As the ‘pig society’ begins to bite, a small corner of help for the troubled shuts down on March 31st after 45 years of service. Being in the City of Snakes may mean this doesn’t get your immediate sympathy but believe me, the misery those institutions create starts at their own front door.
The CAB sits on Ludgate Hill next to the ancient Stationers Hall on the way up to St Pauls in the very heart of the city. They provide employment, debt and welfare benefits advice, have outreach workers in the city’s housing estates and cancer wards at Barts Hospital. They have always taken on hundreds of cases a year – representing clients at employment tribunals, providing specialist advice face to face as well as over the phone and the internet. Pipal Associates have been providing their IT support for the last decade.
But they have lost their main contract to provide advice to City workers which will now be provided by Toynbee Hall (based in Tower Hamlets). Toynbee’s bid indicates that they will not be doing case-work themselves but will partner with Mary Ward Legal Centre (based in Camden) to do up to a paltry 50 cases a year. Their work will be mostly what is called ‘gateway’ sessions in the advice world.. like so much else – some management twonk has assessed that 70% (say) of all cases are matters of information and an assessment over the phone is all that’s needed before pointing the half-witted public in the right direction – no more costly face to face requirement.
If you think that the City is a special case.. look around. Birmingham central CAB has lost it’s funding and it set to close. Many, probably most other Citizen’s Advice services are cut all over London and staff are being made redundant.
When you factor in the imminent stopping of all legal aid for debt and welfare benefits work announced by Ken Clarke last year, you wonder how the CABs can provide the public with the advice they need to survive the economic misery ahead.