Legal help with welfare benefit appeals would be retained under Liberal Democrat amendment to the Legal Aid Bill. Campaigners urge last minute emails to MPs
A Liberal Democrat amendment to the Legal Aid, Sentencing, and Punishment of Offenders Bill, which is being debated at Report Stage this Monday 31st October, would see legal help for people appealing or reviewing benefit decisions retained. Under current government plans all welfare benefits advice will be cut from legal aid, along with many other areas of law including much of employment, debt and housing advice. Charities like Citizens Advice, Law Centres, and advice agencies use legal aid to fund much of their work in this area.
Part of a motion on welfare reform passed at Liberal Democrat conference called on government to "reconsider the exclusion of welfare benefits casework such as this from the scope of legal aid." A group of Liberal Democrat backbenchers have put down the amendment, including Tom Brake MP, Co-Chair of the Home Affairs Parliamentary Party Committee. The other signatories are Stephen Lloyd MP, David Ward MP, and Mike Crockart MP.
Help with appeals is vitally important, particularly at a time when the benefits system is being radically changed. The introduction of Employment and Support Allowance has been beset with bad decision making - 40% of those appealing were successful. Yet in terms of the number of people affected, this will be dwarfed by the estimated 18 million people who will be caught up in the move to Universal Credit.
Campaign group Justice for All is urging people to email their MP urgently to ask them to speak during the debate and vote in favour of the motion. You can do this via their website at www.justice-for-all.org.uk
Justice for All have also produced a pair of videos, highlighting why help with appeals is so important. They feature three women who have had help from local advice agencies in appealing wrong decisions. They are available to embed herehttp://www.youtube.com/user/justice4allcampaign
The amendment is number 149, the full text is available herehttp://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/bills/cbill/2010-2012/0235/amend/pbc2352610a.3619-3625.html