streets. Unlike homeless shelters, which also provide a valuable service, hostels like Whitworth House provide residential accommodation away from men for those women seeking it. They are also able to provide shelter for more than one night, unlike emergency care providers such as rape crisis centres.

“As Conservative government austerity measures consistently defund local councils, the most vulnerable people in our communities pay the price”

The withdrawal of funds from services like this is not new and it’s not uncommon. It is a direct result of Conservative austerity policies on local governments which have been implemented systematically across the country for years. Central government funding to the average local government has been cut by 40% since 2010, forcing unprecedented savings targets and extortionate cuts to public services. It has reached the point where local governments have been so eroded that they are having to choose which necessary services to cut, pushing more and more already vulnerable people into dire situations, and onto the streets. At the start of 2018, a government study found that there were nearly 5,000 people sleeping on the streets of the UK, a number that had doubled since 2010. As Conservative government austerity measures consistently defund local councils, the most vulnerable people in our communities pay the price. We’ve got to start paying serious attention.

Most Cambridge University students won’t have heard of Whitworth House. The culture of the Cambridge “bubble” encourages us to live a life that is incredibly sheltered from the issues affecting the town, but we need to stop perpetuating these harmful myths. Cambridge is a community that we are a part of, as students, and as residents of the town.

“Think of the amount of space in Cambridge that you cannot access without a Camcard”

The closure of Whitworth House should be an issue that concerns us all, and we need to remember that students at Cambridge University are not immune to government cuts or austerity measures: there are people studying here who rely upon this kind of local government support too. These local government funded services, the refuges, the hostels, and the respite care providers, will continue to have their funding cut unless we take action. We need to use the privileges we have as Cambridge students to oppose austerity measures, to use whatever power we can muster to lend solidarity to the communities affected, and to collaborate in campaigning and support.


READ MORE

Mountain View

Residential home supporting vulnerable women to close in June due to Council funding cuts

The wealth inequality in Cambridge is stark, and under austerity those at the bottom lose even more, while the Vice Chancellor of our University earns £431,000 a year, and Trinity settles comfortably on its £1.34 billion in assets. We need to seriously question the division of space in Cambridge when places like Whitworth House are being forced to shut down but the colleges where we work and live have a huge number of spare rooms that are reserved for conference guests and only slept in for a few nights a year. Think of the amount of space in Cambridge that you cannot access without a Camcard. The false division of space and communities between Cambridge University and the town is fabricated, and so can be undone.

Although it might be tempting to see Whitworth House purely as a service, or as a dire example of the effects of government policy, it’s also home to a group of women, many of whom have nowhere else to turn. Austerity policies have been hitting hard for years, and it’s real lives that they are leaving by the wayside. Whitworth House provides an essential good to the community, and this kind of public service is starting to become a thing of the past. We can’t let that happen.

The petition to stop the closure of Whitworth House can be found here.

Sponsored links