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Economic Justice

Low Commission report warns that shrinking welfare advice is undermining health and welfare

A new report from the Low Commission on advice services has warned that an increasing shortage of social welfare advice is undermining health and welfare systems.  The Low Commission was set up in November 2012 following the Government’s legal aid reforms which took most social welfare areas of law out of the criteria for civil legal aid funding.  The Commission published its first report in January 2014 which you can read here.

 

This is the second report which the Low Commission has produced recommending that the Government needs to develop a national advice strategy.  It show how advice services have been shrinking over time, exacerbated by recent legal aid changes.

 

The Commission has launched new research including a major survey of welfare rights advisers. Four hundred and sixty-three advisors from Citizen Advice Bureaux and other voluntary sector advice organisations responded to  survey on the impact of changes to legal aid made last year, the Department of Work and Pensions decision-making on welfare benefits, and how these decisions are challenged. According to advisers:

 

  • 62% reported that the legal aid changes had had a substantial and negative impact on their capacity to support clients
  • Only 13% of welfare decisions are right first time
  • Clients experienced increased stress (89%) and financial hardship (95%) arising from the DWP’s new reconsideration process.  The recommendations also urge the Government to review the proposed termination of the Advice Services Transition fund as this will undermine advice services further.

 

The report also contains a survey of GPs commissioned last year; the majority of GPs reported huge increases in the numbers of their patients who would have benefited from legal or specialist advice on benefit and debt issues – a 67% increase in benefit problems and a 65% increase in debt problems. 88% of GPs said that lack of access to advice was, to a great extent or some extent, having an adverse impact on patients’ health.

 

The recommendations also urge the Government to review the proposed termination of the Advice Services Transition fund as this will undermine further advice services and called for joined up action between local government, NHS and central government Departments like DWP and Ministry of Justice to put in place comprehensive advice plans.