Victims of unlawful discrimination are increasingly being prevented from enforcing their rights because of cuts to legal aid, according to an inquiry by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).
The report released this week laid bare the chronic lack of advice and representation, as it emerged that between 2013 and 2018 fewer than one in two hundred claims for discrimination received any Legal Aid funding when they went to court.
The cuts to Legal Aid, especially the notorious “LASPO” reforms, have severely undermined the protections against discrimination introduced by the Equality Act 2010. This means that oppressed groups face an uphill struggle to challenge discrimination they may experience in every aspect of their lives, from housing to employment.
The report also concluded that the unavailability of face-to-face advice had caused a decline in service quality, with the new telephone advice gateway not meeting service users’ needs. In particular, the new system was failing disabled people who make up a majority of users.
Commenting on the EHRC’s findings, the Shadow Justice Secretary Richard Burgon MP said “Our hard-won rights are not worth the paper they are written on unless people can defend them.”
Greater Manchester Law Centre has been campaigning for access to justice since opening in 2016. We recently called on the government to take urgent action as official statistics showed how LASPO cuts had created “legal advice deserts”. This report by the EHRC shows the predictable human cost of the government’s wilful neglect, and demonstrates why our campaign is so urgent.
By GMLC volunteer Edmund Potts.
Edmund volunteered as a tribunal advocate with our scheme for Manchester Law School students. Edmund was called to the bar in 2018 and is currently an intern with the Criminal Cases Review Commission.