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Will Peers Vote to Cut Legal Aid for 645,000 Women, Children and Families?

Posted: 7/03/2012 00:18

Today peers will vote on amendments that will decide the future of the legal aid budget for over 645,000 women, children, families, pensioners and citizens in England and Wales. Sound off for Justice and the partner organisations campaigning against the bill all recognise that we must save the taxpayer money. This has never been and issue and we know how to save £40 million more than the government. What is in contention is how we do this and what is 'fair and reasonable'.

All day Tuesday government ministers, led by Lord McNally, have been frantically trying to win over the swing peers that will make the legal aid bill better. They have been targeting the children's amendments. This is an interesting insight in itself. First it was women and victims of domestic violence - now it is children. Not a great advert for the big society.

The reality is the government do not need to be in this position; the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill does not have to go the way of the Welfare Reform or the NHS bill. Lord McNally and Lord Chancellor Ken Clarke know there is another option on the table. A few simple things can be done today that will save the taxpayer millions and protect the most needy in our society.

A report from King's College London demonstrated that the Bill in its current form could cost the taxpayer between £129 - £372 million in knock on costs. Our evidence-based alternative saving plan would deliver savings of more than the intended £350 million. But this would require the government to engage properly with us and listen to people on the front line. The government needs to be honest with peers about the impacts of this bill.

Outside parliament the intervention of Liz Truss MP gives another very interesting insight in to the mindset of some supporting the bill. She was on Twitter targeting Mumsnet, saying: a) legal aid will still be available to domestic violence victims and b) mums are taxpayers too, paying for world's highest legal aid.

This of course is completely untrue and misleading. Under the government's bill only half of domestic violence victims will be able to access legal aid for family law cases under government reforms.

What peers have done is ensure that it is 100% of cases. We do not have the most expensive legal aid system in the world for civil cases. However it is interesting to note that at a critical time in the debate the Bowles/Perry research published by the MoJ and on which they base their arguments has disappeared from the website

I think Liz Truss finds it hard to understand that the 'taxpaying' mums of Mumsnet and many of the rest of us who pay tax are happy to protect victims of domestic violence and abuse who can't protect themselves.

In many ways this and she is irrelevant. If she succeeds in getting this bill through, the people who suffer in her constituency can punish her at the next election. But it is interesting that one of the main MPs pushing the bill through does not know the facts and the impacts or is choosing not to tell them.

The impact assessment in support of the cuts contains 15 separate statements that the MoJ does not have evidence for its predicted savings and 30 admissions that they are based on speculation. So in essence they are asking peers and the taxpayer to take a punt on their cuts without any analysis of the financial impact - costs to us the taxpayers. Much to the chagrin of Lord McNally we can give you the facts now. This is simply because I fear he and the likes of Liz Truss MP are incapable of this honest conversation.

Today 250,000 cases of divorce receive legal aid. If the bill is passed this will be reduced to 40,000. This will leave leaves 210,000 families and women with no support. This will cost the taxpayer an estimated £100 million in knock-on costs.

Today family mediation is provided to 80,350 families and couples to prevent divorce cases going to court. If the bill is passed this will be reduced to 35,350. I will remind you that this is when the government are saying that they want more cases to go to mediation. It is impossible when the budgets are being cut. It is impossible to account for the knock on cost for the taxpayer. But the assumption is the without mediation more couples end up divorcing.

The cuts to legal aid come on top of massive cuts already being experienced by advice services for young people. 75,000 children and young people are set to lose legal aid. An estimate that 6,000 children under the age of 18 and 69,000 vulnerable young adults aged 18 to 24 will lose access to legal aid in their own right as a result of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill.

It would cost just £10 million to protect legal aid for all children and £40 million to protect all young adults - figures dwarfed by the knock-on costs for government that will result from these cases being left unresolved.

In addition, 140,000 children will be affected by legal aid being removed from their parents. If the bill is passed then none will be supported out of poverty. Proposed government saving is £60 million. This figure from the MOJ has no substance to it. It is not based in fact and due to lack of impact assessment, no analysis of knock on costs and the fact they have no up to date accounts.

Today 32,250 elderly people are helped with legal aid every year. This will be reduced to no help if the bill is passed. So if you go to hospital and have the wrong hip replaced you would have to sell your house to fight your case.

2,307 case of clinical negligence are supported by the legal aid budget every year. These are cases where the NHS has carried out an operation that has gone wrong or ended in fatality. It could be a child who is brain damaged at birth, a pensioner who has the wrong hip replaced, or someone who is killed under local anesthetic in an NHS hospital.

If the bill is passed this number will be reduced to 807. The government proposed saving is £10.5 million. The actual cost to the taxpayer will be £28 million.

Today 135,000 welfare claimants use legal aid to gain access to their rights. If the bill is passed this will be reduced to none. The governments proposed saving is £25 million. Citizen advice has calculated that for each pound spent on the benefits advice the state saves £8.80. If this support is axed the cost to the state and the taxpayer will be £220 million per annum.

These are the issues that peers must vote on today. Let's hope they win and we will deal with the Financial Privilege and the dirty tricks later.

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