Unite has welcomed Labour’s commitment to restore legal aid for those appealing against cuts to their benefits.
Shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon yesterday (December 5) announced that a Labour government will provide legal aid to people appealing against Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) decisions to reduce welfare payments.
He pointed out that two-thirds of appeals against DWP assessments on employment support allowance (ESA) and personal independence payments (PIP) find in favour of the claimant, adding that the DWP’s litany of wrong decisions have impacted thousands of disabled, ill and sick people – a litany he said will only increase under the roll out of Universal Credit.
Burgon said reinstating financial support – which the Tories have cut by 99 per cent – would lower Ministry of Justice (MoJ) costs by incentivising the DWP to get decisions right the first time.
The MoJ forks out more than £100m on benefit appeal tribunals every year, while the DWP has spent the same amount on ESA and PIP reviews since autumn 2015.
Burgon explained, “Ensuring that people are armed with expert legal advice to take on incorrect benefits decisions will not only help people get the benefits they are entitled to, it should make it less likely that flawed decision takes place in the first place, which would be good for the individuals themselves, and help to tackle the tens of millions of pounds spent on administering appeals against flawed decisions.”
Unite officer Kerry Jenkins welcomed Labour’s commitment to restore legal aid funding for people seeking legal advice to appeal benefits decisions.
She said, “We believe that this is a move that would help to ensure all victims of flawed DWP decisions are able to defend themselves and get the financial support they are entitled to.
“Under the Tories, legal advice for welfare benefits cases has been cut by an eye-watering 99 per cent. It was provided to 91,000 people in 2013 in England and Wales, the year before the Conservative-led government’s legal aid reforms. But just 478 people received it last year.”
Jenkins added, “Access to justice should not only be available to those who can afford it but the Conservatives’ deep cuts to legal aid has meant exactly that.”