Flintshire Citizens Advice Bureau is in danger of losing £170,000 which pays for the equivalent of five posts, according to Mark Tami, the Labour MP for Alyn and Deeside. He said the bureau 'deals with some of the most vulnerable people in our society, who are often the same people who end up coming to see Members of Parliament. It is a worry that cuts will devastate the area'. Stephen Lloyd, the Liberal Democrat MP for Eastbourne, believes advice charities in his constituency could lose funding of around £230,000-£250,000 per year which he said they use 'to support more than 1,500 of the town's most vulnerable residents with complex debt, benefit and housing problems'. He also fears that cuts in legal aid will reduce the number of solicitors firms in his constituency from the current nine to only two, meaning some of his constituents could face a 'round trip in excess of 50 miles' to get help.
Labour’s shadow justice minister Andy Slaughter spoke in the debate. He said that according to the government's own impact assessment of the proposed cuts, they would mean a 92 per cent cut in legal aid funding for the voluntary sector. Slaughter also said that the government is 'living in cloud cuckoo land' if it believes that people would be able to prepare their own appeals against decisions to turn them down for benefits: 'Some 40 per cent of cases going to incapacity benefit appeals are successful with no representation and 67 per cent are successful with representation.' He paid tribute to the former legal aid minister Lord Bach, arguing that while in office he had defended social welfare law in the legal aid system and that if Labour had remained in government it would have continued to protect it.
The Solicitor-General, Edward Garnier, replied to those at the debate for the government as the minister responsible for legal aid, Jonathan Djanogly, was unavailable to do so. Garnier acknowledged that 'in all our constituencies we find areas where there is a huge need for legal representation'. He stressed that while a constituency like his (Harborough) appears prosperous there is still a need for social welfare law advice and that there is the opportunity to express views about the proposals in what 'is a deliberately lengthy consultation process'. Garnier argued that 'to be in government is to have to make decisions and choices. The main factor that we have to address at the moment is the economic difficulties that the national budget faces'.
LAG is urging anyone concerned about the cuts in legal aid to join the Justice for All campaign (see previous blog). Please also write to your MPs and join the lobby of parliament planned for 12 January.