Government legal aid cuts will be a disaster for disabled people

By staff writers
15 Nov 2011

A new report by disability charity Scope exposes the serious consequences for disabled people if the Government goes ahead with massive Legal Aid cuts.

The report - part of the Justice for All campaign and commissioned by the Legal Action Group - lays bare how the government will undermine welfare and expose the most vulnerable to injustice and neglect, say critics of the coalition's proposals.

Launched in advance of the House of Lords debate about a bill that removes welfare from the scope of legal aid, Scope's report demonstrates how government plans will leave disabled people at the mercy of a complex system of reviews, appeals and tribunals.

The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill has been entered into the Lords and will go into the committee stage in the next few weeks.

Disabled people make up 58 per cent of those who receive legal aid for welfare benefits cases. This translates to over 78,000 disabled people each year who will be denied specialist legal advice if these measures go through.

The report, 'Legal Aid in welfare: the tool we can’t afford to lose' was commissioned by the Justice for All coalition of charities, legal and advice agencies, trade unions and community groups follows the route five typical claimants take as they as they negotiate red tape and bureaucracy with and without legal aid, and how the appeal and tribunal systems fall down when it is not present.

It comes at a time when approximately 1.5 million people on Incapacity Benefit are being reassessed in a bid to create a more accurate system.

But, by denying 78,000 disabled people access to legal advice each year the charity shows how the Government is set to create a much less efficient and accurate system, says Scope.

Disabled people who no longer qualify for legal advice may potentially miss out on vital support and could end up on the wrong benefit.

The disability charity has repeatedly cautioned the Government that its plans for welfare reform will only have a chance of working if the right people are on the right benefit and get the right level of support.

The report is being formally launched at a cross-party forum in the House of Lords, and the event will be hosted by a number of Peers, including Baroness Grey-Thompson and Lord Newton.

Richard Hawkes, chief executive of the disability charity Scope commented: “Our report clearly demonstrates that Legal Aid is the grease that oils the cogs of the welfare system."

“It is now abundantly clear that the appeal and tribunal system for welfare cases will not work properly if welfare is removed from the scope of legal aid," he added.

“Legal advice is vital for disabled people if they fall foul of poor decision-making, red tape or administrative error, and this makes it crucial to the success of the Government’s welfare reforms.

“The Government urgently needs to think again, and understand that cutting Legal Aid in this area will make it harder for disabled people to get the right support and ultimately could drive more people further away from work,” said Mr Hawkes.

Justice for All spokesperson Will Horwitz decared: "Legal aid is a lifeline for tens of thousands of disabled people each year. Members have told us how vital it is in helping negotiate a complex and intimidating system, usually at a time of great stress, with a new diagnosis or worsening condition."

"This report clearly shows how vital legal aid is, not only for the welfare system but also for individuals. If legal aid for benefit appeals is cut, people will have nowhere to turn for help," Hawkes concluded.

Justice for All is a coalition of over 3,500 charities, legal and advice agencies, politicians, trade unions, community groups and members of the public.

The Scope report was funded by the Baring Foundation.

* Read the full report here: http://www.scope.org.uk/news/help-and-information/publications/legal-aid...

* Scope: http://www.scope.org.uk/

* Justice for All: http://www.justice-for-all.org.uk/

* Legal Action Group: http://www.lag.org.uk/

* Baring Foundation: http://www.baringfoundation.org.uk/

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