2010/11 was the year in which the first round of budget cuts to local council services were announced, and when they hit, they hit hard. Manchester City Council removed £40M from its Adult Services which included closure of ‘Manchester Advice’, which provided independent and confidential advice in a range of areas covering debt problems, access to welfare, consumer issues and housing.
This appears to have been a mistake.
The government’s changes in legal aid, delayed for 6 months due to fierce opposition, are now due to come into effect in April 2013.
The high levels of concern regarding these changes center on 3 areas
- the changes to welfare benefits (‘bedroom tax’, ‘universal credit’, ‘disability living allowance’ and more) which will affect a large number of Manchester residents
- the funding cuts to voluntary sector advice centres in general, leading to fewer organisations able to help
- the reduced funding of legal aid itself and the areas it will cover.
The issue of cuts to legal aid itself is hugely important. From April, legal aid advice
- On all welfare matters will be abolished (e.g., no support for challenging unfair decisions)
- On all Debt will be abolished (e.g., dealing with deal, court, knowing your rights)
- On Housing will be restricted to immediate threats (repossession, serious health and safety) so areas of support like tenant/landlord disputes will no longer be available
- On employment problems and rights will be mainly be abolished (e.g. unfair dismissal)
- On immigration and on family breakdown are to be restricted.
Between the closure of this city’s advice services AND the government’s proposed actions on legal aid, Manchester will be left with worryingly low levels of advice services. Manchester has extremely high levels of poverty and is presently struggling to deal with the problems is has as a consequence.
Despite the brave endeavour by lawyers and Manchester University students to create a pro-bono advice scheme, more is needed to address what is expected to be a difficult time.
As part of the effort to address the issues above ‘Access 2 Advice’ have organised a ‘Free Legal Advice in Crisis’ – one day conference. This will be on Saturday the 9th of February 2013 with speakers from the Legal Action Network, Law Centres Federation and House of Lords.
The conference will cover happening from April, argue the case for free legal advice and the campaign to keep it.
The Manchester Green Party are proud to be one of the conference sponsors and would urge individual and organisations to support this event.
Deyika NzeribeManchester Green Party Chair