MPs warn legal aid cuts will hit vulnerable
Legislation that would slash the number of housing cases eligible for legal aid has received its second reading in the House of Commons, despite widespread opposition.
The Legal Aid, Punishment, and Sentencing of Offenders Bill was voted through yesterday.
The bill will restrict the type of housing cases that are eligible for legal aid to mainly those where there is an immediate risk of repossession or homelessness. At present legal aid funds help with issues relating to where people live and the condition of their property, including possession and eviction, homelessness and housing disrepair.
The government claims the reforms are necessary to bring down the cost of legal aid. Opponents argue the cuts will hit the most vulnerable in society.
During the debate in the Commons, shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan said: ‘We oppose the cuts to social welfare legal aid - the kind of early-stage advice provided by law centres and citizens advice bureaux on debt, housing, welfare benefits and education issues - because of the disproportionate way that they will affect the most needy in our society.
‘The result, as campaigning group Justice has said, will be the “economic cleansing” of our civil courts. Some estimates suggest that more than 700,000 people will have their access to justice taken away.’
Junior shadow housing minister Jack Dromey added the cuts would cause ‘avoidable poverty and distress for many thousands of people’. And Andy Slaughter, the Labour MP for Hammersmith and Fulham, said: ‘Cutting legal aid for housing, education, welfare benefits, debt and family cases will be an economic as well as a social disaster.’
Summing up the debate, Jonathan Djanogly, the parliamentary under secretary for justice, said current spending on legal aid is ‘unsustainable’.
‘In some cases the system encourages people to bring issues before courts where other solutions might be better,’ he said. ‘In others, it enables people to pursue litigation that they would not contemplate were they paying for it from their own pockets.’