Planned cuts to legal services across Southwark could be shelved permanently in light of the unknown impact of Coronavirus.
As the News reported, Southwark Citizens’ Advice Bureau and Southwark Law Centre were told they would lose £100,000 in funding this year – having lost around a third of their income since 2015-16.
The decision immediately sparked concern, especially given ongoing challenges around Brexit, and the number of families with no recourse to public funds in the borough – with the Liberal Democrats firmly opposed from the offset.
The council has now agreed to reassess the move and has channelled immediate emergency funding into legal support during the COVID-19 crisis, after an overview and scrutiny committee meeting highlighted the need to re-evaluate key cuts.
Coronavirus is expected to have a huge impact well beyond the pandemic itself – affecting housing, work and finances for years to come.
Councillor Rebecca Lury, cabinet member for culture, leisure, equalities and communities, told the News: “After several years of government cuts and budget reductions the council has had to increasingly review how it helps fund our voluntary sector partners.
“Of course we don’t want to reduce funding, but we have to look at what services are being provided and split our funding resources accordingly.
“The original reduction of funding to some voluntary sector services was discussed and agreed back in February 2019 and was always due to take place over a two year period, and long before we had any idea of the devastating impact that the COVID-19 pandemic would have on our communities .
“Since lockdown began we have been making a range of investments to respond to it, including an additional £42,000 for the Southwark Law Centre from our Community Response Fund that has also granted funding for a range of other services including Rightfully Yours, in recognition of the increasing need from local people.
“Moving forward we will continue to work with our partners in the voluntary sector to understand the full impact of COVID-19 and where we will need to place funding in the future.”
The Lib Dem vice chair of Southwark Council’s overview and scrutiny committee, councillor Jane Salmon, said: “Our most vulnerable citizens deserve all the support they can get at this most difficult time including access to proper legal advice.
“These Labour cuts to vital services need to be reconsidered and are ignoring the reality of today’s pandemic impact on our borough.
“I am glad to hear the cabinet member will now revisit this.”