Toynbee Hall calls for return to Legal Aid to help families in poverty

Manzumanara Begum with 10-year-old son Mashfiq

Manzumanara Begum with 10-year-old son Mashfiq - Credit: Vickie Flores/Archant

A campaign is being launched today to get Legal Aid reintroduced for housing and employment which was axed two years ago. People like single-mum Manzumanar Begum who faces eviction with her child without Legal Aid are being left stressed, powerless and “unable to get on with life”.

Whitechapel's Toynbee Hall settlement

Whitechapel's Toynbee Hall settlement - Credit: Archant

The rule of law and justice are no longer being applied in areas of poverty like London’s East End, the anti-poverty Toynbee Hall charity says.

Families are ending up in court alone, facing professional lawyers brought in by landlords or local authorities.

Toynbee Hall is taking on Manzumanar’s fight to stop her eviction with her 10-year-old son Mashfiq from the one-room they rent in an ex-council flat she has to share with her landlord’s family off the Commercial Road.

“I had no solicitor when I was first summonsed to court and thought I would be thrown onto the street because no-one was helping me,” she told the East London Advertiser.

Manzumanara Begum with 10-year-old son Mashfiq

Manzumanara Begum with 10-year-old son Mashfiq - Credit: Vickie Flores/Archant

“I felt I was going to die—Social Services told me I wasn’t eligible for rehousing and if I couldn’t look after my son they would take him into care. It is making us both depressed.”

Manzumanar’s husband has returned to Bangladesh, leaving her alone with her son in Shadwell.

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She works as carer, but has to exist on a ‘zero hours’ contract with no guaranteed income to cover rent or even food.

“I can’t get a solicitor if I have no money,” she explained. “We can’t get justice. I went to Toynbee Hall for help—and just cried.”

She is one of 13,000 people on the breadline who turned to the charity last year, compared to just 4,000 in 2010. Many end up in court facing summonses on housing, family and employment issues without a lawyer to help.

Toynbee Hall launches its appeal at a seminar in the City today for Legal Aid to be reintroduced, based on its research carried out by Middlesex University showing the impact two years of cuts are having on those who don’t have the means to pay for lawyers.

Toynbee Hall’s chief executive Graham Fisher said: “We are having to deal with treble the number of people since Legal Aid was stopped.

“It’s like a treadmill helping those in need. Legal Aid provided a lifeline for people who don’t have the means to pay for lawyers, but without it there’s now massive poverty, sad to say.”

The seminar is being held this-afternoon at Linklaters law firm in the City, which has given the charity pro bono legal help and has donated £20,000.

The campaign is based on a survey showing the effects the cuts have on poor families, with 78 per cent having “high levels of anxiety” by the imbalance in the courtroom in cases where the other party—such as landlords or local authorities—have expensive lawyers on their side.

Middlesex University’s Dr Alessio D’Angelo said: “The public considers access to justice a fundamental right. But this right has been eroded, with the most vulnerable hit disproportionately, which is jeopardising the rule of law.”

The survey also found many people in poverty without Legal Aid were less equipped to cope as parents or employees, which has “a negative impact” on their children, especially with the legal process taking longer than necessary.