The case of a man who was evicted from his home after his benefits were stopped has been highlighted in a damning report slamming the Government’s plans to slash the legal aid budget.
The report, Unequal Before the Law?, by the Commission of Inquiry into Legal Aid, comes on the back of Government plans to cut the £2.2 billion-a-year budget by £350 million at an expected cost of 500,000 instances of legal assistance and 45,000 representations each year.
The report said it will hit the vulnerable and the poor the hardest and will lead to increased costs for other departments, such as health, housing and education.
The report quoted a man identified as AB, who received legal aid “across a spectrum of interwoven areas including community care, immigration, asylum support and housing”.
In the report, AB told how his problems spiralled before his solicitor was able to help him achieve stability.
“My benefits stopped because I was no longer entitled to receive them. This meant that I could not afford to pay my rent and around three years ago I was evicted… I had to sleep on the streets because I had nowhere else to go… I was attacked on quite a few occasions.
“I also became ill very quickly and eventually I ended up in hospital around a year later. I was diagnosed with a long-term illness that meant I had problems with my physical health. I was also suffering from severe depression.”
The commission’s panel – former Liberal Democrat MP Evan Harris, Diana Holland, of the trade union Unite, and the Reverend Professor Nicholas Sagovsky, the former canon of Westminster Abbey – added: “When coupled with the human cost to the vulnerable and socially excluded of reducing legal aid, the panel finds these increased economic costs are unacceptable.
“These knock-on costs provide a strong argument for maintaining levels of legal aid at least at the level they are currently at.”
Linda Lee, president of the Law Society, warned earlier this year that the proposed cuts will bar thousands of people from turning to the justice system for help.
A Ministry of Justice spokeswoman said the current legal aid system encouraged “lengthy, acrimonious and sometimes unnecessary court proceedings, at taxpayers’ expense, which do not always ensure the best result for those involved.
“Our proposals aim to radically reform the system and encourage people to take advantage of the most appropriate sources of help, advice or routes to resolution – which will not always involve the expense of lawyers or courts.”