Thursday, 8 March 2012

Do not take Legal Aid away from the poor

I am roused to write this blog after the government were defeated in the Lords last night on various issues relating to the Legal Aid Bill.

The government want to disadvantage the poorest members of society, such as my clients who are the victims of abuse. The proposed cuts will mean a reduction of 53% to the Legal Aid bill for those who need help on such aspects as Welfare or Housing benefit. My clients are dysfunctional, largely because they were abused in childhood. They are often  unemployable, homeless, itinerant, addicted to substances, and need help of a legal nature. Under the proposed changes, they won't get that help.

What angers me are the comments of Kenneth Clarke, Minister of Justice, who, when accused of cutting access to justice for the poor, retorted on the Today programme that all he is doing is taking legal aid away from lawyers. A cheap way of avoiding the question. The rates paid to lawyers are at the same level as they were 20 years ago, so who in their right mind would do legal aid work for profit? Yet the government continues to use the throw away line "fat cat lawyers".

The point is that if the government are taking the work away from lawyers, who obviously are to be discouraged from challenging government when they get things wrong in the same way as Stalin did in Communist Russia, will they replace the rights of the poor with something else? No. They are taking money away from advice centres, law centres and many support agencies. Only the other day the CAB announced that they could have to close half of their centres due to government cutbacks.

Clearly David Cameron's idea of the Big Society, sounds idealistic in that it appears as though people are going to be in charge of their own destiny. I nearly fell for it, once I had managed to understand what it meant - I was not on my own. It is simply a poorly disguised method of saving the cost of the welfare state. If communities get together and look after themselves, then, arguably, you don't need government to plug the gap. One returns to the extended family type and moves away from the nuclear (2 parents 2 children living away from Granny).

So, are the Legal Aid Reforms fair? Clearly not, if you listen to the thousands of agencies who have objected to the government bill, and the House of Lords who are overwhelmingly against it.

Do this government listen? No. I was listening to a commentator on Radio 4 this morning who said that the government are determined to break up the National Health Service, despite overwhelming opposition from almost everyone who has been consulted. Why - either because they are bigotted or undemocratic, or because they don't want to appear as though they are doing U Turns and are weak.

The same commentator asked us to look at the Railways which are fragmented, competitive, and inefficient in parts, because there is no national cohesive organisation to keep it running efficiently. Look at how Network Rail was privatised, failed, then was pseudo-nationalised again.

Now who was it that nationalised the Railways? It wasn't Margaret Thatcher was it? She didn't really listen to what people thought either did she? Particularly if they were "Wets"

Now is the time for the government to do a reversal on the Bills which no one wants. Will they listen? Will they thump.

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