What is a housing lawyer? Or what is a social welfare lawyer? Answer: we are people who represent and come to court for people with very little money. We are paid for mostly by the taxpayer. Why should the taxpayer give a damn?
We are the people who work for charities like Law Centres or CABs. We are also those working in private firms set up on a ‘for profit’ basis, staffed by underpaid and idealistic individuals, with a thirst for social justice.
It is an honourable calling.
We speak for the battered wife, the cancer victim, the abused child. We speak for the tenant who has had her papers ripped up in front of her face, and who has been put onto the street because her landlord is too lazy or ignorant to take his case to court to obtain a valid eviction order.
We speak for the student who is qualifying as a teacher when her husband deserts her with two kids, and leaves her with rent responsibilities she can’t meet.
We speak for the tenant who paid a deposit for her private tenancy, when the landlord has pocketed the coin. Rules say landlord should have registered her deposit, but where are her rights if she has no voice?
We speak for the soldier who has been mutilated by war, and fight the letters that would take his benefits away. We fight the veterans’ rights no matter which side they fought for, on disability grounds.
We speak for disabled adults under 35 years of age who are racked by the room rent that slashes their Housing Benefit. It is expected these ‘young’ people will share accommodation with each other, but there are too few flats to share.
We speak for those on threshold benefits who must pay a new poll tax because council tax benefit has been restructured. £3 a week from someone on Income Support will become the norm. Where are the marches we saw in the 1990s?
We speak for the council tenant who raised a family in a two bed flat, whose wife dies, whose children moved away. He faces a bedroom tax on the spare room- yet there are no unoccupied one bedroom council flats that he can move to- if he moves to the private sector his Housing Benefit bill will be higher and we will all pay more.
We speak for the homeless people. The family skewered by the benefit changes, the war veteran sleeping on the streets for six months. They are shipped out of London because it is cheaper to have fewer poor people here- yet what is London without its cockneys and with its parvenus?
We speak for the Londoners who die violently and are remembered by flowers placed on random corners, which in their turn wither and die.
We speak for British children who have no proper home and are hungry and scantily shod because their foreign mothers never married their British fathers. When did we hate children so because their mothers fell pregnant to men that left them there?
We speak for children who live for years in cramped emergency hostels with no room to breathe, let alone do their homework from school. Keep the poor stupid, that’s the way. No academies or free schools for these kids.
We speak for the Poles and other Eastern Europeans. Polish pilots flew Spitfires in the war, yet we are unwelcoming when their children fall on hard times.
Yet as of this month we speak no more. The clumsy Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act will cut off legal aid and will seal our mouths with lead. Legal aid cuts will shut our mouths, and silence the voices of the marginalised among us.
We speak for the London that matters. We do not speak for millionaires with their high falluting tax schemes and their high paid lawyers and accountants. I speak for the living and vibrant borough of Hackney, thus London, thus the world.
Let us all speak.
Author: Nathaniel Mathews
Nathaniel is (in his words) ‘a third sector lawyer who writes about what makes him mad, sad, and happy to be human’ at http://frontlinehackney.blogspot.com.