Access to Justice is a ringing phrase – but it’s one that rings hollow for very many disabled people. When it comes to physical access, there has been progress, albeit slow. Access to justice is another story. Consider this: following the legal aid cuts, the number of people receiving legal aid help to get their due benefits entitlements dropped from 82,542 per annum to just 258. Meanwhile, with the current social care funding crisis, disabled adults are increasingly having their care needs unmet through unsuitable accommodation, reduced care packages, lack of respite care and lack of access to the community.
There are 11 million disabled people in the UK, yet 48 percent of working-age disabled people are in employment compared to 80 percent of working-age non-disabled people. Many employers are unaware both of the value of employing disabled people and of the measures that they can take to facilitate that employment. Meanwhile many disabled people are unaware of their rights in relation to work and/or how to go about securing them. Almost half the people who are living in poverty in the UK are either disabled or live in a household with a disabled person.
Disability Law Service (DLS) acts to challenge the poverty and inequality faced by people with disabilities by securing equal access to legal rights and entitlements. Acting as a first port of call for disabled people and their families and carers, we deal with 4,000 requests a year and provide legal information, advice, representation, support for people to pursue their own cases and referrals to other legal advisers or signposting for those whose problems fall outside our areas of legal expertise or capacity.
Jenny is just one of the 4,000 people we help each year. She has multiple disabilities including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression, and she came to Disability Law Service having lost her home following a seven-year period during which her employer had discriminated against her by unlawfully deducting wages. We supported Jenny at her tribunal at which she was awarded £217,000.
We support people who are unable to obtain legal help elsewhere because they do not have the resources to pay for advice and/or are ineligible for legal aid and find commercial firms unwilling to take on their case, either because of capacity or an assessment that it will produce insufficient financial return. It is one small contribution to addressing the yawning gap that is disabled people’s access to justice.