Developing a strategy for access to advice and support on Social Welfare Law in England and Wales
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All Party support for new Low Commission report

The second report of The Low Commission 'Getting it Right in Social Welfare Law' was launched yesterday. Lord Colin Low said the Commission was determined to see results from its work as there are critical unmet needs for advice and legal support. This new report would give impetus to its earlier recommendations and add new proposals for the next administration to take on board. However difficult the financial climate, it is a 'good investment for governments to fund advice to support early intervention - this is cheaper than dealing with problems later on'. The report contains new research from frontline advisers, GPs and MPs surgeries all of whom report growing problems with benefits, housing/debt and other social welfare issues.

Simon Hughes MP greatly welcomed the 'important and timely' report and would take its proposals back to the Ministry of Justice for attention. While the LibDem manifesto is not yet finalised, he could support key principles in the recommendations including the importance of early intervention, getting decisions right first time, improving public education on how the legal system works, and that cost benefit analyses should be progressed. The challenge for the next administration would be to make the money that there is go further. He saw potential for improving funding, perhaps by a matching process, for government funding to match funds allocated for example by the Big Lottery.

Dominic Grieve MP found the report 'remarkable and interesting', and 'containing a lot of real value'. It prompted a need to think creatively about solutions. While funding for legal aid was unlikely to improve under a new administration, he had no doubt that demand for support remained high and that there was much unmet need. He saw scope for better integration of advice services, plus general scope for identifying small sums of money that could go a long way to in make improvements. He felt there should be more sensitivity in dealing with complaints at an early stage, for example by local authorities, to avoid disputes escalating. The Commission was 'talismanic in looking in new ways at problems which have been around for a long time'.

Andrew Slaughter MP agreed the report to be 'a superb piece of work'. The situation in the advice sector remains undoubtedly bleak, and there are problems for service providers that even when matters are within the scope of legal aid, many others are not and this is overall very unsatisfactory. While party commitments must await manifestos, he could sign up to early review of the Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishing of Offenders Act (LASPO), and to the importance of looking at developing strategies for advice work across all government departments. He identified a key area for the public and advisers as how to how to go from an initial point of advice to then be sure of the best place to take issues forward. He felt there had been 'a destructive and fragmentary approach to all these areas over the last five years, and the next five years needed to look at a much more constructive process'

The launch was also attended by former Ministers Lord McNally and Lord Bach and other Parliamentarians; the Commission is seeking cross Party support for its “advice strategy” approach.

You can download the report here

Getting it Right

Getting_it_Right_Report_web.pdf (Adobe PDF - 563Kb) Getting it Right