By Tom Skinner
Under austerity, welfare reform and cuts to essential services have resulted in not only financial hardship but also confusion about how to access support, disproportionately affecting people in poverty who rely more on those services. In that context, reliable accessible to advice and justice can be a crucial lifeline to millions of people in need of support, advice and information to help them maximise their incomes, minimise their exposure to financial shocks, and navigate the changing support services available to them.
Unfortunately, this type of support has come under huge pressure in recent years. The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) removed more than £350m from the Legal Aid budget and ended the right to legal representation in many areas of the law. Funding for Citizens Advice Bureaux from cash-strapped local authorities and from other agencies was significantly reduced, and law centres closed at an astonishing rate – Greater Manchester, which once had nine law centres, now has only three, in Bury, Rochdale and Manchester.
This is why Greater Manchester Poverty Action endorses Greater Manchester Law Centre’s manifesto, “Fighting Together for Free Access to Justice”, a vision of a fairer society in which everyone has a part to play. It calls for:
- Law Centres to enforce the legal rights of individuals and campaign with others for change.
- The restoration of a fully funded legal aid system to sit alongside publicly funded and accountable health, social security, transport and housing services.
- A supportive social security system.
- A new generation of social welfare lawyers, developing and retaining legal expertise in social welfare law.
- The right to a secure home and the protection of renters’ rights.
- An end to the hostile environment for claimants and migrants, including adequate compensation for those
affected by the Windrush scandal.
- Collaboration between legal and advice services, community groups and campaigning organisations to launch strategic legal challenges to injustice
By working together we can build towards a country and a city region that ensures access to justice, so we encourage you to read the manifesto to see what role you could play.