Corbyn: 'Legal aid is a basic human right' - The Justice Gap

by Oliver Carter, January 8, 2016

Jeremy Corbyn was the headline act at the packed Voices for Justice rally organised by the Justice Alliance this week in support of legal aid, with the group calling on the government to ‘scrap two-tier justice’. The Labour leader was greeted with a standing ovation as he walked onto the stage at Conway Hall in London. The rally ended in a similar fashion, with rapturous applause after Corbyn’s speech in defence of the principle of access to justice.

The Labour leader’s popularity with access to justice campaigners reflects a longstanding commitment to legal aid, an impression enhanced by his decision in the first days of his leadership to ask shadow justice minister Lord Willy Bach to carry out a comprehensive review of legal aid for the party. Bach is in the process of appointing a commission of experts to assist in the task, which will ‘focus on access to justice as public entitlement and rethinking our justice system for the 21st century’.

Corbyn pledged that his party ‘will support and defend the principle of legal aid’, deplored the ‘denial of justice’ and ‘serious miscarriages of justice taking place every day’ because of ‘brutal’ cuts to legal aid by the coalition government. After recapping the damage that has been done by a 25% reduction in the legal aid budget, including the number of social welfare cases funded by legal aid falling from 470,000 in 2010 to just 53,000 after the implementation of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 leading to ‘hundreds of thousands of people going without the help they need’, Corbyn described legal aid as a ‘basic human right’.

Feminist protesters storm red carpet at London premiere of Suffragette
More than a hundred protesters jumped the barriers onto the red carpet as green and purple smoke bombs filled the air outside the Odeon cinema
By Nicola Slawson
“These cuts disproportionately affect women of colour. Of the 32 services for women affected by domestic violence that have been closed since 2010, they were all specialist services which helped LGBQ and BAME women.”

“It’s timely because the cast of the film is entirely white and they are running with this slogan, ‘I’d rather be a rebel than a slave’ which implies passivity or acceptance of being a slave. But it also ignores the fact that women of colour were completely involved in the suffragette struggle. This film isn’t representing them.”
U.K. government reveals thousands died after their welfare payments were stopped
The Department of Work and Pensions emphasized that there is no proof of a causal link.

U.K. government statistics reveal that thousands of people died within weeks of being found “fit to work” and having their welfare benefits cancelled.

The release of the statistics follows a protracted campaign from journalists and activists, including a petition that garnered almost 250,000 signatures. Many have already accused the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) of stalling its response until after this year’s election in May.

The most shocking mortality data comes from a document about disability-related benefits. Between December 2011 and February 2014, 81,140 people died within six weeks of “flowing off” benefits such as ESA (Employment and Support Allowance), which the government pays to people who cannot work due to illness or disability.

Over the past five years, the DWP has made a public effort to reduce the number of people claiming government benefits. This included the introduction of “fit to work” assessments, which are used to determine whether people are qualified to receive disability benefits.

The newly published documents show that 2,380 former ESA claimants died within two weeks of being declared “fit to work.” 


“The West still hasn’t fully recovered from one of the worst economic crises in modern history, caused by greedy financial institutions and weak regulation. The politicians answer to this, largely, has been to give those who caused the crisis (including themselves) a free pass and make ordinary working people pick up the tab. They call it ‘Austerity’. I call it bullshit. “ .. (more here)
UN to probe the UK's deadly disability cuts
UN investigators to determine if the government committed "grave violations" after disabled people ordered back to work.

The UK has become the first country in the world to be placed under investigation by the United Nations for violating the human rights of people with disabilities amid fears that thousands may have died as a consequence of controversial welfare reforms and austerity-driven cuts to benefits and care budgets.

UN inspectors are expected to arrive in the country within days to begin collecting evidence to determine whether the British government has committed “systematic and grave violations” of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

“Ontario funds all public services at the lowest rate per person of any province in Canada and as a result Ontario funds all hospitals at the lowest rate of any province in Canada.

"Ontario now has the fewest hospital beds left per person of any province in Canada. It’s not just by national measures. For the entire OECD, that’s all developed nations of the world, Ontario is third from the bottom in the number of hospital beds left, followed only by Chile and Mexico,” Mehra says.

Drastic cuts to nursing staff – with the most recent layoffs involving 169 registered nurse positions at Windsor Regional Hospital announced January 18 – means Ontario also has the fewest nursing hours per patient of all Canada’s provinces, she says.

“We have devastated health professional services like rehabilitation therapy, we have privatized and contracted out vital patient-care services like cleaning and food services to the detriment of patients.”

If the health-care cuts continue, the OHC and its partner organizations are planning to hold a province-wide referendum asking Ontarians whether they support them.
While the rest of us face austerity, the Lords refuse to drink cheaper champagne
Nothing highlights the gulf between the governing class in this country and the rest of us than today's story about champagne in the House of Lords.

It’s been revealed that a proposal to save taxpayers money by making the House of Lords and House of Commons share a catering department was rejected “because the Lords feared that the quality of champagne would not be as good if they chose a joint service”.

It might take you a while to digest the sheer breathtaking callousness, arrogance and snobbishness of this. However, once you have passed through the various stages of reaction that I did – slack-jawed disbelief, hysterical laughter, genuine anger – I invite you to share with me a brief analysis of why this illustrates just how out of touch the governing class are from the people whose lives their decisions affect.

Obviously there is the mind-boggling elitism and disdain towards the less privileged which is revealed here. During a time of food banks, unemployment and waves of benefit cuts, when the rest of us are supposed to accept austerity lying down, the mere mention of a change to peers’ taste in bubbly is met with uncomprehending scorn. This is the thing that first cuffs you in the face. And there are only further, follow-up slaps to come.

We already suspected the House of Commons was disproportionately posh, with its overwhelming number of privately schooled members, its ludicrous expenses claims, and patronising tweets about white van men. But new, dizzying heights of snobbishness are revealed when we realise that, to members of the House of Lords, even this privileged bunch is considered too plebeian to have a trustworthy taste in champagne.

There’s also the unspoken assumption that during times of austerity there should be a budget for champagne at all, in either House. I don’t know about you, but I have never worked for a company that had part of its budget ring-fenced for sparkling wines, let alone roughly £65,000 a year (for the House of Lords alone). Is there something different about running the country which requires all that bubbly? Maybe it provides peers with the Dutch courage required to clock in for just a few minutes each day to claim their £300 daily attendance allowance?

It would be bad enough if our taxes were being spent on the champagne fund belonging to a group of people who didn’t have the capacity to enact any real harm on society. But let’s not forget, this a gathering of people who are predominantly white, male, and wealthy, and worse yet - entirely unelected. Despite this, our country’s lords still have the power to block and delay government legislation.

This needs to change, and the first step should be an imposed austerity on their £1.3M annual catering budget, starting with the complete abolishment of champagne. If they complain about the lack of bubbly I have a handy tip – try adding value lemonade (under 50p) to a large bottle of Liebfraumilch (under £7 for 1.5 litres) for a cheap alternative. It may not taste like Cristal but it does the trick, and after the first three glasses you can’t tell the difference anyway.

This advice is free by the way. After all, we’re all in it together, right?

CBC to sell all of its buildings and properties across Canada
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Canada's financially troubled public broadcaster, has plans to sell all of its properties and buildings across the entire country.

According to the Canadian Media Guild (CMG), the plan was announced today during a staff town hall in response to continued federal government funding cuts that have stripped the CBC of its ability to carry out its mandate of creating quality and original domestic programming.

Every single property will be sold – no stone will be left unturned. This includes the Toronto headquarters, Montreal studio, and the recently renovated and expanded Vancouver studio.

“The decision to close down production centres is of great concern for our members as it should be for all Canadians, and seriously jeopardizes the CBC’s ability to do meaningful production in the future,” said Marc-Philippe Laurin, CBC Branch President for the Canadian Media Guild, in a statement.

Our members believe the public broadcaster can’t only be a distributor, it has to also be a producer. This plan threatens the ongoing legacy of award- winning documentaries, drama and other quality production at CBC and Radio Canada.”

The union also notes that the plans make no sense given that three of the four federal-level parties have vowed to increase the public broadcaster’s funding. […]

As Austerity Hits Puerto Rico, Students Pay The Price

SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO — Earlier this year, social work student Coraly León arrived at her research assistant job at the University of Puerto Rico to find her salary abruptly cut in half due to budget cuts. “Not only do I have to find another job in order to support myself,” she told ThinkProgress, “but I still have to somehow complete my required 25 volunteer hours a week in order to graduate, on top of my research assistant work, on top of studying, on top of being an activist. I really don’t know if I can go on like this.”

Even in the Guardian, the most left-wing of the major broadsheet UK newspapers, the “race issues” page is almost entirely full with stories that come from outside the UK. Obviously, there’s a need to report all that stuff, especially at a time when insitutional police racism has become highly visible in the US, but isn’t it weird that even the most left-wing UK newspaper has relatively little to say about racism in the UK right now?

We know that austerity has a bigger impact on groups that are already disadvantaged to begin with. We know that both Islamophobia and anti-semitism have significantly increased in recent years. We know there hasn’t been that much progress since the Metropolitan Police were first accused of institutional racism 16 years ago. We know that the jobless rate for young people from BME backgrounds is much bigger than the rate for white young people. And UKIP managed to get 12.6% of the vote in our last election despite a long history of racist statements from candidates.

Obviously, when a new story breaks in the US about a black man or woman that’s been killed by the police, it grabs our attention. Racism in the UK is not always so loud and attention-grabbing (largely because we have a lot less racists with guns). But I feel like we’re headed for trouble if we focus purely on what’s going on in other countries whilst reassuring ourselves that at least it’s not so bad here. The reason British police don’t kill so many black people is purely because most of the police don’t have guns. It doesn’t mean that we’ve dealt with racism or that we can afford to forget about it.

You know what’s bad? Brain damage.

Flint, Michigan, is finding this out after it accidentally gave its entire population at least a little bit of lead poisoning when it switched up their water supply. In an attempt to save money for a cash-strapped city, Flint started drinking water from the Flint River — but ended up contaminating children with a poisonous heavy metal. Governor Rick Snyder has declared a state of emergency, and the federal government is investigating.

Why on Earth did they do this? Austerity. Aside from the obvious humanitarian disaster, this is a stark demonstration of austerity’s false economy. Trying to be cheap on Flint’s water supply will end up costing the state of Michigan (and probably the country as a whole) a ton more money than it would have to fix it properly in the first place.


Now Snyder has already been forced to pony up over $10 million to switch the Flint water system back to the way it was before (hooked up to Detroit, basically), and the city is asking for some $50 million more to replace lead pipes. But that’s very likely only the beginning. Flint’s population is roughly 100,000, and several families have already sued state and local officials over the lead issue. It’s unclear so far how badly the city’s children have been poisoned, but it’s a pretty safe bet the state will end up spending tens or perhaps even hundreds of millions on settlements.

And that’s where a moral atrocity becomes an economic self-kneecapping. Aside from the cost of settlements, children are the major portion of the future’s economic capacity, which depends critically on their ability to function normally. Destroying their brains with heavy metals will rather impede their ability to get the jobs and pay the taxes that will get Flint on a sound fiscal footing.
Detroiters struggle to survive without city water
A third of all residential water accounts in the city of Detroit— 68,000 of 200,000 — are at least 60 days past due. Many live without running water.

How do you survive without running water for more than two years?

First, get a trash can. Put it under the roof to collect water to flush the toilet. Then, get a bucket and remember what your grandparents taught you in the early 1950s, before indoor plumbing reached all of rural America.

“You use your brain. You scramble. You survive because you’re used to dealing with nothing,” said Fayette Coleman, 66, who grew up fetching water from wells in Belleville.

She hasn’t had running water in her Brightmoor house since May 2013. The crumbling home is one of at least 4,000 in Detroit — and perhaps many more — whose water was never turned back on after massive shutoffs attracted international attention last year.

The outcry faded, but the situation hasn’t. Within a block of Coleman’s house on Fielding near Lyndon, at least three neighbors have endured shutoffs, including one who spent months walking up the street, twice a day, to fill buckets at a friend’s before service resumed in mid-November.