Seems like participating in the Justice for All 'Day of Action' has had a knock on effect. Our local Community Voluntary Service (CVS) have printed a press release we did for the day in their magazine 'The Vine' and they've asked me to do a presentation & talk to around 30 representatives of various voluntary sector organisations on the 12th July about the effect legal aid cuts will have upon us, they also want to know about the impact it may have upon them.
I've also had a few other organisations in contact; it seems people are finally waking up and realise that these crazy reforms to social welfare legal aid can and must be stopped.
Please show some support for MyLegal by registering. It's free and only takes a minute
The relentless journey continues, there's always something going on with this campaign. It may seem to outsiders sometimes that the pace is slowing or the momentum is dwindling; - it's far from the case!
There's always work going on behind the scenes and on my part this has meant preparing a report for the justice scrutiny committee who are now looking at the bill. If I'm honest, I don't have much faith in the scrutiny stage because of its constitution.
Early indications are that this is a 'rushed job' and I think the shadow justice minister was absolutely right to heavily criticize the hurried stages of taking evidence. It's almost farcical that such a major bill is being pushed along at the pace it is and in my humble opinion there is no sign of government showing the slightest inclination of taking heed of those who are presenting very valid argument as to what is wrong with the bill.
It's my belief that the greater value in this campaign is by continuing to work closely with your MP in pushing for amendments, beyond that it is about getting the involvement of a local lord as we move towards the bill passing to them in October.
What's become all too apparent to me is with all that's going on with more prominent issues such as Murdoch and the phone hacking scandal, it is difficult to get attention grabbing headlines in the mainstream media.
I am however, glad to see that the Daily Mirror ran a story which exposed the reluctance of the Ministry of Justice to show the amounts of money earned by high flying barristers who earn good sums out of legal aid, amongst them the Prime Minister's brother Alex Cameron QC. It cannot be right that there is secrecy and a lack of openness in making this information public.
But hey, let's get back to this campaign. Whereas, I think it is difficult to get the public interested, it has become clear to me that you can spread the word by speaking with local community groups. With this in mind I was very pleased at being asked to do a presentation at our local Community Voluntary Service annual general meeting. I ran a power-point presentation to those who attended and was pleased it got a very good reception. I think it was an effective way of getting the message over to local and county council representatives that there is an absolute need of our services and quite frankly the money needs to be found from somewhere.
We had a good discussion about the 'Big Society' agenda and whilst it does have some good principles at the core of its objectives, they are destined to fail without adequate transition funding and protecting the voluntary sector from the decimation with which we are currently threatened. The Big Society will never take off unless these problems are properly addressed.
So my message is to encompass as many other voluntary sector groups as possible and get them to lobby local MP's as to why this won't work.
I am also using the opportunity of highlighting every single potential injustice experienced by those subject to Government's problematic welfare reforms. I do so by signposting my clients to our local MP and I'm pleased to see that in one case this has resulted in our MP sending a letter to the Chief Executive Officer at Atos Origin Healthcare.
Today I saw an absolutely appalling example with one of my clients who was on the waiting list for major abdominal surgery and who has been turned down by the DWP for Employment & Support Allowance.
Generally speaking things may seem to have perhaps gone a little quiet on the campaign front. It's partly because Parliament is in 'recess' and therefore the actual lobbying side of things is more towards local constituent MP's, rather than on a larger scale. That said, lot's of work goes on behind the scenes; - too much if I'm honest.
One of the main areas of our work centres around the work which we think will be thrown up by the current welfare reforms. Just before parliament went into recess in July, they issued an endless string of reports on both the welfare and legal aid reform bills. Scrutiny committees are adjourned over the break, but much midnight oil is being spent pouring over these reports.
For a government committed towards reducing bureaucracy, it astonishes me how they love so much paperwork. They must have got through a whole forest to provide the paper for so many reports!
We've been working on a paper to the current scrutiny committee and a business plan for an idea we have which we are discussing amongst ourselves for now, we need to be tactical in terms of how much we put out in the public eye.
If I'm brutally honest, I'm worn down by all of this, all advice agencies have been hit from all directions and government has shown an astonishing reluctance to listen to what is essentially common sense. It's tiring, but not to the point where we'll give up, that's just not on the cards.
I urge you to read my article on the welfare reforms, it's here and if you read it you will see why welfare benefits help at specialist level is vitally important.
The welfare reforms are utterly shambolic, they promise far too much and aim to convince those who want to be convinced; they misleadingly tell people the welfare reforms will 'simplify' the system to a point where people won't have complicated benefit issues, I dismiss this as sheer nonsense.
The welfare reforms are also built upon a shameful media tactic of convincing all that billions are thrown away on scroungers, faker's, skivers and cheats who con the public purse. It's media fueled hysteria aimed at demonising the most vulnerable in society; - it's utterly deplorable.
We are constantly told not to be political, but it's impossible to keep out of politics when our current Government is running to a clear political agenda. It angers me that they pretend it is all to do with 'deficit' reduction; - I can't agree. It's all to do with shifting money from the public over to the private sector; - they can't wait for agencies who help people to be taken out of the picture. Why? because we stand against all of this and government doesn't want us in the way.
So whilst the campaign appears to have 'gone quiet', our anger increases and so does our commitment to ensure we remain an effective voice against all this government throws at people.
If you're not involved, not aware or don't know what this is all about; - go and find out! If you're reading this you have an interest in social welfare, turn an interest into a commitment to help save your local advice agency. It's too late to leave it until you may need it.
Hey, it's been a while since I updated this thread. It's one of those tasks I keep meaning to do but something else comes along and before you know it, you're saying to yourself 'I must do that tomorrow'; - but then something else comes along and you say the same thing again and again, before long a month or so has gone. I suspect some of you know what I mean.
To be honest, this campaigning really does get tiring, you can definitely be in danger of allowing it to take over your life; that's not good I know, but that's the way it is. I guess in truth I passionately believe in the job I do and want to carry on doing. Part of me sees it slipping away at times, as we battle on I wonder how many people are hearing our voices?
Well, what I would say is if you do nothing, you can be absolutely assured no one will hear you. It's one of the reasons why I willingly give up my time on an entirely voluntary basis to man the 'Mylegal' site. I've been greatly encouraged by the numbers viewing at times and often in to the small hours. It would be good if a few more people would sign up to becoming members, it just helps to know that those campaigning for our essential advice services are not alone. It doesn't take long and everyone is encouraged to make a contribution, entirely of their own accord, it would be good to hear what some of you think, good or bad; - we welcome it all!
It may seem the campaign has become stagnant, I can understand why people may think this. It's been a time of silence as Justice for All has taken a summer break. I don't blame them but I do think they could have asked someone to keep up at least an internet presence; - it would have helped in terms of keeping us up to date, or even just knowing some was there.
I hope the period of silence and the appointment of a campaign manager for Justice for All enables them to come back to us with some fresh ideas on our next step. Time is marching on and it is now only a matter of days before parliament recommences. The scrutiny committee sits again but I have little, if any faith, that they will listen to anyone.
My bigger hope is in what will happen when the legal aid bill goes into the house of lords in the Autumn, I'm pinning my hopes on a bit more humanity than was shown in the House of Commons. Much as though I'm interested in and closely follow politics, I have to say I've become very disappointed by how the political ideology of those who propose this absurd reform has allowed them to steam roller the whole sorry bill through. I remain absolutely convinced that the abolition of social welfare law services in key areas such as welfare benefits, debt, housing and so forth is not being done to assist fiscal deficit reduction; - it is being implemented as a means of ensuring the least advantaged in society are even less able to challenge the state and civil injustice. There is a preponderance of evidence which shows that government is simply throwing money away on schemes which have failed in the past, it says it is 'relaxed' over paying up to £14,000 per person to get people off benefits and into work, it a nonsense to deny an individual legal help to the value of £167 per person; - the amount which funds a welfare benefit case. It is key that individuals have access to people who can effectively challenge the state over their lawful entitlement to something as basic and fundamental as social security.
I've used this period of apparent silence, not to mention some of my well deserved summer vacation (and yes minister's I've earned it) to 'gather evidence'. I've come to a conclusion that our current tact must be to hone our argument. My predominant concern is in ensuring our vital services continue to be available to our clients who I know will continue to need them. That said, it has gone a bit quiet in terms of client numbers. My paranoia tells me it's some sneaky plan to down our client count so HM.Gov can tell us we're not needed, well there;s no way all those social problems have gone away is there?
Perhaps people are ringing the Money Advice line, if they are I'm sure they'll get little more than a basic level of guidance, there's no way it's a replacement for the highly specialist service we offer.
At the start of this campaign there was a touch of excitement, it was quite liberating speaking in Parliament and in the question time event to our legal aid minister, it was all a bit novel and new. Since then it's been damn hard work, lots of research, endless torn up ideas and rethinking. At times I've wondered if it was worth it but I remain convinced that we must remain completely focussed on our direction.
There's a choice
I think you have to ask yourself if you believe in what we're fighting for, if you don't then I suppose the inevitable advice I would give to you is to leave at the next available exit. It's as simple as that, some of you may find it quite liberating, perhaps trying something new. It's a good time to rethink your ideas on your chosen career path, if your heart isn't in this campaign, may be social welfare law just isn't for you.
That may sound harsh, it's meant to; - because our biggest enemy is complacency and a feeling of acceptance that it's hopeless in terms of what we can do, if we think like that we allow ourselves to be beaten.
Our bigger enemy is the central core of government who want to diminish the rights of individuals by curtailing their ability to allow them have their say. I firmly believe that there are politicians of all divides who have an instinctive feeling that taking away legal aid from those who need it most is wrong. The most powerful argument is in social welfare law, the more absurd case is to be found in those who continue to leave legal aid for high cost criminal cases unchallenged, yet this is the area which they don't dare touch; - and we're letting them get away with it!
Our success is to be found in common sense and in being able to present our argument, that's my next challenge. I'm firmly convinced that if we can do this we can at least influence the minds of those who can influence change.
Arguments can be won, many of the politicians in Parliament are new and out to carve careers for themselves, others are more likely to vote for what is the best interests of their constituents. The Lords will need educating as to what all of this means, none of us should take it for granted that they know, some don't, others do and don't care.
But most people when faced with common sense will see what your point is so long as you point it across in a way they can understand.
It's others you have to convince
And it is here where I think I'll probably come up against my greatest challenge. By working closely with our local MP, I was pleased to receive some confirmation that she is going to arrange a meeting with the Legal Aid minister Jonathon Djanogly. I will be asking Citizens Advice for some assistance with this but I am none the less determined that they don't swallow it up by taking over what I see as our case, needless to say I will be looking for support from our local Devon CAB's and the accent must be on a good presentation.
I see that as far as welfare benefits is concerned, it is key that this revolves around welfare reform. I've amassed an abundance of evidence on this and see that there is a widespread concern shared by government, welfare to work providers and the DWP that the key to successful transition from welfare to work can only be possible by proper assessment. The assessment process includes that of working out which level of support a claimant receives in so far as:
(1) Whether they are capable of any work
(2) Whether they have limited capability and need support
(3) Whether they are fit for work
It's a legal issue and one which is determined in our first tier tribunals, it is an area where all eligible claimants should get the appropriate legal help to ensure they are correctly assessed.
Naturally, there is a case for all the other benefits but the key ones are those associated with welfare reform because these are likely to be the most problematic.
So a lot of work is being done on 'putting the case'; - it's essential that we get this right. We've got all the information and can build our case. Then we need to think about how to take this forward.
The next step
Making sure it goes forward
(1) Preparation of proposal/collation of evidence
(2) Ensuring all actions with submissions to scrutiny committee submitted
(3) Planning meeting
(4) Rework on proposal
(5) Meeting with legal aid minister
(6) Get a 'Lord on Board' for the battle within the House of Lords
(7) Continued lobbying of local MP
(8) More publicity
There's lot to all of this!
I'll let you know how it goes. But if anyone else would like to share their experiences please do so here on Mylegal; it would be good to share it.
The impending 10% cut in our paltry fixed fees is due to bite into our budget from this October. It's an utter disgrace how government has slipped this one into the back of the net without so much as a proper debate held in the full glare of open debate; - instead they introduce it by way of statutory instrument.
We continue to get an absolute battering with financial stewardship attempts aimed at painting us as inefficient. It's incredible how the MOJ budget reveals that for its management of all the LSC's so called inefficiency, senior staff still manage to secure themselves a bonus whilst those on the ground have been looking at remuneration freezes for years. The current accent is on throwing all the blame on providers; - which fits snugly with government's overwhelming desire to get rid of us. It astonishes me how the government frees all those it supports of stifling red tape, yet uses it to strangle us in being able to simply get on with the job we do so well.
Am I un-deterred by all of this?
No, Mr Ministry of Justice I am not!
I think we in social welfare legal aid are having a Winston Churchill moment, we'll fight them on the beaches and all that!
So in my 'vacation' I've gone on an intensive social media launch via the power of Twitter, over 650 members in a little over two weeks is not too bad at all and I already have one very well known follower; - thanks for that!
But what has truly staggered me is how much interest my article on the welfare reform car crash has got, I started writing it back in June and never realized how much of an epic it would end up becoming. A heck of a lot of research has gone into it and the interest is overwhelming, over 46,000 views at the last count which is excellent by any standard, I feel re-assured it's been used to good effect, in-fact I know it has.
Elsewhere, I've highlighted how benefit appeals with the welfare reforms are going to absolutely rocket out of control, my estimation is we could well see the number of social security appeals increasing to over 900,000 per year if government continues revising so many decisions as part of its reforms. It's all there in my article as to how I've worked it out. I see media articles saying the cost of these appeals is £50 million per year, it's a gross under-estimate and is far more than they say, again it's all here on Mylegal for you to see how I've substantiated what I say.
I have to confess, I've grown tired of hearing how we can't get political, yes we can and yes we should. It's not about which political party we support, it's about which party supports us and it certainly is not the Conservative government. For this I cannot forgive them; - shame on them for their attempts to eradicate social justice, the only consolation is it will transpire to backfire on them when chaos exists within the benefit system, when people struggle to repay their debts to the banks who need the repayments to feed their bonuses and when repossessions rise as a result of all this social injustice disease.
The Liberals have a chance, at one time they tagged themselves an identity as 'social democrats'; - they need to do something to prove they have any social values at all or else they will face a beating at the polling booths at the next election. It's good to see they supported an amendment on the welfare reform but it's no where near enough. The real problem with welfare reform is over the claims it will result in deficit reduction, it won't in its current form.
All of these reforms condemn us by default yet, promote any private initiative regardless of cost; - it's assuming the public is blind to the way it will be ripped off and government is fueling vial hatred towards those it clearly regards as the feral underclass. Such stereo-typing may make good headlines, but they don't make good economic policy.
This battle needs to get heated, the money wasted on these private projects needs to be highlighted rather than praised well before we've seen any evidence they will deliver. Far too little is said over how much all of this will cost as government commits billions on the nation's credit card to get thousands back to work - with no idea as to what problems claimants will encounter.
So let's get down to the beaches and tell them their reforms are as un-predictable as the waves which hit our shores.
Well I'm not sure what happened to the Winston Churchill moment!
Rather than off to the beaches, it was a fast trip off to hospital!
It's a while since I've updated this post on the campaign.
It is perhaps an opportune moment to fill any followers in on what's been going on. Unfortunately, in the first week in October of last year I was taken ill and upon doctor's firm orders, had to part company with the laptop. To save me repeating the whole story, I'll simply say the NHS are marvelous and for those who want to know more, follow this link and it's all here...
I've returned back to the office and am getting back into the throws of dealing with all the problems running a busy legal aid office entails. I've put up a fair few posts on Mylegal about all matters topical, please do have a read.
I've just come from an excellent meeting with Justice for All over the question of funding for the work we do, it's interesting stuff and some very good points were raised by a good list of attendees. Justice for All have really stepped up to the mark and are to be applauded for all they've achieved on a limited budget, they are very much our unsung heroes when it comes to welfare reform and legal aid; - the research they have done is phenomenal, I feel very proud to be part of their campaign.
In my time off I have consistently fed my peer in the House of Lords Baroness Jolly with material and briefings for use in the committee stages of the Legal Aid debates and welfare reforms. I must soon catch up with my own MP Sarah Wollaston who has pledged to arrange a meeting with a minister over some interesting ideas connected with the Work programme. Just bear with me folks whilst I get the site back in order and update some of the posts I started last year, there's plenty in the pipeline.
The battle goes on.....and on!
Lessons to be learned, campaigning for legal aid must be undertaken with care! Seriously, it's a big lessen in not realizing how things can catch up on you without you noticing. We're a passionate lot us social welfare campaigners and some of the stuff being thrown at us of late is enough to make the blood boil; - literally!
I've got to take this warning seriously - note to self.