‘Decimation’ of legal aid has contributed to ‘systematic immiseration of millions’, says UN poverty expert

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‘Decimation’ of legal aid has contributed to ‘systematic immiseration of millions’, says UN poverty expert

Philip Alston visits North Belfast

The ‘dramatic rolling back’ of the legal aid scheme has been identified as one of the causes of ‘the systematic immiseration of millions’ across the UK, according to the UN’s expert on poverty and human rights

‘The results of the austerity experiment are crystal clear,’ Philip Alston said in a report published yesterday drawing on his visit last November. ‘There are 14 million people living in poverty, record levels of hunger and homelessness, falling life expectancy for some groups, ever fewer community services, and greatly reduced policing, while access to the courts for lower-income groups has been dramatically rolled back by cuts to legal aid.’

The UN rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights called the imposition of austerity ‘an ideological project’ and Brexit ‘a tragic distraction’. The work and pensions secretary, Amber Rudd, has said that she will lodge a formal complaint about the ‘barely believable’ report.

Alston identified ‘the decimation’ of legal aid as a contributing factor to the ‘immiseration of millions’. As a result of the LASPO Act (Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act) cuts, the number of civil legal aid cases declined by ‘a staggering’ 82 % between 2010 and 2018. ‘As a result, many poor people are unable to effectively claim and enforce their rights, have lost access to critical support, and some have even reportedly lost custody of their children. Lack of access to legal aid also exacerbates extreme poverty, since justiciable problems that could have been resolved with legal representation go unaddressed.’

’‘UK standards of well-being have descended precipitately in a remarkably short period of time, as a result of deliberate policy choices made when many other options were available.’
Philip Alston, the UN rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights

Alston attacked what he called the Government’s ‘“work not welfare” mantra’ conveyed the message that individuals and families could seek charity ‘but that the State will no longer provide the basic social safety net to which all political parties had been committed since 1945’.

He argued that ‘largely as a result of slashed government spending on services’ close to four out of 10 children were reckoned to be living in poverty in two years and ‘millions of those who are in-work are dependent upon various forms of charity to cope’.