Renewed call for case studies Jul 16, 2011 13:51:41 GMT 1
Post by nickd on Jul 16, 2011 13:51:41 GMT 1
At the opening stages of the campaign against cuts in the advice sector and to legal aid funding, we had a very good uptake in the number of case studies which we could use in evidence to go alongside all our written evidence to various committees, MP's and funders. We're now at a stage where we could do with renewing our efforts as there is currently a real need for some supporting evidence to help the politicians who are 'on side' or who could be convinced by persuasive evidence.
The current position
These cuts are as real as ever, in October of this year advice agencies will see 10% of their legal aid budget cut.
In October next year, we will potentially see welfare benefits removed from scope entirely, meaning no-one will be able to get legal help with a benefit problem. Debt and housing contracts will also be massively slashed.
In short, many agencies and their management committees will potentially decide it is no longer viable to offer specialist services, contracts will become unworkable and only this week Gillian Guy, Chief Executive Officer of Citizens Advice Bureau spoke of 400 specialist workers being made redundant.
The Financial Inclusion Fund comes to and end next March, making even more specialist advisers redundant.
Government has spoken of a £20 million rescue package but we don't know the details and in any event it's a drop in the ocean in real terms and won't cover what we stand to lose.
What's at stake
Citizens Advice Bureau has always been proud of how it is always been at the heart of the communities it serves, that's what's made it so successful and yet the biggest single statutory funding source made available to the CAB in 1999 in the form of 'the Community Legal Service' (as provided for by the Access to Justice Act) is set to be abolished if these dangerous reforms go ahead.
Law centres face an even worse demise as they don't have the national say of organisations such as the CAB and Shelter, yet their contribution is just as valuable (it should be stressed that law centres are very well represented by organisations such as the Law Centre Federation, Legal Action Group, Advice Service Alliance etc).
These cuts move us towards an era of telephone only advice with the eradication of essential face to face services for those who need them most. Some people just can't resolve their complicated problems over the phone or by using the internet; - it's not the solution for the vast majority who seek our help.
In many ways this has all the the potential to take the Citizen out of the Advice Bureau. It's a terrifying prospect and couldn't have come at a worst time.
Why people will continue to need help
Government pins all its hopes on the reform of the welfare state and seems to believe the system will be simplified to the point where all claimants will be able to sort problems out for themselves. Make no mistake about it, people will be banging their heads against the wall in desperation as they struggle to sort out their benefit entitlement after becoming victim to more and more job cuts in all sectors of society. Similarly, more and more mistakes will go on being made and it will be the least able who end up victims of a faceless system where they'll face endless calls to claim lines and get little constructive help when things go wrong.
For many it will mean no money for weeks, spiraling debt and no recognition of need. One of the major problems with the welfare reforms is that the DWP and HMRC simply do not have the right software and adequately trained staff to deal with all these changes.
The Universal Credit moves to merge and integrate benefits currently administered by the DWP JCP, HMRC and LA's, into one payment which will in some way have to be centrally monitored. the DWP is already struggling with a 167% increase in the number of incapacity/ESA related appeals since 2008; up to 50% of which are found in favour of the claimant. It's a massive rate of departmental error and to a huge extent is often based on accepting the findings of wildly inaccurate medical assessments by ATOS private healthcare contractors. It's set to get worse, that's the view of many and I include myself.
These are only the first two benefits to undergo huge change as the DWP climbs on to the first rung of Government's welfare reform ladder. The potential for more and more mistakes is enormous as the DWP moves towards transitioning many claimants from Disability Living Allowance over to its new and un-tested Personal Independence Payment.
The welfare reforms are only a partial solution to fiscal deficit reduction, whilst they may help mend some of the bigger problems in time, the fact is they will leave many individuals simply out on a limb and will drive people to the depths of despair. Let's not beat about the bush, there is evidence which shows that suicides have sharply increased in times of financial crisis and a large number of people become stressed; - some are driven to drink, there are links to studies which show an escalation in crime.
Government says the Country maxed out its credit card by allowing over borrowing from the banks. In truth, there has been borrowing on an unprecedented scale. People want to pay back what they owe, but when faced with the prospects of increasing mortgage costs, escalating utility bills and the high cost of living, they will need help to set up affordable repayment arrangements with their creditors. Profit making debt management companies are not the answer because they take a profit out of payments plans which could otherwise be used to repay the banks what they are owed.
Family issues will rise as domestic strife, often focused around the household finances, causes tension. There's nothing more stress inducing that financial worry; - it goes hand in hand with domestic disharmony and promotes illness.
But the worst thing will be that when people need the help of people who have the specialist knowledge and skills to sort these kinds of problems out cost effectively, the help just won't be available. People will just get a string of expensive call lines and websites which they can call; however well intended these may be, they just won't be of any real practical value to those who need help. People will give up seeking help and will further 'bury their heads in the sand'.
What's being done and what you can do
Some MP's and even Lords in Parliament are working incredibly hard to contest these cut backs, ultimately it is they who are our voice in parliament. They work on behalf of us on these forums and on behalf of leading campaign groups such as 'Justice for All' and 'Sound Off For Justice'.
What they need is help, the help we can give them is with powerful case studies which they can use to bring the point home. We have already collected a fair number but really we need around 500 if not more.
We'll give you help in terms of formatting and editing your story. We particularly need to hear from specialist social welfare advisers or their clients. If you want some help just email us or leave a post and we'll get back to you.
This is where we're collecting these stories, they needn't be long but they need to be effective...
Many thanks for your co-operation and remember your help could make all the difference to whether we succeed in contesting these reforms.