Since moving from Southampton to Bristol to start a new job I had to get to know my new surroundings, my new colleagues and make new friends. Today I realised another task I’ve been undertaking for the past 7 months and that is getting to know the networks of community care and social welfare organisations and individuals around me.
I speak to people, I attend seminars and meetings and I take up opportunities when they present themselves. Today was an example of how two of these opportunity collided into one, and I hope that as a result, a few more people understand what the real impact the cuts to legal aid will mean for the most vulnerable in our society. The ones who really need it. The people who are ridden rough shod by public authority decisions because they don’t fit in a specific set of criterion. The people who fall through the cracks and can’t ask for help themselves. Them.
When I first moved to Bristol, task #1 was to get to grips with moving from a legal aid environment to a corporate regional law firm. My roots are in high street and legal aid practice and as I am still able to offer some of my clients legal aid, I wanted to get to know who else in the area provided legal aid. I quickly got to know the lovely, hardworking and talented bunch at Avon and Bristol Law Centre. As the legal aid cuts bite deeper and deeper, law centres across the country are being forced to close. Avon and Bristol are determined to stay open. Not so that they all stay in jobs, but so that they can continue to help the thousands of children, young people, migrants, single mothers, victims of trafficking and vulnerable people who go through their door every year. They seek funding from elsewhere, but the cuts to legal aid, and the further proposals that are due to take effect soon are making it very difficult for them to stay open and able to serve those who need them.
I’ve tried to help where I can. If the Law Centre receives an enquiry on a subject that I can advise on, I will head down the road and see the client on a pro bono basis. This frees up the 1.5 community care solicitors to concentrate on work that brings in fees for them. The Law Centre also arranges quarterly network meetings for organisations, agencies and lawyers working within the realms of community care and social welfare in Bristol. I offered our offices for today’s meeting because all other options fell through. It was a good afternoon and I feel privileged that I was able to make a room available and take another pressure away from such a hard working group of people.
Whilst attendance today was low, we had a brilliant afternoon talking about community care law relating to children and young people. We had a talk from Caroline Miles from the Law Centre, who outlined the legislation and some of the hurdles she is having to go through at the moment, and the Safeguarding lead from Kids Company, which has just set up its first extra-London operation in Bristol. Business is booming for them and for other agencies who sent representatives today. They all say their job is getting more difficult and focussing a lot of trying to convince public bodies to do right by the young people who cross their paths.
Here comes the second strand. I am relatively active on twitter and i follow the SaveUk Justice and Save Justice UK campaigns. Last week i saw that Save Justice UK was looking for Ambassadors to encourage communities to sign postcards setting out concerns as to the further cuts to legal aid. Please see http://savejusticeuk.wordpress.com for more information. I had a ten minute discussion prepared. I didn’t use any of it, because as each topic of discussion came up in the meeting, I was able to make a point as to how,if the proposals to ‘transform legal aid’ came in as set out in the consultation, those jobs would become even more difficult and the people they were supporting would be left in an increasingly vulnerable state. The postcards were snapped up and signed, ready to be delivered to Nick Clegg later in the year.
Next week, my article about how the proposed cuts will impact on welfare proceedings In the court of protection will be published in the Elderly Law Journal and I will arrange for an executive summary to be posted here and elsewhere. I wrote it some time ago, but the fear of the further cuts and the damage they will do remains as strong as ever. Bringing people together who care and who can take action is one way to reinforce community and keep the support for those who really need it available and accessible.
I’m pretty pleased I’ve met such dedicated people within such a short time of being here.