|Clarke Must Listen To The Lords And Save Legal Aid For The Most Vulnerable In Society|
|Tuesday, 13 March 2012 13:25|
Over the past week, outrageous plans to target advice centres, like Citizens Advice Bureaux, have been stopped in their tracks. What we’ve seen is an alliance across all political parties in the House of Lords – including one of Thatcher’s former cabinet ministers – working with campaign groups such as the Women’s Institute, SCOPE and Shelter.
I’m delighted these cruel proposals to cut social welfare legal aid have been stopped in their tracks and disgusted that Ken Clarke, the justice secretary, ever wanted to introduce them in the first place. But don’t be fooled by his spin that the actions this week are Labour trying to increase the deficit – this is wide of the mark for two reasons.
Firstly, the kinds of early stage legal intervention being protected save money down the line – independent research shows that large problems are avoided by nipping them in the bud, saving substantial time and effort for the taxpayer.
But, secondly, criminal legal aid, which takes the lion’s share of the overall budget, is being left relatively intact. Almost six times the spending that goes on Citizens Advice and law centres is paid to solicitors and barristers, with half going on 1 per cent of cases.
Proposals from March 2010, floated by Labour when in government, would have saved a further 10% from the budget by introducing proper competition. This has bizarrely been ignored by this government. It could pay for all their cuts to advice to the vulnerable and more.
The question for Ken Clarke QC, a former barrister himself, is why go after those elements of legal aid which whack the most vulnerable in society when there’s a report collecting dust on a shelf in his office which would have prevented these savage cuts. Even the TaxPayers’ Alliance can see that Ken is wrong on this.
I know Ken Clarke revels in being unpopular at the moment, but I urge him to break this habit, listen to the siren calls, and save this important area of legal aid threatened by his unfair bill.
This article was originally published on 9th March 2012 at Left Foot Forward.
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