Why I’m livid about cuts to legal aid
"It's really going to impact young people"
Maia is a politics and philosophy graduate, currently at law school training to be a criminal barrister and living in London.
Young people are angry at the moment. About tuition fees. About unemployment. But in the middle of all this, another major issue is being ignored – legal aid. There’s a bill going through parliament at the moment, and if it passes, it means people won’t be able to get free legal help in areas like debt, benefits, housing, family, or immigration law. And what makes me angriest is that young people don’t seem bothered about this.
In some ways it’s understandable that people don’t care about legal aid issues. Most can’t imagine it being something they’ll ever need. But the reality is that anyone may need legal aid at some point, including young people.
Take debt for example. Being in debt is a pressing issue for most people my age. And it’s a problem that’s only getting bigger. With so few jobs around it’s easy to imagine a situation where repayments get totally out of control. Yet, under the new proposals, you won’t get free legal help with debt problems until you’re facing eviction. That’s a pretty scary thought. Surely young people need help before that point?
Another issue is housing. Most students have got a funny story to tell about a stingy landlord. But what happens if it stops being funny? What if a landlord stops doing important repairs, or starts harassing you? Up until now you could get free legal help to sort out such problems, but that will be gone under the new proposals.
These are just two examples of how these changes could end up screwing over young people in vulnerable situations. And the truth is that these situations may happen to any of us; it’s not something anyone plans. So getting rid of these huge chunks of legal aid is something we should all be getting angry about.
The worst thing about these changes is they are going to result in an unfair system. If you need a lawyer and you have money you will be able to pay for one, but if you can’t afford a lawyer there will be no system to help you out. This is so obviously unjust that I can’t understand why people aren’t making a big deal about it.
So what can you do about it? Well, there are lots of campaign groups working to try and stop at least some of these proposals from passing. As part of these groups you can help with lobbying MPs and Lords and hopefully make a real difference. I am part of Young Legal Aid Lawyers, which is a mix of law students, lawyers at the start of their careers, and other young people with an interest in legal aid. Check out their website (http://www.younglegalaidlawyers.org) or email[email protected] saying you’re interested in getting involved.
Most importantly, we need to spread the word. What is happening to legal aid could affect any of us, and people need to know what’s happening so they know to be angry too. Hopefully, together, we can stop these unfair changes from going through.
Updated on 29-Sep-2015
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