Tens of thousands set to lose legal advice

Close to 70,000 young people struggling with problems relating to issues such as homelessness and employment face losing access to free legal advice due to government plans to cut the legal aid budget by £350m, a report has warned.

According to figures in Not Seen and Not Heard by Sound Off For Justice and JustRights, the proposals will also see tens of thousands of children affected through their parents losing access to legal aid.

Analysis in the report reveals over one-third (36 per cent) of the UK population classified as homeless in March 2011 were aged 16 to 24.

Meanwhile, latest unemployment figures from the Department of Work and Pensions show that one-fifth (21 per cent) of 16- to 24-year-olds are currently out of work.

The report’s figures also highlight how an additional 140,000 children will be affected by legal aid support being removed for their parents.

Of these, 68,000 will be affected by family contact and finance disputes, while another 36,700 will be impacted by legal aid being removed for welfare benefit cases.

The report also reiterates recent concerns by the Children’s Society that the move would lead to more than 6,000 vulnerable children being denied access to legal advice.

Sue Berelowitz, deputy children’s commissioner for England, said: “The proposed changes to legal aid will significantly disadvantage tens of thousands of children and young people who will be left to fight legal problems without proper professional representation.

“This will include children who suffer an injury, children with special educational needs or subject to deportation or those facing problems with employment or welfare benefits.”

Alison Garnham, chief executive of the Child Poverty Action Group said: “The report makes a powerful case against the legal aid cuts, which will adversely affect an estimated 200,000 children, leaving them alone in a legal system designed for adults.”

The legal aid and sentencing bill is currently at committee stage in the House of Commons.