Unite delegate Ruth Hayes told the Labour Party conference yesterday (September 25) of the devastating impact Tory cuts have had on people up and down the country – in particular for those seeking access to justice in the courts.
She highlighted food banks, cuts to youth services, rise in mental health issues, poverty wages and homelessness are only some of the ways in which austerity has harmed people.
Ruth explained how communities have taken matters into their own hands to fight austerity.
“In my own union, we have the Period Dignity campaign; disabled people’s organisations taking action against Universal Credit ; and young people fighting for rights at work in restaurants and hotels — a sector where we were told people wouldn’t join unions.”
Turning to legal aid, Ruth told conference about how it has “been cut to ribbons by the Tories”.
“For example, in 2009 there were 132,137 housing cases funded – this has fallen by 70 per cent,” she said. “There is now a growing skills shortage and lack of capacity as the ‘market’ has failed.
“The Legal Aid Agency had to go out to tender three times in the last year as it simply did not receive sufficient expressions of interest from potential legal aid providers,” Ruth added.
“We have heard how lack of early legal help has left people without assistance, literally leaving people with no income, with no home and with no ability to resolve their immigration status.
“The Windrush scandal shows what denying people independent legal advice can lead to — the obscenity of people left in limbo.”
Ruth argued that the Labour party today has the values and the policies to truly undo the damage that the Tories have wrought.
“Previously, I have campaigned for Labour and had to say that people should vote for us because we aren’t as bad as the Tories,” she said. “Today, we can say that Labour has a programme which will transform society.
“A proposal which re-imagines what justice could look like, with education so that people know their rights,” she went on to say, “with community based services developing good quality jobs for people with lived experience so that there are local, face to face services which provide the help which people really need to get their rights.
“This will make ensure that bad employers, and poor landlords don’t continue to get away with it.
“It will also make sure that systemic poor decision making by state agencies – such as DWP –is tackled and fit for purpose. It will put money back into the pockets of those on the lowest incomes and regenerate communities from the grass roots.
“Our policies will make justice for all and tackle the imbalance of power to benefit the many, not the few,” Ruth concluded to applause.