An article by The Observer revealed that disabled people have lost legal aid in a staggering 99% of benefits disputes since 2011.
In 2011-12 a total of 29,801 disabled people recieved legal aid in welfare cases, with the number plumeting to just 308 in 2016-17, as shown in a parliamentary answer to a written question from MP Gloria De Piero.
In 2013 the Conservatives made severe cuts to the £2 billion legal aid budget as pressed by Chancellor of the Exchequer at the time George Osborne as part of their austerity drive. This had followed the introduction of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act in 2012, which had removed over £350 million from the legal aid budget, and removed the right to have legal representation in many benefits cases, among others.
Speaking to The Observer, chief executive officer of Disability Rights UK, Kamran Mallick, said: “The government was warned changes to access to legal aid would fall heavily on disabled people who need legal advice, and these figures show those concerns were real.
“Despite that, we’ve seen a massive rise in the number of people appealing disability benefit claims, and a huge increase in the number of successful appeals after people have been wrongly turned down. But our benefits system is complex to navigate, and more so since the raft of changes that have come in since 2012.”
“Some people do need extra legal help and support, and if they don’t get it they may end up without benefits they’re entitled to.
“Access to justice is a fundamental human right as well as a sign of a civilised society. We’d urge the government to reverse the changes that are hitting disabled people so heavily.”
Richard Lane, Head of Communications at disability charity Scope said:
“These figures are deeply troubling and should be a wake-up call for Government.
“Without Legal Aid, disabled people are in a weaker position to challenge inaccuracy and poor decision making within government welfare systems.
“Our Helpline receives a large number of calls on this issue. We know how incredibly stressful and difficult it is for disabled people and their families to challenge bad decisions.
“Last year, the Government proposed a review of the Legal Aid system. For large numbers of disabled people it cannot come soon enough.”