Unite members protest at Ministry of Justice as staff reach breaking point

Unite members will this evening demonstrate outside the Ministry of Justice after a survey showed workers in legal aid and advice organisations are at breaking point.

The Unite survey, released ahead of the Justice Alliance’s vigil this evening, shows 77% of members at more than 30 advice centres, law centres and Citizen Advice offices reported an increase in their workload because of increased demand and cuts in staff.

The increased workload is closely linked to the vast majority of respondents (80%) being required to work in excess of their contracted hours.

Two thirds of workers (68%) have had to contend with recent workplace restructuring with most of these changes resulting in redundancies and the loss of skilled staff. In 35% of organisations members report that volunteers are increasingly required to undertake work previously performed by paid staff.

The increased workload and the constant changes have had an adverse effect on members’ health. In 78% of cases members report that they now feel more stressed at work with 1 in 3 being forced to take time off due to work related sickness.

To add insult to injury 43% of members reported that they had not received a pay rise in the last two years and no one had received a pay increase in line with inflation.

One Unite member starkly described the challenges workers face: “Ever increasing numbers of abused women are referred to our service every month. The outreach services we provided raised awareness with many partner organisations, but cuts to our services means fewer workers to cope with increased demand.”

Unite national officer Siobhan Endean said: “The legal aid and advice system is the bedrock of our justice system. Successive Conservative governments have undertaken the biggest attacks on the justice system in history. The most vulnerable in society are being priced out and denied justice.

“Unite members who are dedicated to providing justice are being stretched beyond breaking point as their services have been cut to the bone. The vital services they provide are on the point of total collapse.

“The most vulnerable in society such as women suffering domestic abuse are having to wait longer to receive the support they need to escape from their abusers. Such delays are intolerable and cannot be justified at any level.

It is largely government cuts to legal aid that have led to the pressures on services. We are now seeing the full effects of the cuts which are more than £350 million from the legal aid budget and removed support for: family, employment, benefits, immigration, clinical negligence and some housing cases.

“The impact of Universal Credit, which has an inbuilt delay and which includes housing costs has meant that more people have fallen into arrears and created even greater pressure on advice services.

“It is imperative that these cuts to justice are reversed in order to ensure that justice is fairly delivered and people are properly assisted and supported through the criminal and civil legal system.”

  • The protest takes place outside the Ministry of Justice, 102 Petty France, London SW1H 9AJ from 7 to 8pm
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