Shelter At Risk of Closing Advice Services
- 05 Feb
Legal aid cuts threaten Shelter's advice services
Shelter has fought against huge cuts to legal aid, which, during a period of increased demand, are a false economy
We have been informing staff at 10 of our advice services that their offices are at risk of closing in April. While we will be doing everything we can to keep the numbers as low as possible, if the proposals go ahead, up to 100 people would be made redundant. This is a significant proportion of our work - in total, we provide services in about 30 locations across England and Scotland. The impact on staff, and on local people in desperate circumstances with nowhere else to turn, will be huge.
These proposed closures are a result of the huge cuts to legal aid in England against which Shelter campaigned vigorously. These cuts have left us facing a 50% reduction in the money we get for the face-to-face advice we give to tens of thousands of people every year. Thanks to careful planning, cost reduction and a concerted fundraising effort, we have been able to reduce the effects to some extent, but we simply cannot plug such a huge gap from other sources of funding. While service closures would always be an absolute last resort, we have no alternative but to make these proposals.
And we aren't alone. A recent survey by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations found that a third of charity leaders expect to reduce staff in the next 12 months.
What makes this challenge even more significant is that it comes against a backdrop of increased demand. Our research has shown that the number of people constantly struggling to pay their rent or mortgage has increased by 44% over the past year alone. Over the past three years, the number of people our helpline has assisted who are homeless or facing losing their home has risen by 80%. This April will see the introduction of a range of changes, including the "bedroom tax" and cuts to council tax benefit. In addition to the legal aid cuts, reductions in local authority budgets mean there will be less money, staff and services to deal with the problems created by unaffordable or poor housing.
Set against the backdrop of rising living costs and high levels of unemployment, the consequences of this are almost too awful to contemplate. At Shelter, we will be trying to drive people to our helpline and website for advice, but there are certain issues for which there is no substitute for the more detailed response face-to-face advice enables. Undoubtedly, MPs and local councils will see a rise in demand for their services. However, there will be many people struggling to get by alone, unable to access the help and support they need.
While many of the government's welfare reforms are designed to reduce the benefit bill or cut costs to the taxpayer, the long-term impact may prove many of the measures to have been a false economy.
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