Monday, 31 January 2011

Proposed legal aid cuts: Kalayaan's Kate Roberts speaks about the implications for migrant domestic workers

video 
The Government has issued proposals to make massive cuts to the Legal Aid Budget. If implemented this would include cutting all legal aid for immigration (other than asylum) and employment cases. 

The most vulnerable will be left with inadequate support to access the justice system, it would be very unlikely that migrant domestic workers who are  in trouble will be able to access justice.
 
The consultation can be found at http://www.justice.gov.uk/consultations/legal-aid-reform-151110.htm and the deadline for responses is the 14th February 2011. Please do respond, either on the government’s preferred form, or outlining your concerns in a letter.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Supporting MDWs - Sunday morning English classes

Maria's Sunday morning English class        
English class registration at the start of each term is always chaotic with 80 + workers coming to the centre to access classes. Our classes are so popular for several reasons; we run classes on Sunday when MDWs have time off; as well as running accredited (certificated) English classes together with the Workers Education Association (WEA) we also run classes taught by volunteers. This is important because government funding restrictions mean that anyone who has been in the UK for less than 3 years cannot access the WEA (or any college run) classes. However it is the most recently arrived workers who don’t speak English are the most vulnerable and who most need to learn English. English classes are also so popular because MDWs desperately want to learn English and really enjoy the classes. These are often the only time during the week when they have some time to themselves for personal development.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Proposed legal aid cuts: what these could mean for migrant domestic workers

The Government has issued proposals to make massive cuts to the Legal Aid Budget. If implemented this would include cutting all legal aid for immigration (other than asylum) and employment cases. The consultation can be found at http://www.justice.gov.uk/consultations/legal-aid-reform-151110.htm and the deadline for responses is the 14th February 2011. Please do respond, either on the government’s preferred form, or outlining your concerns in a letter.

Kalayaan gives basic immigration and employment advice to migrant domestic workers (MDWs) in the UK and as we are not funded by legal aid this direct advice work would not be affected. However none of the staff at Kalayaan are solicitors nor are we qualified, or legally able, to give more than very basic advice. We are very dependent on referrals to solicitors who are either funded by legal aid or work ‘pro bono’ (for free, in their own time). The proposed cuts would effectively put an end to the majority of referrals as those working pro bono are already overworked and would be completely swamped by the cases no longer dealt with under legal aid. If the cuts are implemented as proposed only those with extreme, and ‘attractive’ test cases are likely to find representation, or those who can pay for it. The most vulnerable will be left with inadequate support to access the justice system. 

MDWs seeking support at Kalayaan 
Kalayaan’s advice service is already stretched to its limits, as is that of the solicitors to whom we make referrals. There will be more pressure than ever for committed individuals in the legal services to take on cases for which they simply do not have the time or capacity, with potentially serious results as cases are not given the time they should be. Others will just be turned away. The most vulnerable, with the least connections or ability to pay would be very unlikely to be able to access justice. Cuts are also likely to result in an increase in unscrupulous individuals charging large amounts of money for very bad advice. This is already something we see too much of at Kalayaan with individuals coming to us in far more debt and often in a worse legal position than they would have been had they not taken the advice.

The Government suggests in its proposals that individuals be less quick to use the legal system, instead trying less formal resolutions. In the case of migrant domestic workers, who often have little if any education, and whose employers are frequently themselves legal professionals this is unrealistic. The power imbalances are extreme and there may have been years of psychological abuse making an unsupported challenge impossible.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Kalayaan's work

Disclaimer: Kalayaan provides a confidential advice service. To protect the confidentiality of the migrant domestic workers who come to Kalayaan for advice the names and any identifying features (such as names, nationalities and dates) have been changed.

Migrant domestic workers and staff at Kalayaan
One of the reasons Kalayaan is such an exciting place to work is the unpredictability of each day. In theory we plan the times we give advice and give appointments at specific times. In practise we are a small centre with an open door and people walk with ‘just a quick question’. If someone’s visa is about to expire, or they have just ‘run away’ from an employer and have nowhere to sleep that night, or an urgent issue has come up with the police, that is how we spend our day (migrant domestic workers are often reported as ‘missing’ when they leave an employer or have false accusations of theft made against them).

Today the phone was full of messages. Although the centre was open yesterday (Sunday) my colleagues who were in spent the day dealing with registering people for English classes so had no time to listen to the phone. Sundays are the day that there is most demand from migrant domestic workers (MDWs) for advice or other support such as English classes or help filling out forms or writing a letter or CV. This is because for most MDWs, Sunday is the only day they have off. We have tried running activities in the evenings but few MDWs can come to these as they are required to help with supper and / or putting children to bed.