Leeds Skyline Service – the service which provides support to those living with HIV, their friends, family and carers, as well as providing educational services – has been served with a closure notice by Leeds City Council.
The council says a reduction in this year’s Public Health budget and lack of detail about recurrent funding means it will not be providing any funding for the service past 31 March 2016. The council say that, unless the budgetary position changes, this means that the Skyline service will end on 31 March 2016.
HIV infections in the UK are at an all-time high, and Leeds is in the upper tier of local authorities for HIV prevalence per 1000 of population, meaning that providing support, raising awareness, and preventing HIV infection is an important public health consideration.
Skyline currently provides confidential one-to-one emotional support, cognitive behavioural therapy, information and advice on treatment/benefits/housing/finances, one-to-one and group peer support, training and workshops, mental health support and complementary therapies. Their prevention service works within communities to raise awareness of HIV, reduce the number of new infections and challenge stigma and prejudice.
There is currently no other agency in the Leeds area which provides these services to all people affected by HIV. Closure of this service will mean that, other than the LGI, the only HIV support available in Leeds is gay men’s support charity MESMAC. Closure of Skyline will therefore leave Leeds with no HIV support service for heterosexuals or their friends and family.
Representatives from the council met with Skyline staff and service users on Wednesday 12 October to confirm the position, and another meeting is scheduled for Thursday (22 October 2015). They stated that there is no possibility of the funding merely being reduced in order that a reduced service could continue – funding will either be preserved (unlikely) or entirely removed.
The decision is scheduled to be considered by the Council’s Scrutiny Board for Health matters at a date yet to be confirmed.
HIV is still a highly stigmatised condition. The psychological and physical impact of living with HIV is such that the prevalence of mental illness in people living with HIV is far higher than in the general population, and people with HIV are more likely to be unemployed. Many people living with HIV are from marginalised or disempowered communities who have already been affected by other funding cuts. 1 in 500 people in Leeds have HIV, and although there is not geographical data available, the closure of this service will therefore undoubtedly affect many people who live in South Leeds.
Skyline staff believe that there is a key window of opportunity before mid-November for concerned individuals to lobby their councillors and their MP against this decision, and say that people can do this either directly by contacting their local councillor or MP, or can do it through Skyline. People who want to lobby but want to preserve their anonymity can do so either directly or through Skyline.
Skyline are organising a campaign and co-ordinating submissions to the council including a deputation and personal case studies. Anyone who wants more information or to help with the campaign should contact Skyline directly on (0113) 244 9767 or email: leedsskyline@theBHA.org.uk.
This post was written by Niki Woods using our Create an article for South Leeds Life page.