The Government’s new safety measures for women and girls feel rushed and superficial

16 Mar

Today, the Government has unveiled a set of “immediate steps” to make the streets safer for women following the terrible murder of Sarah Everard. It will double the size of the Safer Streets fund, which covers street lighting and CCTV, to £45 million, and there are also plans for undercover police to patrol bars and clubs.

On one level, this seems like the quickest way to address some of the concerns that have been raised this week in regards to women’s safety. Everard’s murder has caused huge shock around the country and many women have shared their own experiences of harassment and abuse from men. Evidently these problems are more common than some of us may have previously imagined, and society needs to do more to make women feel safe.

But the Government’s response also comes across as rushed, and more about appeasing protesters, as opposed to creating credible solutions to misogyny. After members of the Metropolitan Police had been filmed detaining women at a vigil for Everard, there has erupted a huge amount of anger, some of which has been directed at the politicians responsible for the current rules around lockdown gatherings. Ministers are clearly keen to show that they care.

On a practical level, it seems obvious that the funding will have a limited effect on street safety. The truth is that men harass women in lots of different conditions, daylight being one. More lighting on the streets does not solve the problem, nor does having undercover coppers in bars. That’s before we get to the fact that civil liberties campaigners are concerned about the amount of CCTV in the UK.

But the fundamental point is that there isn’t a quick fix solution to the issues we are discussing, and if there were, it certainly wouldn’t be one that could be rustled up in such a short space of time. To make women feel more safe will require a combination of measures. It probably demands an attitudinal shift among (not all) men; more conversations in the family home; harsher sentencing; more frequent public transport, and so forth.

It also involves longer-term economic planning. The decision-making process around how the £45 million should be spent feels superficial. Given the amount the Government has forked out during this crisis, perhaps that figure no longer seems like a lot. But policymakers need more time to question how the funds should be employed.

With the calls for action this week, the Government clearly felt under great pressure to act. It would have done better, however, to pause and take stock; to get to grips with the full extent of the problem before increasing the Safer Streets fund. Some might call the £45 million a “start”, but it seems to me indicative of a government that now equates spending with solutions, and one that gets panicked by pressure from protest groups. We all want to do more to tackle this important societal issue, but let’s slow down and make sure we get it right.