Call to provide legal advice services in surgeries and food banks

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Ciara Fitzpatrick, the Law Centre NI’s Information and Communication Officer

Legal advice services should be sited in doctor’s surgeries and food banks, according to a new report on ways to help people out of poverty.

Ulster University Law School researchers have also recommended that legal education should be provided to services providing advice to people in poverty.

Ciara Fitzpatrick, the Law Centre NI’s Information and Communication Officer, is one of the researchers who wrote the report.

She said: “In 2016, The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) published research on destitution in the UK. JRF’s research painted a picture of people already living in severe poverty being pushed into destitution by: “debt repayments (usually to public authorities); benefit delays and sanctions; high living costs; and, for some migrants, extremely low levels of benefits and lack of access to the UK labour market” (Fitzpatrick et al. 2016:1).

“Matthew Smerdon the Chief Executive of the Legal Education Foundation (LEF) attended the launch of this research. On hearing the findings, the Legal Education Foundation sought to better understand the role that access to law, legal education and legal services might play in the prevention of destitution and in supporting people to escape destitution.

“To that end, the LEF and JRF joined forces and commissioned research from Ulster University Law School researchers, Grainne McKeever, Mark Simpson and myself.

“The report highlighted a number of concerns which can perpetuate the individual’s journey into destitution.

“First, the fragmented nature of the law in relation to provision for destitute individuals alongside the patchy advice landscape of legal services, which makes it extremely difficult to respond to the needs of destitute individuals.

“Human Rights protections do not go far enough: statutory protection is needed in the form of a positive legal duty for public authorities who should be compelled to take action to prevent destitution.

“Second, the report identifies a need to be more innovative in the design and delivery of services in order to meet the needs of the most vulnerable and strengthens existing arguments for co-locating legal advice services at those sites where individuals in crisis may present, such as in primary healthcare settings and at food banks.

“Finally, the report emphasises the need to deliver effective legal education to those who provide non-legal services to individuals experiencing or at risk of destitution, particularly those at the frontline in the social security system.  The report augments arguments that the government need to take action to ensure that the most vulnerable are protected from the sharp edge of welfare reform and the rising cost of living in the UK.”





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