Increasing numbers of people in the United Kingdom find themselves needing advice and support in dealing with a growing range of problems. Whether it is a dispute with one’s employer, a stop on one’s benefit payments, an impending eviction, or a default on a debt, the background to this book is the rising number of individuals with ‘civil law’ issues that can rapidly lead to situations of crisis. These growing problems have a troubled relationship to the current period of ‘austerity’. Presented alongside an increasingly familiar narrative of ‘tightening our belts’ and ‘living within our means’, a series of policies pursued by UK governments since 2010 have intensified such problems, while the reductions in public funding that they have mandated, most notably to the Civil Legal Aid budget, have reduced the range and scope of many public organisations to offer advice or support. At the same time, there has been an expectation that voluntary organisations would somehow ‘fill the gap’ left by the withdrawal of public services – an expectation exemplified in David Cameron’s image of the ‘Big Society’. As a consequence, voluntary organisations providing advice and support find themselves at a particularly acute junction of these social and economic pressures – while facing problems of their own, not least reductions in their funding as the ‘austerity’ cuts work their way through the funding system.

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Advising in Austerity
Reflections on challenging times for advice agencies