UN expert talks of the ‘gutting’ of legal aid in critique of poverty in the UK

The UN expert on extreme poverty has identified the ‘gutting’ of legal aid as a result of the LASPO cuts as a part of his blistering critique of the ‘dismantling’ of the social safety net.

At the end of his two-week visit to the UK, Philip Alston, the UN’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights. called levels of child poverty ‘not just a disgrace but a social calamity and an economic disaster’. Alston said that it seemed ‘patently unjust and contrary to British values that so many people are living in poverty’. ‘This is obvious to anyone who opens their eyes to see the immense growth in foodbanks and the queues waiting outside them, the people sleeping rough in the streets, the growth of homelessness, the sense of deep despair that leads even the Government to appoint a Minister for suicide prevention and civil society to report in depth on unheard of levels of loneliness and isolation,’ he wrote.

Amber Rudd, in her first appearance in parliament as work and pensions secretary, condemned his report. ‘I have seen the report by the rapporteur… and I must say I was disappointed to say the least by the extraordinary political nature of his language,’ she told the house.

He said that the overall social safety net had been ‘systematically dismantled’ and, in that context, flagged up the reduction of legal aid.

‘There have been dramatic reductions in the availability of legal aid in England and Wales since 2012 and these have overwhelmingly affected the poor and people with disabilities, many of whom cannot otherwise afford to challenge benefit denials or reductions and are thus effectively deprived of their human right to a remedy. The LASPO Act (Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act) gutted the scope of cases that are handled, ratcheted up the level of means-tested eligibility criteria, and substituted telephonic for many previously face-to-face advice services.’
Philip Alston, the UN’s special rapporteur


About Jon Robins

Jon is a journalist and has written about the law and justice for the national papers and specialist press for more than 15 years. Jon is a visiting journalism lecturer at Winchester University, a visiting senior fellow in access to justice at the University of Lincoln and patron of Hackney Community Law Centre. He has won the Bar Council’s legal reporter of the year award twice (2015 and 2005). Jon is editor and co-founder of LegalVoice

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