Axing social welfare legal aid - 'an achievement' Jan 7, 2013 17:38:51 GMT 1
Post by nickd on Jan 7, 2013 17:38:51 GMT 1
Calling all social welfare legal aiders!
I am absolutely appalled, if not incensed, after all the constructive campaigning which thousands entered in to and which by attracted by far the most controversy in both the House of Commons and House of Lords' in the debating stages of the Legal Aid, Sentencing & Punishment of Offenders Bill (LASPO) that the Coalition Government has listed as one of its prime 'achievements' the following - it's numbered in a list of 100 equally dubious claims:
And what is it that the Coalition so
proudly boasts as their 14th
proudly boasts as their 14th
"14. Legal aid has been restricted. This is saving the taxpayer £350 million but also reducing unjustified, time wasting litigation, in matters such as health and safety, and welfare and immigration cases."
How on earth does government emerge with any credibility in classifying the abolition of legal aid in social welfare cases as one an 'achievement'? In all of the debating stages it was heavily criticised for paying so little regard to the needs of thousands of appellants who have to battle the benefits system in order to sort out their entitlement with success rates of 80% being achieved when properly assisted by legal aid specialists.
Unjustified? - try telling that to the relatives of the now deceased Karen Sherlock and Brian McCardle who, despite being seriously ill, were found 'fit for work' by the DWP - shortly before they died. Shamefully there are many similar stories but it has become incredibly difficult to extract information as to their causation because the DWP stubbornly remains 'tight lipped' over the true facts surrounding these cases.
Why is the state so wilfully refusing to be held to account over such gravely serious matters?
It is the Secretary of State who stands accused as 'serial litigants' rather than appellants who in 40% of Employment & Support Allowance appeals have them found in their favour, a figure which is even higher when you look at those on longer term incapacity benefits. There is a systematic failure within the DWP to make the right decisions when they are tasked with considering the results of the highly controversial work capability assessments conducted by French IT firm ATOS. The firm was widely & effectively exposed by BBC's Panorama and Channel 4's 'Despatches' over the questionable manner in which they were carrying out the tests and finding seriously ill people to have no disability or incapacity.
How can any government claim an 'achievement' by withdrawing the vital help people needed to dispute these grossly unfair decisions so often affecting the most vulnerable individuals in society?
Time wasting litigation? - It is the target based decision making of the DWP steered along at too fast a pace by government's welfare reform re-assessment programme of 2.6 million incapacity benefit related claimants which is leading to delays of up to a year as the appeal process gets clogged up with appeal after appeal brought by claimants who have justified cases and are having to prove their lawful entitlement in tribunals on cogent ground - more often than not because the DWP has failed to objectively consider the evidence beforehand.
The Tribunal president predicts that the annual number of benefit appeals will have reached a staggering 644,000 a year by 2015. The figures for 2012 have already shown a 40% increase on previously recorded record highs which makes it look increasingly likely that in this parliamentary term no less than 2.5 million appeals will have gone before tribunals.
With such huge numbers bringing meritorious appeals how can the government lay the blame with the claimant when it is the Secretary of State who is himself wrong on far too many occasions? The truth is that legal aid assists the claimant in achieving the results which the government has so obviously chosen to dislike.
How is it that government only mentions in its listed achievement on legal aid the populist areas of 'immigration', 'welfare' and 'health & safety'? - Why is there no mention of the greatly reduced availability for those in need of legal aid in family, housing, employment and debt related cases?
Government is once against showing that it will do anything to appease its voters by its gross over misrepresentation of the facts and statistics which it then manipulates purely and simply to court public popularity - why is government so obstinately refusing to have the legality of its welfare reforms properly tested by skilled professionals who can hold government to account in the appropriate confines of the judicial system for social security determination?
Saving £350 million? - the argument consistently put to government was that welfare benefit legal at a fixed fee cost of just £150 per case actually saved the state £8.80 for every £1 spent - why else would such a saving be ignored only if not to ensure appellants have a reduced chance of success by removing their ability to access legal aid professionals?
The removal of access to justice for benefit claimants is now clearly exposed as the Government's primary achievement rather than its hollow claim to impose these cuts on the grounds of financial savings. Other ways of finding true financial savings could and should have been made; instead government once again chose to penalise the poor by denying them proper access to law.
Government's modus operandi is now all too clear