Research commissioned by the Greater London Authority and compiled and published by the Advice Services Alliance (ASA) last month (30 July 2020) shows shortages in advice provision for social welfare law1Welfare benefits, debt, immigration, employment, housing, education and community care law.
(SWL) across the capital. Advising Londoners
also reported there were particularly acute gaps in provision for young people, Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) groups, and in specialist advice and representation.
ASA found that 75 per cent of the respondents to a survey of providers and stakeholders felt there were gaps or shortages in SWL services in their areas (page 5). Over half of the advice providers surveyed reported cuts over the past three years and ‘many anticipate that bigger cuts are on the way’ (page 6).
ASA believes advice agencies have been squeezed by local council and legal aid cuts, and that ‘financial sustainability remains the fundamental challenge’ for SWL services in London (page 5).
According to the report, there has been a shift away from face-to-face services to telephone advice, as well as the development of digital services such as self-help websites. Despite these innovations, though, most of those consulted in the research believed ‘most vulnerable Londoners need holistic, face-to-face advice services’ (para 6.4, page 87).
The researchers found that gaps in provision were not just geographical. Young people (16–25), BAME communities, and deaf and disabled people were identified as groups who were not well served by the services. The lack of specialist advice and representation before the courts and tribunals, particularly in immigration and welfare benefits law, was also identified as a problem.
In a press release to launch the report
, ASA director Lindsey Poole said: ‘There is a desperate need for the government to support the advice sector as it provides a lifeline to people facing crisis and alleviates strain on public services. Demand for advice could be reduced if government departments took measures to resolve their systemic failures and reverse welfare cuts.’