Monday, February 07, 2011

Legal advice charities call for help – save our services! Rally, Queens Square, Bristol, Mon 7th February 12noon

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A network of charities that offer free, independent, and confidential legal advice to households on low incomes in Bristol and the surrounding areas are calling for help from the people of Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire. Proposed cuts in government funding will mean a huge reduction in the services that these agencies can offer to the most vulnerable individuals in society.

Proposals to remove Legal Aid funding for all welfare benefits, employment, and immigration cases for most debt cases and for many housing cases, will result in destitution, poverty and hardship for thousands of households across the region. It is estimated that in Bristol alone over 4,000 households will not be able to access advice to deal with their complex, life-changing problems if these cuts are made.

“Providing high-quality legal advice to vulnerable people on low-incomes is a good investment for society,” says Jane Emanuel, who works with advice agencies in the region. “The governments own research shows that the people most affected by these changes will be people with disabilities, people over pension age and other groups less able to help themselves. Government research also shows that for every £1 spent on advice the state saves anything up to £10 in reduced costs elsewhere in the system – for instance, lower NHS spending, lower housing spending and reduced social care spending. Not only are these proposals a disaster for individuals and families who will suffer because they cannot resolve their problems, they are a clear false economy that will not, in the long run, save the Government money.”

Local advice agencies and their supporters have arranged a rally in Queens Square, Bristol on Monday 7th February from 12noon to raise public awareness of this looming disaster, and to encourage the public to contact their MPs before the governments consultation finishes on 14/02/11.

We would ask everyone who values access to justice for vulnerable people to support us – see for more details.


Notes for editors:

1 - The Advice Network is a three-year project managed by Avon & Bristol Law Centre on behalf of Advice Centres for Avon (ACFA). ACFA is a network of advice agencies who have been working together for over 25 years; most members are registered charities and all offer free, confidential, impartial, high-quality legal advice on issues such as housing, debt, welfare benefits, community care, employment, education and health. For more details visit our website –
2 – Local advice agencies in Bristol alone will lose over £500,000 in funding if the cuts to legal aid proceed as proposed
3 – Legal aid-funded advisers and solicitors are not ‘fat-cats’ – the average salary for a highly-trained and experienced adviser in the South-west is c£25,000
4 – Alternative funding sources simply do not exist – Bristol City Council have ring-fenced the funding they currently provide for advice services, but cannot fill the gaps left by government cuts; other cuts to funding for advice from national government have just been announced – this will result in a further loss of c£750,000 in funding for debt advice for people in Bristol and the surrounding areas.
5 – For further information, or for media interviews, please contact Ben Sansum, Jane Emanuel or Liz Freeman at the Advice Network project on 0117 929 2153, or 0794 838 2676

Goose steps and mass graves? We're only trying to save the world - Telegraph

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Brilliant article in the Daily Telegraph from Robert Webb (pictured) 'one of Britain's most popular comedians, [who]brings his wit and imagination to the Telegraph's comment pages with capricious stories of his everyday life.' We need more communication on politics and climate change like this!

When the Martians finally invade and make me Lord High Protector of the Earth, I like to think that my first act will be to have myself arrested. It might be useful if those who spend a lot of time banging on about how much they love liberty ask themselves if they would do the same thing.

What would you do? A quick tweak here and there, and then hold elections? More than a tweak? It's the whole Earth, so there's quite a bit to put right. And you'll need people you trust to help: friends… maybe family! And what about those Earthlings who don't appreciate your efforts? Well, protest is one thing, but when they start to really interfere with your helpful plans for them, then it might be time to be a bit firm – which is just your way of showing how much you love them. So the Friendly Protectorship might go on slightly longer than we first imagined. Best to give it a while: say 30 years? A lifetime?

Yes, you've guessed it: this week's column is about the leader of the Green Party, Caroline Lucas MP. If you don't immediately understand the connection, then that's because you are sane. To have made the mental leap, you would need to belong to the head-banging libertarian/Ukip fringe who seem to think that all Lefties are born tyrants. You might be tempted to offer them the figure of George Orwell – who spent a lifetime defending the values of the democratic Left against the triple menace of communism, fascism and imperialism – but that doesn't work on the head-bangers, because they think Orwell is one of them. This indicates a psychological problem that experts have identified as "an inability to read a book properly".

Anyway, Lucas – who this week made an attempt to make the House of Commons work more efficiently, and was roundly patronised for her efforts – makes an almost perfect hate figure for the head-bangers, not just because she shows worrying signs of talking about wealth redistribution and actually meaning it, but because of the inevitable scale of aspiration that is part of the Green agenda. They look at her and think: "This woman doesn't just want to keep the 50p rate, she wants to change the entire Earth! This can only mean jackboots."

I say she's an "almost" perfect hate figure because she doesn't have an eye-patch or a hook or wear swastika earrings. In fact, it's a bit inconvenient all round that, when interviewed, she sounds quite sensible. Still, that won't matter. There's a YouTube video posted by "ukipmedia" where, to my ear, Lucas is clearly winning a debate with Ukip spokesman David Campbell Bannerman. At the point where she says, "People are dying from climate change, David", the video then clunkily loops back so we can hear her say it again another three times. The intended effect is presumably to highlight some kind of "gaffe" or standout absurdity, but in fact it reveals far more about the mentality of the poster than the subject. It's the use of repetition that is sinister here, not the thing that's being repeated. "People are dying from climate change" is not a remarkable statement; it is a scientific commonplace.

Given the bitter tone of the environmental debate, I imagine that this last sentence will have made some of you really quite cross. The YouTube clip has inspired seven pages of comments, characterised in the main by unhinged vitriol and references to totalitarian mass graves.

Let me have a go at understanding these people: wish me luck. I suppose that if you really think climate change is a sham; if you really think it's possible for a global scientific community to get together to fabricate a mountainous embarrassment of evidence in support of a particular theory and that, furthermore, they are able to hoodwink successfully – or even secretly conspire with – hundreds of governments and political parties, who are wildly opposed on everything else, so that there is a consensus that something should be done, then I suppose you're going to be quite annoyed when, as a result of this mammoth fraud, someone asks you to turn the central heating down.

Because if what they're saying is true, then our only way out of it is through unprecedented, long-term collective action. And human beings are really not very good at unprecedented, long-term collective action. And, knowing our history, we certainly don't like the look of that word "collective". Or, for that matter, "action". So better to believe the whole thing is a lie: Jeremy Clarkson will back us up, and he's a fun guy.
Believe me – I don't want to be on the un-fun side of the argument. I enjoy a visit to ClarksonWorld along with the next man, but I can't live there. All the rides are free because someone else is paying. And I sympathise with the daunted. I'm pretty daunted. The crushing scale of the thing, the complexity of getting agreements between countries at different stages of industrial and political development, the technological challenges, the whole seeming futility of it makes you want to club Caroline Lucas around the head with a patio heater to shut her up.

But still, I don't "get" where coercion, goose steps and Room 101 is implied in any of this. A failure of imagination on my part, no doubt. Maybe the Martians should appoint David Campbell Bannerman instead. What would he do?

Goose steps and mass graves? We're only trying to save the world - Telegraph