Today (3rd June) was a national day of action, called by Justice for All, to demonstrate about planned cuts to legal aid.
Explaining the need for a demonstration, Pete Lowen – chief executive of Birmingham Law Centre – said
As a nation we are sleepwalking into the disassembling of legal aid for poor and vulnerable people
In Birmingham, around 100 people gathered outside the family law courts and marched through the city centre to a rally at the council house.
The government are planning to cut £350million from the legal aid budget, by cutting or removing the right to legal aid for cases involving debts, benefits, housing, employment, education, family, immigration and clinical negligence.
These cuts will remove access to justice from over 6,500 people in Birmingham. In addition, removing legal aid will cause a rise in costs for tribunals and appeals – it is estimated that for every £1 invested in legal aid and advice services, £10 is saved in court and tribunal costs.
Justice for the rich alone who can afford it is not justice at all
and spoke about the community law centre he had been involved in setting up, before he was an MP. He said that for the individuals who came to them for advice, their intervention was the “difference between life and no life” and spoke passionately about the importance of legal aid and the legal advice services that it funds.
Yvonne Davies, Chief Executive of CAB in Birmingham told us how the legal aid work they were involved in concerned highly complex parts of law, and spoke in detail about disability benefits, and how the CAB works with disabled people to ensure that the legal aspects of applying for benefits and appealing decisions do not prevent people from getting the benefits they need.
People face losing hundreds of pounds a week if their benefits are stopped
6,500 people come each year to CAB with complex benefit matters, and tribunals & upper tribunals deal with legal arguments using legal terms that do not mean what ordinary people might think them to. Terms like “prolonged” have specific legal meanings which the advice specialists and lawyers who work for CAB – funded by legal aid – understand.
She described cuts to legal aid as
the removal of essential specialist assistance from people living below the breadline
Flo Betts, also from CAB, spoke next. She simply read out a case study, written by Paul (not his real name) who had benefitted from the services that CAB provide. I feel completely unable to sum up Paul’s story in a paragraph here, but have been promised that I will get sent a copy that can be put online so that you can read it. It is a truly heartwrenching story that details a single example showing how important legal aid and free legal advice services are. He said:
Getting free advice and specialist support didn’t just change my life, it gave me back the life I thought I’d lost
Finally, Linda Burnip from Disabled People Against the Cuts said a few words about how important legal aid was to disabled people, quoting figures that when appealing against decisions regarding Incapacity Benefit (I think – Linda if you read this and I should be saying DLA or ESA or disabilty mobility allowance or something else, please correct me), 40% of appeals were succesful, but when someone is being represented (usually by a service like CAB) this figure rises to 70%.
At the moment disabled people are being attacked really, really viciously
After the speakers there was a brief period of time for contributions from the floor. Having heard details of how these cuts will be affecting people, there was much call for further action – not just about legal aid, but about cuts in general, with two dates being mentioned by a few different people:
June 30th - strike day..if you’re on facebook, follow the link for more details. Otherwise the key information is this: 12 noon, Victoria Square.. more details to come soon.
September 18th – Rage Against the Lib Dem conference.. details to come soon – this will be a huge action from groups around the west midlands – with all the anti-cuts groups in the region working together with Midlands TUC to produce a huge demonstration.
We hope that you will be able to join us for both of those dates. Right now, what you can do is sign up for Justice For All’s campaign. Sign the Birmingham petition here. We will do our best to keep you informed of future events – the legal aid bill will be published next week, and following that there will be a meeting to discuss the cuts to legal aid and how to defeat the bill as it passes through parliament.
The cuts to legal aid underline again the nature of this government – it is not about saving money, or reducing the deficit. This is an ideological government, committed to ideas of small state and individualism, unconcerned with the needs or problems of ordinary people – or possibly totally unaware, since this cabinet is stuffed with millionaires who have never experienced what it is like to live life on the breadline.
We need to stand united against them, and to make sure that our voices are heard.Join us at future events – keep up to date with what is happening in Birmingham on our upcoming events page.
Other coverage of the event
BBC Midlands Today 3/6 from 17 minutes in
Radio WM – Ed Doolan Show – Interview with Pete Lowen – Birmingham Law Centre CEO
The Paul Franks Show (BBC) – Emma Cook, Birmingham CAB’s Operations Manager is interviewed about the legal aid cuts – 1 hour and 36 mins in….
All the above are BBC broadcasts so I don’t know how long they will remain on iPlayer for.