The Law Centres Network in the UK has launched a new campaign for access to justice as part of activities for the 50th anniversary of the UK Law Centres movement. The new campaign, Law For All, is launched with a new report, taking stock of the justice challenges driven by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The report shows how people could find themselves unable to access legal assistance to protect their home, job or benefits without also pushing themselves and their families into poverty. The warning comes as new figures show that nearly 650,000 people have already lost their jobs so far during the pandemic.
The report's first part looks at typical social welfare law problems and examines how the pandemic has affected them. It considers, for example, changes in demand for services, in the ways people seek advice, in the ways legal advice is delivered, and remaining issues.
The second part presents the concept of the 'Justice Gap', the lack of access to justice affecting the nation's 'squeezed middle': people who are unable to afford to pay for legal assistance, but are also not eligible for legal aid. This is calculated against households' Minimum Income Standard, the level of earnings they would need for ordinary day-to-day life, rather than for survival only.
The research finds that millions of people in the UK are caught in the Justice Gap but would not know it until they are in urgent need of help. They would then be forced to choose between no legal protection or falling into poverty. This vast population includes, among others:
Even before the Covid-19 crisis, legal aid funding cuts meant that half a million cases in 2019 alone could not be helped. During lockdown, the drop in legal aid funding was so considerable that the government provided Law Centres with “key charities” emergency funding for six months. This saved Law Centres from imminent closure, but highlighted need for further support, so they can continue to help people in hardship now and through the coming recession.
Click here to read the report.