The number of solicitors’ firms offering civil legal aid services in the north-west has dropped by just over one-third in the over the past seven years, according to Greater Manchester Law Centre. Over the same period, from 2011-12 to 2017-18, spending directed towards charities that provide legal aid has plummeted by almost 73%.
Cuts have ‘decimated’ legal aid services over the past decade, as The Justice Gap and the BBC reported earlier this month. Up to one million people now live in areas with no legal aid housing lawyers.
Greater Manchester Law Centre housing solicitor Kathleen Cosgrove commented: ‘Just as we would face a crisis in public health if you withdrew preventative medial services and limited access to GPs to those who were already at death’s door, so too we now face a homelessness crisis, mass reliance on food bank provision, and rising suicide rates for disabled people because people are denied access to early legal advice.’
She continued: ‘It is now so difficult for legal aid solicitors to survive that they decide to or are forced to pack it in. It is telling that a large proportion of the legal aid providers left in Greater Manchester are from the voluntary sector, surviving as a result of other charitable sources of funds.’
Just four organisations with contracts to offer welfare benefits services in Greater Manchester are listed in the Legal Aid Agency’s directory, three of which are non-profits. Non-profits are shouldering an increasing amount of the burden of legal advice deserts.
‘Even if you have this contract,’ said Ngaryan Li, GMLC’s supervising solicitor, ‘regardless of how much work you do for the person, you only get paid £208. That £208 could cover anything from a few days to a few weeks of work by an experienced professional. Is it a surprise we are losing a generation of welfare rights advisors?’