Guest post by by Melanie Close, Chief Executive of Disability Equality North West
Disability Equality North West is a Disabled People’s Organisation that started in 1996. We are run and controlled by disabled people and offer a wide range of advice and information services to support disabled people.
We are proud of the work that we do and the positive impact that the advice we are able to provide can have for disabled people. The advice that we are able to provide is largely thanks to the exceptional work by a dedicated team of staff and volunteers, all disabled people.
We know that this advice and information is invaluable, without it many disabled people would not get the information, support and benefits that they are legally entitled to. However, there are some things that we do not have the expertise to give advice on. For discrimination, human rights or complex welfare benefits cases, legal aid can be crucial in ensuring that disabled people get the correct advice in order to receive the benefits to which they are entitled.
However, the Government is proposing to remove social welfare cases from the scope of legal aid. The removal of legal aid for these cases will mean that the specialist advice provided by charities like the Citizens Advice Bureau, Law Centres and other independent advice agencies will not be available.
Furthermore, the proposals will mean that 78,000 disabled people will be denied specialist legal advice for complex welfare benefits problems – that is 58% of the total number of people affected.
As well as the devastating impact on disabled people, we have real concerns that such proposals will place real pressure on advice services such as Disability Equality.
We are anticipating a huge surge in demand for specialist advice that our staff and volunteer base does not have the specialist legal advice to deliver. Furthermore, when disabled people approach us for advice on a complex welfare benefits issue, there will be no-one to send them to so that they can receive the right advice.
The Bill is due back in the House of Commons on 17 April, where MPs will vote on whether to preserve this legal advice for disabled people. At Disability Equality North West, we have written to our local MP to make our concerns clear, and I would urge you to do the same to preserve legal aid for disabled people.