This week chancellor George Osborne received a bloody nose from charities which estimate their finances will be hard hit by his decision to place a cap on tax relief for charitable donations. His move may or may not be right in principle. But as with the coalition’s approach to legal services, Osborne’s move on these funds harms the very not-for-profit ‘Big Society’ efforts that can help meet unmet need. LawWorks has been a vocal critic of the assaults on social welfare law that the legal aid cuts represent. Supported in its line by leading commercial law firms, the pro bono clearing house points out that the voluntary efforts lawyers make in meeting unmet need depend on the existence of a viable community of social welfare lawyers, supported by legal aid. In other words, lawyer foot soldiers of the Big Society need a state-maintained road to march on. In other areas of voluntary activity, it has been proposed that greater engagement can be generated by lowering safety standards. Understandably though, volunteer lawyers are not willing to give advice they regard as ‘unsafe’ – not least when there may literally be no one else to pick up the pieces. Here, at least, the Big Society cannot be both free and safe.
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