Labour vows to reinstate legal aid for benefit apeals

Labour vows to reinstate legal aid for benefit apeals

Richard Burgon at the launch of Proof issue 3. Pic by Jess Hurd

The shadow justice minister has promised to commit a Labour government to reinstating legal aid for benefits appeals as soon as it takes power. Writing for the Guardian yesterday, Labour MP Richard Burgon wrote that out of all the cuts to legal aid, ‘the slashing of advice for ill and disabled people unfairly denied their benefits is one of the cruellest’. ‘It creates the shameful situation where people are first denied the financial support to which they are legally entitled and then must struggle through a complex appeal without legal advice, causing further stress and anxiety.’

Burgon said that legal support against benefits decisions had ‘fallen off a cliff edge – down 99% – at a time when people need it more than ever’. The number of granted legal aid in welfare benefits cases plummeted as a result of the 2013 LASPO cuts from 91,431 in the period between 2012-13 to only 478 cases in 2017-18.

Quoting the UN’s special rapporteur on poverty, whose damning assessment of the ‘dismantling of the social safety net’ included expressing concerns about the ‘gutting’ of legal aid as a result of the LASPO cuts. Philip Alston observed that many could not ‘afford to challenge benefit denials or reductions and are thus effectively deprived of their human right to a remedy’.

‘It is bad now but is set to become even worse under universal credit,’ wrote Burgon. ‘Yet when people do appeal benefits decisions, two-thirds of decisions are over-turned. That is why I am announcing today that the next Labour government will restored legal aid for making benefit appeals.