Thursday, 5 April 2012

Another letter to my MP

The following letter was sent to my local MP asking her to save Legal Aid for the disabled.  I'll post her reply when (or if) I get it.

Dear Ms Doyle-Price,
I am writing to you as my constituency MP to outline my concerns about the impact of the Government’s legal aid cuts on disabled people.

As you will be aware, the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill seeks to remove social welfare cases from the scope of legal aid. The absence of this advice - delivered by local charities like Citizens Advice Bureaux - will have an adverse impact on thousands of disabled people who use legal aid to challenge decisions when they are let down by the system.

According to the Government’s own impact assessment, 58% of the total number of people affected will be disabled people.  At a time of dramatic upheaval in the welfare benefits system, access to legal aid advice will be needed more than ever to ensure that disabled people end up with the right support and not pushed further into poverty.

During the Report Stage of the Bill in the House of Lords, a cross party amendment was passed that sought to retain legal aid for people with complex welfare benefits issues. The amendment received vocal support from across the House:
• Lord Newton, former Conservative Secretary of State for Social Security:
"We need to bear in mind that this proposed change to legal aid does not take place in a vacuum. It takes place at a time of great actual or potential turbulence … in the benefits system."
• Lord Bach, Labour Shadow Justice Minister:
"[This amendment] is the most important amendment in the entire Bill." 
• Baroness Doocey, the Liberal Democrat Peer who moved the amendment:
"To make matters worse, the Bill is being considered at the same time that the Government is undertaking a dramatic overhaul of the welfare benefits system."
• Lord Pannick, the Crossbench Peer and eminent human rights lawyer:
"Cutting advice on welfare benefits is both economically unsound and removes an important check against mistakes by welfare benefits decision-makers."

The Bill is now expected to return to the House of Commons after Easter for consideration of this amendment amongst others that were passed in the House of Lords. 

In advance of this debate, I urge you to write to the Justice Secretary, Ken Clarke MP, as well as your own party leader to ensure that welfare benefits remain within the scope of legal aid – which is particularly important for disabled people at a time of a dramatic overhaul of disability benefits.

I look forward to receiving your response.

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