Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Christmas, homelessness and Joe Strummer

I normally send my Christmas cards for re-cycling after 6th January. But one which I have always kept is the one with the image of the late Joe Strummer from The Clash giving to a homeless person in New York.

There is something particularly poignant about homelessness and Christmas. The classic nativity story is about a young couple with no place to go. Whatever one’s religious view the story of Jesus is inevitably wound up with the homeless and dispossessed, as seen in this sculpture from Timothy Schmalz which will shortly be arriving in Manchester.

All of which leads us to a story in this week’s Guardian about homelessness and access to justice

Huge numbers of people are losing their homes because they cannot get access to lawyers to help them challenge evictions. There has been a chilling rise of 53% in the number of evictions in the rented sector since 2010. These were the cases that got as far as eviction by bailiffs –

Whilst there can be many different reasons for evictions, it is becoming clear that many could be avoided if tenants were able to obtain affordable legal assistance to challenge the action taken. There has been a decline of nearly one fifth in those cases where challenges are made. The decline is attributable to a combination of factors including –

‘Deep cuts to other forms of housing legal aid introduced by the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders (LASPO) Act 2012, bureaucratic obstructions and poor hourly rates have progressively driven most lawyers specialising in housing out of the market, leaving few practitioners.

It is the starkest evidence of the legal advice waste land that has been growing since 2013. 

Technically legal aid remains available to someone at risk of losing their home. But if the root cause of the problem is an issue such as benefits claims then there are fewer opportunities to ‘nip problems in the bud’. 

It is often too late to save the day by the time the tenant gets to see a lawyer. A justice system which focusses only on the last minute crisis is of little benefit to anyone.

This is a time of year when many people do great work giving up their time and money for the homeless.

But one thing we must resolve to do for the New Year is to all in our power to ensure that not one person finds themselves on the street because they could not find a lawyer to help them.

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