It has been 10 years since the government took an “axe to legal aid” and justice is increasingly out of reach for those in most need, as evidenced by new maps from the Law Society of England and Wales showing expanding legal aid deserts.
The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) devastated the legal aid system when it came into force on 1st April 2013.
LASPO cut large areas from legal aid overnight. People could no longer get help with many family, employment, housing and debt problems.
The number of legal aid cases to help people get the early advice they need dropped from almost a million in 2009/10 to just 130,000 in 2021/22.
Over the same period the number of people having to go to court without representation trebled. The number of advice agencies and law centres doing this work has fallen by 59%.
Law centres across the country closed down and firms were forced to close their legal aid departments – this resulted in large advice deserts.
Millions of people now live in areas where they can no longer access the help and advice that Parliament has said they are entitled to.
Law Society of England and Wales President Lubna Shuja said:
“Legal aid can help a child with disabilities get the education and support they need. For rights to be real, everyone who qualifies for state-funded legal advice must be able to get that advice when they need it, so that they can uphold and enforce their rights.
We have long called for a review of civil legal aid sustainability, so we are pleased the government launched its review earlier this year. However, that review won’t report its findings until 2024. We are unlikely to see any significant changes until at least 2025. This is too long as services are collapsing now.”
New data has revealed the availability of legal aid across housing, welfare, education, community care and immigration following stringent and successive government cuts to legal aid alongside stagnant fees paid for expert advice provided by the remaining charities and small firms.
Across England and Wales:
- 53m people (90%) do not have access to a local education legal aid provider
- 49.8m people (84%) do not have access to a local welfare legal aid provider
- 42m people (71%) do not have access to a local community care legal aid provider
- 39m people (66%) do not have access to a local immigration and asylum legal aid provider
- 25.3m people (42%) do not have access to a local legal aid provider for housing advice, a figure that has grown 5% since 2019
People living in areas without a major city are particularly badly hit. The southwest, north, northeast and east are bereft in almost all areas of law. Wales also has very sparse coverage.
Shuja also added that “people cannot afford to wait until 2024 for investment”.
“If we want to ensure that support is available immediately for those who need it in these turbulent times, action is needed now.”