How to Respond to an Austerity Apologist.
By Ali Parker, Saunders Law.
The American film-maker and writer Michael Moore once wrote a brilliant chapter called “How to talk to your conservative brother-in-law”. Today, I will attempt to mirror that by talking to our chief opponents, namely those citing the need for austerity in legal aid spending.
The general election is in 11 weeks. It is high time to lay to rest the myth that further cuts to criminal legal aid is going to help the UK repay its debts. It makes me smile just to type out that theory. To state the obvious:
1) We have already endured hugely disproportionate austerity, and this started long before the financial crisis of 2008,
2) The amount of money being saved from us is so tiny in relative terms, it is like trimming your contents insurance by a tenner when you owe £75,000 in credit cards.
The golden rule: We must let no one tell us about austerity. We are austerity. We live it, we breathe it, we embody it. Here is why:
Because austerity is no fee increases since 1997, during which inflation eats away at your profit margins, finally stagnating and then downgrading your salaries.
Because austerity is £172million actual savings since 2012/3, way ahead of Mr Grayling’s scheduled £215million savings by 2018/19. Have you noticed he doesn’t mention that number anymore? See, now you’re getting it. Keep reading.
Because austerity is having no pension, no savings, relying on travel expenses and payday becoming an aspiration not a fixture. At the same time, the ‘too big to fail’ bank that refused your overdraft extension has not repaid its multi-billion government bailout but its senior officers still get seven figure bonuses.
Because austerity is having a spiralling tax bill but no disposable income, whilst the newly-appointed Solicitor General invests his savings in ‘Invicta Film Partnership No 25’, a scheme which was absolutely ‘not an attempt to avoid tax’. (I imagine his IFA had no idea about the tax break on this, so they just discussed the weather, the Big Society, things like that).
Because austerity is when the litigator fee for the entire work in preparing a 4-day trial for Assault occasioning ABH is less than the cost of a ticket to the Global Law Summit.
Because austerity is telling your lender that you've lots of exciting complex cases on, but no control over how much they're worth and, oh yes, the waiting time for these trials is now about 18 months.
Because austerity is a solicitor rushing from her home in Milton Keynes to reach a deserted iron barn AKA a ‘Metropolitan police custody centre’. Neither the solicitor nor the Met police is valued highly enough to afford real London property.
Because austerity is standing in the dark and drizzle outside one of these deserted 'custody centres' with a hole in your shoe and an out-of-date Snickers for your dinner (which was called a Marathon when you last got a pay rise).
Because austerity is duty solicitors now typically earning half the wage of London tube drivers, for no other reason than the latter know how to unite and to strike. (that’s a compliment, they deserve it).
Because austerity is shopping around for an expert witness who still dabbles in legal aid out of academic curiosity.
Because austerity is handing a carefully-worded Basis of Plea to a ‘Prosecuting case worker’ who pretends to know what it is, but then asks whether you are pleading guilty or not.
Because austerity is hearing that a Court interpreter was refused entry to Leicester Magistrates’ Court last week because he was so drunk. Quite literally out-sauced.
Because austerity is passionately applying for an adjournment to your trial, but being secretly relieved when it’s refused because at least your case might actually end, so you can bill it.
Because austerity is being told that external photocopying is capped at 5p per page, and the 28 lever arch files, plus tabs and dividers are 'general office overheads'. Never before did 'BYOB' mean 'bring your own binders'.
Because austerity is the fact that in legal aid these days, a ‘company car’ is actually when the entire company operates from inside a car.
Because austerity is knowing that if every public sector had endured what we have, there would have been (a) mass rioting and (b) a UK budget surplus roughly the size of Qatar.
Because austerity is seeing the careers advisor's patronising smile as he says 'Now, have you really thought that through?'
Because austerity is being a trainee solicitor and so losing your minimum salary rights just after your tuition fees got trebled.
Because austerity is trying to explain the benefits of legal aid work to a promising student but you can see her thinking 'Poor chap, I suppose it's too late for him'.
So when people glibly say legal aid lawyers need to adapt in line with 'austerity', we must reply: "Well, you either can't read, or can't count. We are austerity's blue-eyed boy, you utter pillock" (those last three words are optional but usually deserved).
Please, to all 'austerity' apologists out there with half a brain - enough of the fatuous comments about the 'bigger economic picture' as if you work for the UK Treasury. You don’t. Read the facts. Do the maths. You are supposed to be too smart to fall for this tosh. You are letting your justice system down.
The Tuesday Truth is that despite our campaigns, our principled rhetoric and our sabre-rattling about strikes, during this Parliament legal aid lawyers proved more austere than Mr Grayling could ever have dreamed of, and more efficient than attaching a waste disposal unit to his chin.