The Social impact of the current and proposed (2010 onwards) UK Government spending cuts is going to be significant. The groups of people typically disadvantaged by those
will be ethnic minorities, women, disabled, single parents and those on lower incomes: all people who tend to have complicated debt, housing and welfare issues.
The effects of the benefit cuts totalling £7billion announced in the recent Comprehensive Spending Review, on top of the £11 billion already announced as part of the Emergency Budget last year, will be far reaching. Inevitable cuts to public services, along with the cuts in welfare and tax credits spending, will have an adverse impact on many benefit claimants. Those on the lowest incomes, women and families will be hardest hit by the combined effect of these changes.
The Law Centres Federation has calculated that law centres will lose £5m or 55% of their Legal Aid funding under the government’s green paper proposals. Some law centres will be forced to close. They will be hit by a 30% cut in local authority funding and a 50% cut in central government grants. This will result in a reduction in the number of clients they can deal with from 120,000 to only 50,000. These cuts will reduce further access to free legal advice.
The network of Citizens Advice Bureaux (CABs) will see a dramatic cut in their funding, potentially reducing the number of matters they can deal with and questions they can answer: they addressed 7.1 million problems in 2009/10. The impact of the cuts can only be guessed at, but conservatively some CAB’s could see a 50% decrease in their budgets, leaving 3.5 million problems unresolved. In the last year CAB showed a 4% rise in enquiries, with Housing showing an increase of 14%. These groups typically are most likely not able to afford to pay for high street prices for legal advice.
The Government is also proposing an overhaul of the way in which Legal Aid is funded. This will see Legal Aid cut for divorce cases, welfare benefits issues, school exclusion appeals, employment issues and clinical negligence compensation claims.
The Government is to cut the Legal Aid bill by £350million in 2012. Society’s most vulnerable people will be unfairly affected and thousands of people will be unable to pursue legitimate cases. In some CAB offices, Legal Aid fees make up a high proportion of income, meaning some CAB offices may even have to shut if the changes to legal aid go ahead.
The eligibility rules for Legal Aid are set to change, which will negatively impact 1 in 10 Legal Aid clients. Under the new scheme, people will be expected to contribute 30% of their weekly income, up from 20%. This means that many people won’t be able to pursue their case through the courts. Thousands of people will no longer be eligible at all.
According to the Citizens Advice Bureau, these changes “…would take whole areas of law ‘out of scope’ – including welfare benefits and employment. Advice on housing and debt would be restricted to cases with an ‘immediate risk’ of homelessness and help with many family law issues would only be available in cases of domestic violence.”
15% of all CAB income comes from Legal Aid and there are many other not-for-profit organisations which will also be affected by the proposed changes.
The social, economic and political aspects of the provision of Legal Aid in the UK means that there is an ever increasing need for affordable, accessible, accurate and timely legal advice.
As for technology, use of the Internet as a source of information is ubiquitous. According to the Office of National Statistics, there were 19.2 million households with an Internet connection in 2010, representing 73 per cent of households. The region with the highest level of access was London, with 83 per cent; the lowest was the North East, with 59 per cent.
When adults were asked why their household did not have an Internet connection, the most common response was that they didn’t need it, at 39 per cent, followed by 21 per cent who said a lack of skills prevented them from having the Internet. The Home Access programme launched by the Labour Government (and now closed) enabled 270,000 low income families to get access to a computer and the internet.
The next stage is to help people see the internet as a source of knowledge, not just information. Knowledge is gained from experience and the interpretation of information. Technology underpins this initiative, enabling us to seek advice from wherever the expert happens to be, and dispensing it to wherever the customer happens to be.