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lord bach

The House of Lords: The more one hears of the debates there, the more one is impressed by them.

One side of them, at least.

For example the debate on the Benefits Uprating Bill, that took place on Tuesday, including a fascinating interlude by Lord Bach, in which he made explicit the meaning of the government’s planned withdrawal of Legal Aid for benefit claimants.

The government claims the intention is to save money, but Lord Bach (pictured) made it perfectly clear that there will be no saving at all, in the end.

One is left with the only possible alternative – that this vindictive government of millionaires intends to make it impossible for the poorest and most vulnerable in society to seek legal redress against cruel and unwarranted decisions that will withdraw from them the money they use to keep themselves a hairs-breadth away from destitution.

It is a decision to attack the poor for the fun of it.

Don’t take it from me; here’s how Lord Bach put it:

“What is so often left out of the arguments about welfare reform… is what potential real remedy the citizen will be left with if the department’s [of Work and Pensions] decision is wrong. Surely the fact that it is wrong in many cases is not in question. We all know that, with the best will in the world, decisions made by the department are often wrong and very much to the disadvantage of those who want to claim them.

“For a long time, this has not been a pressing problem. For those requiring legal advice on their benefit entitlements, Legal Aid has been available – if, of course, these people came within the criteria for Legal Aid, and many did.

“For a small amount of Legal Aid, quality advice has been available, having the effect of both stopping – this is important in cost terms – hopeless claims and establishing good claims where appropriate. It is a system that worked. Putting it at its highest, it has allowed access to justice for all.

“At a slightly lower level, it has meant that tribunals have not been faced with an impossibly large number of cases, many of which should never have been brought in the first place.

“It has cost a fraction of the total Legal Aid budget and is paid to lawyers who are not by any standards well paid. Yet from April 1, as a deliberate act of government policy, this legal help will no longer be available for anyone in cases relating to welfare benefit entitlements.

“Thus, people will not be able to get the advice to which they are entitled. Their access to justice will be gone. The department will get away with wrong decisions and tribunals will be overburdened with what I can only describe as rubbish cases – all to save £25 million per year on welfare benefit advice.

That is one-tenth – I repeat, one-tenth – of the amount set aside by the Department for Communities and Local Government so that there can be weekly rather than fortnightly collections of rubbish. Is this really a proper sense of priorities for a time of austerity?

“Further, everyone who knows anything about this agrees that this is not likely to be a saving at all in the end.

“The state… will eventually have to pick up the pieces when things get much worse than they need to. How can the Minister or any government justify this either in terms of common decency, which should appeal to this House and normally does, or even under the rule of law?”

We all thought the Tories would be left heartbroken after the Hunting Act took away their favourite extracurricular pastime.

It seems they have found another blood sport to replace it.