Our next meeting on Monday (14th January) will hear from Birmingham Law Centre about their situation, and the continuing fight to keep their doors open. Join us from 6:30pm at the Unison Offices, 19th Floor McClaren Tower, Priory Queensway, B4 7SL.
Birmingham Law Centre – the only centre in the UK to run without council funding – helps over 2,000 people each year with legal advice and support around poverty, benefits, housing, immigration and employment. 20 people will also lose their jobs. The support and advice they recieve is often lifechanging, as Jamil Sanneh, who has been helped by the centre said:
They helped me from being destitute and homeless, they’re doing a really good job. It would be crazy if they closed.
Lord Phil Hunt of Kings Heath, patron of the centre, said:
It is almost impossible to contemplate the demise of an organisation that is so important to so many people in their fight to lift themselves out of poverty, debt and homelessness.
“We are working hard to try and secure sustainable funding but the cuts to legal support for some of our most vulnerable are proving exceptionally challenging.
“If BLC were to cease to exist, Birmingham would be the only city in the UK unable to provide free access to expert legal help for its most vulnerable citizens.
It is not just those who have benefited from legal aid who will suffer – these cuts will end up costing more as people unfamiliar with legal systems take cases forward themselves, clogging up courts and taking up time and money. The Citizens’ Advice Bureau says that every £1 spent on legal aid saves £2.34 – £8.80 in court costs, depending on the area of law. MPs should also expect to see the effects of this as their surgeries get busier and busier with people looking for advice and support, as will other organisations who do not rely on legal aid income – but usually would refer people on who were in need of that support.
The Birmingham Law Centre is not the only advice centre that is under threat – CAB locally are short of £120,000 and will have to close their offices in Northfield, Kingstanding and Tyseley if the money is not found. Birmingham Settlement say that advice services will be “overwhelmed” with casework following the twin impact of legal aid cuts and the welfare reform bill in April 2013 – indeed these are the real jaws of doom for many in this city, with teeth sharpened by the cut in council tax benefit which will see unemployed people paying 20% of the bill out of their unemployment benefit and the benefit uprating bill which severs the link between inflation and benefits, meaning that the lowest income earners in the UK will see their income fall in real terms over the next 3 years, just as food and fuel prices are rising faster than inflation. On Newsnight last night, Stephen Timms said the Labour party will not repeal the bill despite voting against it – so expect benefits to keep falling year on year after 2015.
We will continue to support Birmingham Law Centre and other advice agencies to find the funding they need to keep their doors open – the people of Birmingham face very tough times with high unemployment and rising prices combining with falling wages and benefit cuts and reforms to leave people in terrible situations – unable to buy food so depending on food banks, without the support to navigate the ATOS / WCA disability benefit assessment process so kicked off benefits wrongly (and now with no access to legal support where needed to appeal), without the advice to understand the radical changes to benefits in the form of Universal Credit so not getting the right payments, without the organisation to help people in debt so end up in the arms of high street loan sharks charging 4000% interest, without the specialist knowledge to navigate the housing system meaning rising homelessness and in so many other ways we will see the effects of the loss of these places and the time, knowledge and skills of the people who staff them.
To help work out exactly what we as a city are going to about all this, come along to meetings next week:
Monday 14th January, 6:30pm
Open organising meeting for Birmingham Against the Cuts, with a speaker from Birmingham Law Centre coming to explain their situation.
Unison Offices, 19th Floor McClaren Tower, Priory Queensway, Birmingham, B4 7SL.
Building has level access and accessible toilets. Children are welcome but we cannot currently provide a creche service. Please contact us by email with any accessibility needs or questions – BirminghamAgainstTheCuts@gmail.com
Wednesday 16th January, 7pm
Save Our City Emergency Organising Meeting
New Lecture Theater Birmingham City University Conservatoire – Birmingham Conservatoire
Birmingham City University, Paradise Place, B3 3HG