A new report issued by the Women’s Budget Group reveals that cuts to legal aid have had a disproportionate impact on women.
Women were particularly hard-hit in employment cases, including maternity and pregnancy discrimination, where there is no legal aid available. Other areas of concern included housing and homelessness, and social security law.
The reduction of both legal aid’s scope, and the amount available, has led to fewer women being able to access legal support. Over three-quarters of respondents stated that women received no legal support until a crisis point; half identified domestic violence as a contributing factor the lack of access. 85% of respondents stated that vulnerable women were unable to access civil legal aid.
Dr Sara Reis, Deputy Director of the Women’s Budget Group, commented “the report reveals a troubling reality: the legal aid changes introduced in 2012 have cut a critical lifeline for vulnerable women including survivors of domestic and sexual abuse and asylum-seeking women, leaving them without essential legal support in the face of discrimination, violence, and housing insecurity.”
Clare Carter, Chief Executive of the Access to Justice Foundation, said “legal interventions hold the potential to address issues uniquely important to women, and advice services can play a fundamental role in improving women’s lives … the report highlights the distinctive profile of legal needs among women, which predominantly fall within the areas of law most affected by a lack of public funding.”
Legal Aid services were slashed in 2013, despite an impact assessment showing that women, ethnic minorities, and disabled people would suffer disproportionately. The resulting lack of support has led to “legal aid deserts”: areas where there is little or no legal advice available.