Monday, 7 February 2011

Legal advice charities call for help – save our services! Rally, Queens Square, Bristol, Mon 7th February 12noon

A network of charities that offer free, independent, and confidential legal advice to households on low incomes in Bristol and the surrounding areas are calling for help from the people of Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire. Proposed cuts in government funding will mean a huge reduction in the services that these agencies can offer to the most vulnerable individuals in society.

Proposals to remove Legal Aid funding for all welfare benefits, employment, and immigration cases for most debt cases and for many housing cases, will result in destitution, poverty and hardship for thousands of households across the region. It is estimated that in Bristol alone over 4,000 households will not be able to access advice to deal with their complex, life-changing problems if these cuts are made.

“Providing high-quality legal advice to vulnerable people on low-incomes is a good investment for society,” says Jane Emanuel, who works with advice agencies in the region. “The governments own research shows that the people most affected by these changes will be people with disabilities, people over pension age and other groups less able to help themselves. Government research also shows that for every £1 spent on advice the state saves anything up to £10 in reduced costs elsewhere in the system – for instance, lower NHS spending, lower housing spending and reduced social care spending. Not only are these proposals a disaster for individuals and families who will suffer because they cannot resolve their problems, they are a clear false economy that will not, in the long run, save the Government money.”

Local advice agencies and their supporters have arranged a rally in Queens Square, Bristol on Monday 7th February from 12noon to raise public awareness of this looming disaster, and to encourage the public to contact their MPs before the governments consultation finishes on 14/02/11.

We would ask everyone who values access to justice for vulnerable people to support us – see
www.advicewest.org.uk for more details.

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Notes for editors:

1 - The Advice Network is a three-year project managed by Avon & Bristol Law Centre on behalf of Advice Centres for Avon (ACFA). ACFA is a network of advice agencies who have been working together for over 25 years; most members are registered charities and all offer free, confidential, impartial, high-quality legal advice on issues such as housing, debt, welfare benefits, community care, employment, education and health. For more details visit our website –
www.advicewest.org.uk.
2 – Local advice agencies in Bristol alone will lose over £500,000 in funding if the cuts to legal aid proceed as proposed
3 – Legal aid-funded advisers and solicitors are not ‘fat-cats’ – the average salary for a highly-trained and experienced adviser in the South-west is c£25,000
4 – Alternative funding sources simply do not exist – Bristol City Council have ring-fenced the funding they currently provide for advice services, but cannot fill the gaps left by government cuts; other cuts to funding for advice from national government have just been announced – this will result in a further loss of c£750,000 in funding for debt advice for people in Bristol and the surrounding areas.
5 – For further information, or for media interviews, please contact Ben Sansum, Jane Emanuel or Liz Freeman at the Advice Network project on 0117 929 2153, or 0794 838 2676

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