Author(s): Faith Gordon
This research explores legal need and legal advice in England and Wales, during the COVID19 pandemic. It uses a theoretical understanding of vulnerability to examine the ways in which this crisis has in practice exposed several pre-existing fragilities in the relationship between the state, the advice sector, and individuals who experience social welfare problems. Our research commences by exploring the concept of vulnerability. In this part, we discuss three things: firstly, the broad range of ways in which vulnerability is experienced by those experiencing social welfare-related issues, secondly, how the idea of vulnerability is often used under austerity-informed policies to identify a limited class of people who are in need ofsocial welfare, and thirdly, the vulnerability of the systemsthemselves which support those individuals through the provision of legal advice. Our research then considers the specific context of the COVID-19 pandemic: it interrogates how social distancing and lockdown measures, in combination with the threat of the virus itself, have compounded the existing fragilities within this relationship.
Drawing on policy documents, reports and three case studies accessed from law centres in England and Wales, it discusses the concept of legal need, and demonstrates how the pandemic has transformed the way that social welfare law needs are experienced, as well as impaired the ability of the sector to meet these needs. These case studies assist us in being able to critically consider the topics of vulnerability, changing needs and the role that technology is playing, and can play, during the pandemic and beyond. Lastly, on the basis of these findings, our research advocates a critical consideration of the sustainability and format of legal advice in addressing legal need in the post-COVID-19 landscape. Drawing on examples of technology being utilised in legal advice sectors in other jurisdictions; this paper considers the future potential of technology for addressing legal need in England and Wales. This is important given that the sector continues to be left vulnerable to funding cuts, and at the same time, society is predicted to experience a continued increase in legal need post-pandemic.