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‘Inequalities from lockdown will get even worse,’ warns Norfolk legal charity

PUBLISHED: 14:13 05 July 2020 | UPDATED: 14:13 05 July 2020

Norfolk Community Law Service's Justice Bus which has been visiting foodbanks during the pandemic. Picture: NCLS

Norfolk Community Law Service's Justice Bus which has been visiting foodbanks during the pandemic. Picture: NCLS

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A charity which offers free legal advice to people in Norfolk has there is a risk of inequalities which have been worsened by the pandemic becoming “more entrenched” if action is not taken.

Jane Basham, chief executive officer of Norfolk Community Law Service. Picture: NCLSJane Basham, chief executive officer of Norfolk Community Law Service. Picture: NCLS

Norfolk Community Law Service (NCLS) provides specialist free legal advice on issues such as debt, welfare rights, immigration, domestic abuse, employment, discrimination and general matters.

Every year it helps more than 3,000 people.

Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic is has seen demand for its services dramatically increase, the greatest demand being in family and domestic abuse cases,

Jane Basham, chief executive of NCLS said: “In the first five weeks of lockdown our domestic abuse cases had doubled. This includes women whose precarious immigration status means they are destitute and trapped with their abuser. Increasingly the impact of furlough and redundancy is having a huge impact and we are worried that the recommencement of sanctions for people unable to work in receipt of social security (otherwise known as benefits) will plunge even more people into increased poverty.”

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She said in response to the circumstances created by lockdown NCLS had altered how it operates for example by visiting foodbanks with its Justice Bus.

Ms Basham said while in many cases the pandemic had “brought out the best in people”, it had “also presented opportunities for those seeking to exploit people’s vulnerabilities.”

“Inequalities have worsened during the pandemic. People from Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities have been particularly adversely affected- racial inequality is a social determinant of health.

“We have also heard harrowing stories of racism directly linked to the pandemic. Women, young people and people with disabilities have also been more adversely affected.

“The strategic plan for Norfolk as we emerge from this pandemic must address these inequalities or they will simply become more entrenched,” she said.

Ms Basham said NCLS was also concerned about securing funding to ensure it was able to help people face the long term impacts of coronavirus, she said: “Legal problems are complex and specialist advice up to and including representation in court is necessary for people to access justice. We worry how we will able to deliver all the unmet legal need.”


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