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ESRC Collaborative Studentship Investigating Cuts and Changes to Legal Advice Services

Overview

This ESRC-Funded Collaborative PhD will examine the impact of the imminent cuts to legal advice services, particularly on the most vulnerable and disadvantaged. It will examine the different models that are being developed to deal with these cuts by particular legal services providers – with a focus on Law Centres.

The project is a collaboration between the Centre for Human Rights in Practice in the School of Law at the University of Warwick, the Law Centres Federation and Coventry Law Centre. It will involve working closely with these institutions. The academic supervisor will be Dr. James Harrison.


Background

The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill (currently passing through Parliament) will introduce up to £350 million of cuts to funding in legal aid services in April 2013. The Bill is likely to cut funding for advice on debt, employment, housing, family, immigration, welfare benefits and some other areas. It will also impact who can get legal aid, by asking people on low incomes to pay more towards their legal advice and by reducing the lowest fees for civil advice. Many legal service providers, such as Law Centres, are also facing cuts to other sources of funding (e.g. from local authorities).

This PhD will help to address the need for research which examines the actual impact of these cuts to legal advice services, particularly on the most vulnerable and disadvantaged. It will examine how legal advice providers are responding to these cuts to funding and the different models that are being developed to deal with these changes.

The PhD will build upon the expertise developed by the Centre for Human Rights in Practice in research which uses the norms and standards of human rights and equality law in order to analysis the impacts of policies and practices – click here for a full list of projects and publications.

Particularly relevant to the current project is the work of the Centre on the human rights and equality impacts of the public spending cuts on women in Coventry, which includes analysis of the potential impacts of cuts to legal advice services. Click here for more information on these projects. It is expected that the current PhD project will build on the methodologies and approaches used in that work.



The Subject of the PhD Research

This PhD will focus on the issues of housing, welfare benefits and debt advice (social welfare law). These are often legal issues which the poorest and most vulnerable individuals face at the same time and so they naturally fit together within the same research project.

The PhD research will investigate the impacts of cuts in these areas and different models for dealing with them. The PhD research will focus upon the impact of cuts on legal advice services provided by Law Centres. Law Centres focus on providing legal services to people who may be marginalised in society or who are experiencing discrimination. They also work closely with local agencies and organisations who provide other advice and assistance to vulnerable individuals (e.g. homelessness organisations, disability support groups etc.). They are therefore in a unique position to both understand the more complex impacts of cuts to legal advice funding and to develop models for reducing the impact on the most vulnerable and disadvantaged individuals.