8: Drawing the Threads Together

Throughout the book, the authors have drawn out the themes of precarity and pragmatism. In this chapter, they explore the existing literature but find that this does not fully capture the realities of how EU migrant workers and their advisers tackle their problems. They introduce a fresh theoretical framework: ‘pragmatic law’ which examines how actors operate within a problem situation in which law features but is largely unacknowledged. It addresses the understanding that a person has a problem that needs to be resolved, but responds to the problem outside the traditional pathways of justice. It is pragmatism against the background of the law. It is attractively simple – it gets things done. But it also carries risks that systemic issues, such as poor-quality housing or bullying and discrimination at work, are not challenged and addressed. But the benefits are also considerable, as it provides help to ‘hard-to-reach’ communities using a resolution-focused, holistic approach, and it does so at low(er) cost, often in locations where there is no formal legal help to be had.

A. Introduction

Through our work in Great Yarmouth, we have sought to understand, first, the lives of EU migrant workers living and working there and, second, the daily problems they face and how they handle them. For the EU migrant worker population in Great Yarmouth, that may involve engagement with GYROS, the frontline advice charity we have been working with. This has enabled us, third, to analyse the relationship between EU migrant workers and the advisers at GYROS, giving us insights into not only the approaches that the workers and advisers take to resolving problems, but also the role of the law and of law enforcement. What has become clear is that the ‘law’, as recognized and understood by lawyers, plays a limited role in the resolution of most problem situations EU migrant workers are facing. The response by GYROS advisers is pragmatic and focused on finding solutions, rather than on enforcing legal rights via traditional legal resolution pathways; we term this ‘pragmatic law’. This approach, therefore, differs from the traditional literature addressing legal consciousness or access to justice.

As we have seen, the lives of low-paid EU migrant workers are characterized by precarity in the form of lack of regular employment and secure housing as well as the experience of debt and ill health. These problems often cluster together.1 They are exacerbated by the need to produce paperwork for proof of residence – ‘bureaucratic bordering’ in the jargon2 – to obtain access to rights. The problems are often legal in nature but they are not perceived as such by either the migrant workers or the advisers. The response by those workers to problems is often strikingly pragmatic: seeking to resolve the immediate issue rather than dealing with it through express recourse to legal rights or processes. Our earlier work showed that EU migrant workers were largely not taking cases to employment tribunals.3 We suspected this was partly because there were barriers to doing so: language difficulties, unfamiliarity with UK systems and rights, fear of retribution, and cost. Our research in Great Yarmouth has revealed another dimension: that people are in fact accessing help for their problems, but they are seeking resolution ‘at source’.4 Further, their advisers, GYROS in this instance, are responding in the same vein: calling employers to sort out problems or helping clients find new jobs or new housing; or helping clients resolve debt issues. This approach is pragmatic; using interventions that are often effective for the individual and a relatively ‘quick fix’, but rarely go near formal dispute resolution pathways. Pragmatism, at least as we see it among GYROS’ staff, is the response to the (legal) problems that are generated in part by the precarious lives lived by EU migrant workers. We explore these themes further in Section B.

The question, then, is how to think about what we see in our data. As noted in Chapter 1, while there are notable literature and expertise in law, legal studies, anthropology, sociology, critical legal studies and socio-legal studies that touch on the themes we have identified – and from which we have very much benefitted – ultimately, we have not been able to find a suitable framing within the existing literature on which to ‘hang’ our study. We explore that literature and identify its limitations in relation to our data (Section C), then set out our pitch for a fresh theoretical framing, based on the idea of pragmatic law, to describe and analyse the pragmatic solutions to legal issues seen at street level in Great Yarmouth (Section D). We find this framing useful not merely because it helps to describe what we see but also as it offers a prism through which to analyse the benefits and the risks of this approach to resolving legal problems.

B. Overarching themes

1. Precarity

1.1 Precarity and precariousness

The experiences of EU migrant workers described in this book highlight the reality of precarity ‘and its companion precariousness’.5 Standing identifies a new ‘class-in-the-making’ in society – the ‘precariat’ – defined as those for whom

[it] is not just a matter of having insecure employment, of being in jobs of limited duration and with minimal labour protection, although all this is widespread. It is being in a status that offers no sense of career, no sense of secure occupational identity and few, if any, entitlements to the state and enterprise benefits.6

He recognizes migrants as one group within this emerging class. Vosko says that for migrant workers, this precarity is ‘characterised by uncertainty, low income, and limited social benefits and statutory entitlement’.7 Low-skilled work sectors8 and the use of work agencies to find work9 have been found to increase precarity.

These issues are echoed in our research: many of GYROS’ clients and our interviewees found themselves in insecure work, uncertain accommodation and with limited access to welfare benefits. Those employed by temporary work agencies found themselves in a worse position compared to those directly employed by the factories they worked in, whether due to inferior equipment (Edita wanting her own (non-communal) wellies,10 agency workers in our focus group wanting better PPE) or clients of GYROS not receiving payslips and having difficulties getting regular shifts.11

We would add that immigration status operates as an additional feature of precarity. As we have seen, having pre-settled or settled status acts as a gateway to employment, housing and welfare benefits; conversely not having either of these operates as a further factor in precarity. Moreover, we identified different levels of precarity – those with pre-settled status face much greater precarity than those with settled status. We look at this in more detail in the next section through the lens of bureaucratic bordering.

1.2 Bureaucratic bordering

Bureaucratic bordering12 – that is, the requirement for paperwork to access rights – is most starkly seen in data relating to the EUSS. We have seen how those in insecure work and informal rental arrangements find it difficult to prove their residence in the UK because they do not have a paper trail of payslips or tenancy agreements. Manolova says: ‘The concept of “bureaucratic bordering” demonstrates precisely these mundane, non-spectacular, non-noticeable ways in which the techniques of migration management encapsulate migrants’ existence.’13 And it is not just about obtaining migration status; having pre-settled or settled status affects GYROS’ clients’ ability to apply for Universal Credit.

Sometimes the work of GYROS’ advisers is anticipatory, aiming to avoid these very ‘bureaucratic’ problems. For example, as we saw in Chapter 7, GYROS advisers ask each client if they are registered with a GP, irrespective of the nature of the initial enquiry. For those who are not registered, help to find a GP is given straightaway or through a follow-up appointment. This not only addresses the client’s healthcare needs, but also acts as evidence of residence for EUSS or welfare benefit applications.

As GYROS clients face up to these bureaucratic requirements, they can become frustrated with the advisers. In a focus group in November 2021, one GYROS adviser said that for some clients, advisers become the ‘face’ of statutory bureaucracy, as they translate and communicate decisions and delays. Some advisers felt vulnerable to bearing the brunt of clients’ disappointment and anger with government systems.

‘I mean, sometimes you get … when you’re working with people who would just, they’re so backed into a corner through no fault of their own, and they’ve been working, you know, and they’ve got family to feed, and they’ve just … something’s gone wrong in the process. There’s sometimes quite a lot of anger. And who can blame them? Because they’re scared. They don’t know what’s going to happen. But I think that staff know how to defuse it.’14

Bureaucratic bordering is a factor in problem clustering to which we now turn.

1.3 Problem clustering

(a) Why do problems cluster?

Those living precarious lives face multiple challenges: they work in low-paid, precarious jobs, usually also claiming in-work benefits. Often they live in poor-quality and, in some cases, overcrowded accommodation. If there is little work, they cannot pay the rent, so they get into debt to pay the money owed. If they become ill, possibly because of their poor-quality accommodation, they cannot work and cannot pay the debts. It is therefore unsurprising that the most commonly clustered issues in the GYROS database were to do with welfare benefits, employment, debt and housing. Clients rarely attended GYROS for just one issue or only once – even a single issue may take several appointments to resolve.

Other advice agencies see this too. A representative of the local Citizens Advice said:

‘Most of the time, they do come in with one issue. As you explore the issue for them, you … find out that there’s so many other things attached to it. And it’s just one of the things we do as advisers when we are speaking to a client who, for instance, has had a relationship breakdown. You want to explore issues like, okay, do you work? Have you got any children? If the person has worked … can [they] have any benefits? That opens another chapter, because then you’re going to say, okay, what are you entitled to, how, what options are available to you? And then you also think about, okay, work, do they want to go back into work? If that’s the case, then you’re talking about employment and then most of the time, sometimes it’s a divorce, so you need to go through supporting them through the divorce … but most of the time, it just opens up so many other things.’15

Irina’s case (Box 8.1) provides a good example of this ‘Russian doll’ effect where the more the advisers engage with the clients and develop trust, the more issues come to light.

Box 8.1: Irina’s story

Irina16 is a 55-year-old Lithuanian single parent of two who arrived in the UK in 2016. She accessed help from GYROS in 2017. According to the GYROS case notes, she presented because she ‘received TC [tax credit] annual review. I helped client to set up personal tax account in order to file review online.’ A week later she returned, saying her son was unwell. GYROS helped her to phone her GP to set up an appointment and then accompanied the family to the appointment. Irina came to GYROS again two weeks later, this time saying that she was depressed, that her husband had died two years before and she was struggling. GYROS again helped her get assistance from her GP. She then said she had issues with her eyesight; GYROS helped her access her GP and then get specialist eye treatment.

Six weeks after Irina’s initial meeting, she came to GYROS once more. [As we saw in Chapter 6,] Client came in with a full bag of unopened envelopes from various utility companies, debt collectors, the Council, the GP, the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, and the TV licensing. The adviser asked why she had ignored the letters. She said that “she doesn’t understand and was wrongly advised [to] ignore letters as she already pays the rent and does not need to pay any utilities. Client also mentioned that it is due to low mood and lack of motivation following bereavement of her husband.”

Irina also told the adviser that in November 2016 she had bought a car from her son and asked a work colleague to help her get car insurance:

Client said that everyone at her work (factory) goes to this person when they need car insurance, he charges £30 per policy. Client was stopped by police in Dec[ember] 2016 as driving without insurance and as a result car was seized. Someone from work advised client to go to her bank to stop direct debit for car tax as she no longer has the car.

The adviser noted:

During the walk-in her son was repeatedly saying to client – “didn’t I tell you.” I suspect that client is unable to manage due to her mental well-being. I assured her that I will help her to resolve debt issues. I also advised her to come to walk-ins when unsure about the letters, most important not to ignore them.

GYROS undertook intensive work with Irina over the next six months, negotiating payment schedules with water and credit companies, the council (over Council Tax arrears) and the DVLA. The process was slow. The case notes show Irina was unable to answer some of the security questions due to her limited English. Her debts increased when she missed payments and late payment charges were added by various agencies, including an £80 late payment fee from the DVLA and another one from Barclays bank. The client had various summons letters that had to be dealt with, and court fees were added to her debts. Alongside these debts, GYROS continued to help Irina with appointments for her eyesight and mental health. The advisers also helped her navigate the UK school system, including assisting her older child to register for a secondary school place. The notes said: I translated few letters from the school regarding open day at music college and trip there. Also, client’s son has received a letter for excellent behaviour and studies at school asking to keep this letter and use it with any future school applications.’

Irina’s case (Box 8.1) is an example of how problems cluster.17 Clients often ignore problems that raise the emotional temperature or cause anxiety and stress.18 This can result in mental health issues and other negative health outcomes,19 loss of confidence, financial loss and the loss of security and comfort.20 Perceived stigma around debt can drive people to avoid the issue, and fear of the consequences, especially the potential impact on their job prospects, can influence whether, and how, work-related issues are addressed.21 Citizens Advice see this too:

‘Yeah, it is usually when the problem has already started, when it’s overwhelming them at that point, or when they can’t do anything themselves anymore. When they’ve got, for instance, if they’ve got bailiffs at their door, okay? That’s when they come and say “I’ve got bailiffs, I don’t know what to do” or “I’ve got a letter saying if I don’t do this …”, you know, so hardly would you find a client who was coming in, anticipating the problem and saying: “Well, this has happened. I think this is going to be a problem and I want to nip it in the bud.”’22

Behind the arrival of the bailiffs, there will have been an unpaid debt which itself may find its root in unemployment, welfare benefit problems and housing issues; with the unpaid debt having grown, the addition of fines making the debt even bigger.

It is not just the clustering of problems but also the lack of knowledge about UK administrative and legal systems which causes difficulty for recently (or not so recently) arrived migrant workers, as does having limited English language skills and no social network to help navigate the legal process.23 Further, GYROS’ clients lack digital skills: 60 per cent of GYROS’ clients rated their IT skills at less than 5 out of 10 (with 10 being the highest skill level). This makes it difficult for them to gain access to online Universal Credit journals, remember security questions, receive codes via email and maintain access to the same email addresses or phone numbers.

Some of these issues were faced by one woman who accessed GYROS, struggling to understand how systems like Universal Credit interact with her rent payments:

Client said that she made a claim for UC [Universal Credit] and had already received a UC payment. Client wanted to know if UC payment was made towards her rent or not and added that she is in rent arrears. Client’s landlord is GYBC [Great Yarmouth Borough Council] and according to client, she went to council to discuss this issue but could not understand what she needed to pay in fact: if rent will be paid or not by her housing UC payment or if Council will be the one doing it.24

The GYROS adviser explained:

when we make a UC [Universal Credit] claim, HB [Housing Benefit] will be paid by UC/DWP [Department for Work and Pensions] not the Council. The only thing Council helps with is with the [C]ouncil [T]ax (CTX reduction) payments. I called rent team and talked to adviser who explained that client had rent arrears in the amount of £361.51. The weekly rent is £79.67 but as client is in arrears if client can pay £20 towards the arrears it would be better.

Sandefur notes that ‘socio-economic inequalities become justice inequalities’.25 This is because vulnerable and marginalized groups are both more likely to experience justiciable problems, as well as being more likely to experience adverse consequences because of these problems.26 Our data confirms this.

(b) ‘Legal’ nature of the ‘problems’

People, like Irina, come to GYROS with carrier bags of ‘problems’. The client would like a resolution to all their problems and there is little, if any, distinction as to what is legal and what is not. They seek, and GYROS provides, a holistic service to resolve the issues in their carrier bags. There clearly are ‘legal’ issues woven through the problems facing EU migrant workers, such as the lack of payslips despite the right to them, the poor quality of housing despite housing laws entitling tenants to minimum standards, and the lack of protection from eviction despite legislative procedural safeguards. However, as we have noted throughout the book, the problems are not understood as ‘legal’ by EU migrant workers; nor do GYROS’ advisers address the issues as legal rights to be pursued, let alone taken to the courts. The advisers are acutely conscious that they lack fluency across relevant rights and legislation.

Once a client accesses the service, the problem is recorded and reported in the GYROS database, and in this way, it is formalized. As we have outlined, although GYROS staff are not legal advisers, their resolution of problems is influenced or affected by the law (sometimes directly, as in housing and immigration; sometimes more indirectly, as in access to healthcare and education). However, the case notes reveal that the advice given does not seek to dissect and apply the law; nor does it identify the strengths and weaknesses of the migrant worker’s rights and responsibilities in ways that trained lawyers might do. Rather, the advice is pragmatic and focused on, as in Irina’s case, finding a single or multiple resolutions. Legal pathways are seen (often by adviser and client) as out of reach (the East of England is a legal advice desert with little provision), too slow (for workers who need to be working and ‘exercising their treaty rights’) and too difficult to meet the bureaucratic evidence thresholds needed (due to bureaucratic bordering). For these reasons, pragmatism prevails.

2. Pragmatism

2.1 The ‘how’

As we have seen in earlier chapters, both EU migrant workers themselves and GYROS advisers adopted pragmatic solutions to the problems brought to GYROS. If clients faced difficulties at work, the response was generally not to tackle those issues head-on but to get the clients to find other jobs – through help with writing CVs, for instance. The advisers may even write letters to the employers addressing the issues clients present. Similarly, when there are problems with accommodation, residents would take it upon themselves to carry out any necessary work; as we saw in the House, residents improved and renovated parts of the House rather than challenging the landlord to address his responsibilities for the upkeep of the premises.

Clients often initially came to GYROS for help sorting out problems with paperwork. As in Irina’s case, the advisers’ interventions were swift and practical: ringing the relevant services, attempting to unpick the issues and trying to plan repayment schedules. Early intervention is more likely to prevent issues spiralling, as identifying small debts that have accrued and resolving the underlying welfare benefits issues is likely to avoid the much bigger problem of court involvement in the debts. These are pragmatic actions to find practical solutions to the problems. As noted earlier, GYROS’ advisers also tried to avoid future problems by getting clients to register with a GP, checking on their EUSS status, helping them apply for a National Insurance number and updating any change of circumstances on their Universal Credit journals to prevent overpayments being made, avoid debt building up and avert the involvement of bailiffs and the courts. Genn notes the value of this type of support: ‘legal problems create or exacerbate ill health and that ill health creates problems for which the law provides solutions’.27

GYROS’ intervention also spans a range of issues. For Irina, these were debt, insurance and schooling. A similar range of interventions can be seen in Angela’s case (Box 8.2).

Box 8.2: Angela’s story
Angela, 39, is a Portuguese national. She has limited English language skills. She came to the UK in 2009 and worked full-time until 2016, when her son had a serious accident. GYROS’ case notes report: ‘her son was riding his bike and was hit by a car and had suffered severe brain damage. He was in the hospital in a coma for some time.’ During this period, Angela accrued significant debts.

18/04/2017 (Walk-in) … as client has been off work since September 2016 her employer is requesting her to come to a meeting on 20/04/2017 or client can be facing a dismissal for misconduct. I called the employer and spoke with [name removed] who advised me to write a letter to employer explaining the situation. Employer said they want to resolve this situation as they cannot wait for client to return back to work much longer. I said I would write a letter today and post it. Client was ok with this.

GYROS also helped Angela with applications for Universal Credit (which she later received) and the Personal Independence Payment. GYROS chased up the Personal Independence Payment application after a six-week wait. GYROS also looked at her debts.

30/03/17 – client has debt with CT [Council Tax] which is already with bailiffs and water debt. I did a financial statement with client and will speak with DIAL [local debt charity] to make an appointment for a DRO [debt relief order].

25/05/17 – client said that she made an agreement with [named debt agency] to pay £20 [per month] towards her debt with GYBC [Great Yarmouth Borough Council] for CT [Council Tax]. I went through her personal budget and referred her again into DIAL [local debt charity].28

A GYROS adviser accompanied Angela to DIAL to act as translator. After this intensive period of work with Angela, GYROS did not see her again for two years, at which time she returned to seek help to deal with her employer again.

3/07/2019 Client has a son with special needs and would like to reduce her working hours. I explained that I could write a letter to her employer, as well as proof of son’s disability and that she could present the letter to her employer. Client was ok with this solution.

The holistic service of the kind offered to Irina and Angela does not fit within the traditional legal model of specialization (for example, family law or criminal law), but it is common in generalist advice services. The GYROS advisers acted as trusted friends and took on several different roles within their work, ranging across translator (for language needs),29 caseworker, support worker, advocate,30 donor (providing, on occasion, money or a phone) and emergency service provider of food and shelter. This assistance was grounded in a strong relationship between the worker and adviser, arising from the fact that many of the advisers themselves are migrant workers who have taken the same journey as their clients, through low-paid work and precarious accommodation to a more stable, secure position.

This holistic, pragmatic service is what clients want, with 97 per cent rating the service 10 out of 10 (10 being the highest level).31 The comments on GYROS’ feedback forms are equally positive: ‘You are the only ones who care and try and help me, so big thank you.’32 Even where clients did not rate GYROS so highly, this was usually because they did not achieve the outcome they wanted, rather than poor performance on the part of GYROS’ advisers. The reasons they did not get the desired outcome were: bureaucratic systems – such as the Home Office system for the EUSS and the Department for Work and Pensions system for Universal Credit and National Insurance – and the client not having the relevant log-in information or correct paperwork; client ineligibility – for example, for Universal Credit or housing support; and system delays, such as Home Office’s delays in making decisions or receipt of National Insurance numbers.

2.2 The ‘why’

Parallels have been drawn between the role fulfilled by community-based advisers and that of the street-level bureaucrats of Lipsky’s seminal work in the 1980s.33 For Lipsky, street-level bureaucrats act as gatekeepers to, for example, housing and welfare provision and exercise their discretion (or not) at street level as they interpret, implement and navigate national policy each day. Community-based advisers act as ‘community brokers’,34 translating and navigating sometimes ‘Kafkaesque bureaucracy’35 and, as Forbess and James describe, ‘a labyrinthine multiplicity of different agencies’36 (see Section C.3.2).

So why do EU migrant workers in Great Yarmouth turn to GYROS rather than to Citizens Advice or a local solicitor or a law centre adviser? Research indicates that awareness of advice services is based on prior contact with an advice service, the age of the client, their education level and the language spoken at home,37 this last point being of particular relevance to EU migrant workers in Great Yarmouth, who can receive help in their own language from GYROS advisers. Equally, within their general advice, a person’s immigration status underpins all inquiries (on housing, employment and so on); GYROS can also offer specialist advice on immigration. Mainstream advisers without specialist immigration knowledge cannot help their clients in the same way, or they may provide general advice without the lens of immigration status through which all general advice to migrants should be filtered. This also helps explain why 15 or 30 minutes advice from local solicitors may be of little use: the solicitors lack the immigration expertise and clients cannot afford any further advice. We return to this later in the chapter.

For many, the reality is that community-based advice, if it exists in their area at all, is their best and likely only option, because there is very limited legally aided advice. The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO)38 came into effect in April 2013. The Act significantly changed the scope of legal aid availability in England and Wales, listing the limited areas that were in scope for legal aid, reversing the previous position of legal aid being available unless excepted. This had a particular impact on civil and family matters, with housing, welfare benefits and employment matters all removed from the scope of legal aid – the very issues that, as we showed in chapters 4, 5 and 6, affect EU migrant workers. The government’s own equality impact assessment of the LASPO acknowledged that the changes to legal aid provision ‘had a more significant impact on women and individuals from an ethnic minority background’.39

With funding no longer available,40 another impact of LASPO was to create/exacerbate ‘legal advice deserts’, now commonplace in the UK’s current legal landscape:41 ‘more than half of the 97 legal advice centres operating in 2013 [had] closed by early 2020’.42 There is some legal aid in Norwich for the services provided by Shelter (see Chapter 5), with the equivalent of 3.5 full-time staff serving three separate courts.43 Norwich also hosts a law centre: Norfolk Community Law Centre.44 It runs a monthly free legal advice clinic in Great Yarmouth, where clients can access 15 minutes of free legal advice from a solicitor or barrister, who give their time pro bono.45 Some private solicitors in Great Yarmouth also offer a free initial appointment lasting 30 minutes. However, the experience of GYROS’ staff is that in general a 30-minute session with a private provider does not work:
GYROS adviser 1:‘Family law. Would refer into 30 min[ute]s free advice. But you do ask yourself will that do what is needed? Thirty min[ute]s [of] free advice? Legal advice is a luxury for people who have money. And sometimes the wait is impossible when someone needs advice.’
GYROS adviser 2:‘Often with free legal advice, clients will come back and say no one contacted them.’46

This suggests that one potential role of these community advice organizations – to filter cases which might not need formal legal intervention47 but refer those that do – is ruled out because of the absence of a meaningful legal route. This suggests that pragmatic problem resolution, offered by GYROS and described throughout this book, is and will continue to be the main source of support offered to EU migrant workers in Great Yarmouth.

C. Existing literature on the everyday

1. Introduction

We are, of course, not the first to examine everyday law. As Cowan and Wincott point out, the notion of everyday law has almost become a cliché. They note the ‘ubiquity paradox’ – the claim that law is everywhere to the point it becomes meaningless.48 That said, there has been much scholarship focusing on the everyday49 as a useful lens through which to understand people’s experiences of both law and existing power structures.50 However, we want to argue that much of the existing literature is still focused on the access to justice pathways within the formal legal system. It does not consider sufficiently those outside the established pathways; specifically, it does not help frame the problems and the response to the problems faced by low-paid EU migrant workers in Great Yarmouth.

To explain what we mean, we look at the ‘pyramid of resolution pathways’ (see Figure 8.1), itself derived from Braithwaite’s pyramid of responsive regulation.51 Generally, lawyers and (much of) the current literature think that (legal) problems start to be resolved when people seek legal advice, often from those who are legally qualified (levels C, D and perhaps E in Figure 8.1) while some progress into more informal resolution processes such as alternative dispute resolution (ADR) – in some areas, like education, this is required – and others travel towards more formal resolution in the lower courts and then on to the higher courts (with a presumption of a linear and natural progression upwards), with fewer and fewer cases rising to each level until only a select few reach the higher courts (level A in Figure 8.1). Those higher courts, sitting at the apex of the legal pyramid, hear difficult, highly refined points of law, often a long way from the murkiness of law and fact in dispute in the first instance courts. A.W.B Simpson talks of the ‘economic simplification’ of the lower courts. This simplification is needed for both practical and economic purposes, because the higher courts are extremely complex, highly professionalized, formal institutions.52

A 3-D pyramid chart illustrates the resolution pathways.
Figure 8.1:

Pyramid of resolution pathways: how problems and cases can progress

The legal literature tends to focus on what is happening at levels A and B (lower courts and possibly higher courts), as well as how disputes are managed through formal ADR (see Section 2). However, ‘very few legal problems see a lawyer and fewer still see a courtroom’.53 According to Merry,54 this is particularly the case with newcomers (especially migrants) who do not feel as entitled to use the courts as others. She found that court use tended to be by people who had already lived for one or two generations in the United States (where the study occurred). We argue that, in reality, everyday life (and everyday law) happens outside the upper levels of the pyramid. What happens, then, to those people who face difficulties?

As Genn notes, there are the ‘lumpers’, who decide to do nothing. There are still others who may seek legal advice from a law centre (Level D) if they are fortunate to have one, or from a Citizens Advice office (Level E). They may even go to see a solicitor (Level C), for which they may have to pay. Crucially, those accessing services at Level E (and above) may think that they have a legal problem (see sections 3 and 4). This does not address the position of those in our research cohort.

We would suggest that there is a layer in between the bottom of the pyramid and the lumpers. These are the ‘talkers’, who might talk to – and seek advice from – family and friends about a particular problem (Level G). But just above that layer, we find frontline advice organizations such as GYROS (Level F). Clients may approach these organizations when they have a problem or perhaps several problems (which they may or may not think of as a legal problem). These organizations respond by focusing on problem resolution, either helping clients address their own problems or doing it for them, often across several interconnected (legal and non-legal) domains, as we saw in the case of Irina and Angela. These frontline organizations sit at the very bottom of the pyramid, and are possibly even pre pyramid, with a role that is characterized by ‘conceptual murkiness’.55 It is this level that we argue is not well recognized by the current literature, to which we now turn.

2. Legal approach

Lawyers, especially academic doctrinal lawyers, work from a body of precedent, rules and principles applied to legal problems put before them.56 In legal academic work, the individual is largely removed from the picture and the focus is on the legal issue. As David Engel graphically puts it, ‘law academics generally prefer to pitch their tents in the shadow of the Supreme Court than on the main street or in urban or suburban neighbourhoods.’57 In this understanding, ‘the law’ is almost a completely self-contained discipline; legal problems are refined into complex legal arguments and frequently take place at a significant distance from the broader context of the initial enquiry. This doctrinal approach is furthest away from the everyday law and street-level community advisers that have been the focus of this book.

Nevertheless, there are a number of legal theorists who have recognized that doctrine alone is not enough to understand the role of law and that, crucially, context and social facts are paramount.58 Galligan says that ‘while legal theory is a good starting point, it is only a starting point [to understand] law in society’.59 Legal realism and law in society research seek to understand law in action and chart gaps in reality between the law in action and law on the books. Sarat and Kearns describe the ‘great divide’ between legal theorists, who see law as ultimately external to the social practices it regulates, and those who take a constitutive view, believing that law permeates society and is not external to it.60 A constitutive approach has roots in legal realism, requiring that cases should not be decided formalistically but instead with ‘an eye towards how law could and would be used in everyday life’.61 Despite the important strand of law and society literature (section 4), most legal scholarship still focuses on ‘official law’62 and formal legal structures and adjudication rather than law at everyday, street level. That said, the role of street-level legal advisers is well known, through community lawyering and law centres providing free legal advice, initially substantially funded through legal aid provision. However, as noted LASPO cut large areas from legal aid when it came into force on 1 April 2013. Ten years on (2023), ‘the number of advice agencies and law centres doing legally aided work has fallen by 59 per cent’.63 The Law Society’s data shows 84 per cent of people (53 million people) in England and Wales do not have access to a legally aided welfare law advice provider, and 66 per cent (39 million people) do not have access to a legally aided immigration law advice provider.64 Nevertheless, some continue to operate through a mix of voluntary donations and various other funds offered by government departments, which they must compete for. These community lawyers (broadly defined) and law centres often work beyond individual issues to advocate and campaign for changes in the law and policy. However, the obvious ‘law-led’ focus of law centres and community lawyers divides this group from the (non-legally trained) community advisers of our study.

3. Anthropology

3.1 Legal anthropology

Legal anthropologists have traditionally offered an ethnographic and qualitative focus on the field of everyday law, examining, for example, ordinary people’s experiences of the lower courts (Figure 8.1, Level B),65 as opposed to the higher-level courts (Level A). Here the experience, perception and legal consciousness of individuals is of paramount importance as they traverse and interact with the lower courts. This research has a strong focus on the language used by litigants, to capture ‘uncontaminated’66 or ‘folk versions’67 of problems. It identifies how ordinary people perceive their legal problems (their ‘legal consciousness’) and what their experiences are of using a court to solve their everyday problems. The ethnographic legal consciousness research hypothesizes that by examining the kinds of problems people bring to a court, it is possible to see what categories and meanings of the law they use to frame their experiences so that those experiences appear ‘relevant’ to the law.68 This allows conclusions to be drawn about the location of the hypothetical boundary between ‘law’ and ‘not law’ in individuals’ minds.69 Scholars speak about the metamorphosis of language that occurs, illustrated by a person having a ‘problem’ and seeing a legal professional; the ‘problem’ becomes a ‘case’; and sometimes the ‘case’ moves into a courtroom and becomes a ‘dispute’.70 This is neatly captured by Felstiner et al’s famous ‘naming, blaming, claiming’ triad:71 not only does the terminology change along the way, but so does the telling of the story or problem, with it being reshaped and refined to fit within the more formal established legal structure and precedent.72 Simultaneously the legal consciousness of the individual who has the problem has grown, adapted and developed during this process of change.

Conley and O’Barr identify two approaches people take in bringing a dispute before the small claims court in America.73 The first group is made up of those who are ‘relational-orientated’ – they place great importance on the social context and ‘relational’ history of their dispute. The second group is made up of those who are more ‘rule-orientated’ – they focus on the rules which apply to the dispute.74 Because courts themselves are more ‘rule-orientated’, individuals in this second group are better able to access the justice system, because they can frame their legal issues to engage with legal systems more strategically. Conley and O’Barr therefore argue that those in the first group are effectively silenced and this is deeply entangled with gender, class and race.75 Similarly, Merry in her courtroom-based work, notes that ‘folk-concepts’ of problems are often too emotional or intense for the formal courtroom structure and judges are ill-equipped to deal with social problems when their training is to deal with legal problems.76

Cowan and Halliday, on the other hand, focus on why people are not taking cases to court and the (non)emergence of disputes.77 Their ethnographic study seeks to understand why homeless people in two local authority areas were not appealing housing decisions and so why disputes did not emerge. Although legal representation was rare in their dataset, where it existed, it made a positive difference to the applicant’s chance of success. Their research shows that advice was taken from ‘non-legal audiences’ (for example, from councillors, Members of Parliament, doctors, family, friends, project workers – Figure 8.1, Level G), and this was much more likely to be accessed than legal advice. Community advice agencies like GYROS were not recorded in their dataset.78

The legal anthropological literature also contributes significant analysis of legal consciousness and the journey of individuals through the court system. Therefore, its focus is higher up the pyramid than where our data is situated. This ‘critical legal consciousness’ research still puts the law in the foreground – the importance of the law is presumed; it is front and centre.79 This distinguishes legal consciousness literature from what we see in our data, where law is at most in the background and rarely formally discussed. Some legal consciousness scholars recognize this. For example, Hertogh argues that many are ‘turning away from the law’, that the law is becoming more irrelevant to people’s everyday lives. He says the more pertinent question (which relates to what he calls ‘secular legal consciousness’ research) is ‘if and how law matters in everyday life’.80

Similarly, in our data, it is often not about how individuals engage, define or use the law; rather, it is about their awareness that they have a problem which needs resolving. There is no narrative of ‘rights’ or ‘law’ at all, and the advisers think the same way. The help GYROS offers is practical, urgent and necessary. Neither clients nor advisers wish to initiate a formal pathway to justice, with the often slow and onerous steps that might entail. In other words, there is a divide between, on the one hand, those using and working in the upper levels of the pyramid (and those describing their work) and, on the other, those in the lower levels of the pyramid.

3.2 Community-based anthropology

A further strand of research, located at the very base of the pyramid, has also emerged, largely led by anthropologists. Moving away from traditional legal institutions and pathways, this strand focuses on the role of community advice and community brokers. Traditionally this anthropological lens has not been applied in the UK;81 but the current UK perspective has seen scholars extending beyond study of the advice sector to look at the role of community-based advisers.82 Parallels have been drawn between the role filled by community-based advisers and those who engage with the ‘street-level bureaucrats’ who act as gatekeepers to, for example, welfare provision and exercise their discretion at a street level interpreting, implementing and navigating national policy each day.83

Forbess and James consider the work of ‘the givers of advice’.84 They discuss ‘community brokers’, who translate and navigate difficult and sometimes impossible bureaucracy85 and ‘a labyrinthine multiplicity of different agencies’,86 highlighting the complexity of the general advice landscape. They note that the advisers take on a logical translation role to reshape stories to fit within the ‘rule-orientated’ legal format described by Conley and O’Barr,87 ‘conveying human expectations into legal context’.88 These acts of translation are multilateral and may be broader than translations of individual issues into legal frameworks, potentially reaching wider audiences and highlighting gaps to effect public and social policy change.89 These community brokers empower individuals to navigate complex bureaucracies, sometimes advocating on their behalf.

There are parallels with our data: GYROS advisers take on the role of community broker for their clients, navigating and translating clients’ situations through the administrative, and sometimes legal, frameworks. However, GYROS’ role also goes beyond just that of broker. As we have seen with Irina and Sofia, and for many other clients discussed in this book, GYROS wears a number of hats: broker, case worker, support worker, advocate, translator, and emergency service provider of food and shelter. Frequently, GYROS seeks an expedient resolution to a problem, a solution that circumvents the administrative, or legal, framework, so its approach is more multifaceted, hands-on and, crucially, not confined to the legal field.

4. Socio-legal studies

The field of socio-legal studies is broad and might be ‘defined as a way of seeing, of recognizing the mutually constitutive relationship between law and society. That relationship is open to endless interpretation because law and society are both constantly changing’.90 This book fits under this broad heading. However, a lot of socio-legal studies research (in the context of the everyday) looks at the prevalence of justiciable issues and people’s access to justice pathways and their legal needs. With its significant survey-based approach, this strand of research builds an empirical foundation of demonstrated legal need and access to formal/developed legal pathways for ordinary people. The research focuses on legal problems and people’s advice-seeking behaviours in response to these problems. It asks: do people access formal legal pathways for their legal problems? This research identifies a relatively high incidence of justiciable problems within the general population, which is more pronounced among certain sociodemographic groups.91 It also shows that there is evidence that certain problems cluster together, or cascade with a domino-like effect, one problem directly leading to another. As we have discussed (Section B.1.3), this problem clustering/cascading is reflected in our data.

While this legal needs research demonstrates the high prevalence of justiciable events in people’s everyday lives, studies show that most people do not, in fact, frame their problems as ‘legal issues’,92 seeing them instead primarily as social issues, as ‘bad luck/part of life’, ‘part of God’s plan’ or private or family matters.93 So here we see something of the ubiquity of law, as well as the (lack of) legal consciousness of those largely unaware of its role in their everyday. If people do not categorize their problems as ‘legal’, they are less likely to seek legal advice.94 Consequently, according to Sandefur, ‘problems that look legal to lawyers do not seem particularly legal to people who experience them’.95 However, people can, without the help of lawyers, find out their rights and solve their problems in ways that are consistent with the law without explicitly mobilizing its more formal structures.96 Rhode et al recognize that just because a problem has not been solved legally does not mean it has not been solved.97 This is consistent with our data.

However, much of this socio-legal studies research does not grapple with what people do about those problems and how they are resolved, outside of formal legal advice pathways, law centres or Citizens Advice. Genn’s approach is more far-reaching98 in describing the different levels of engagement with the law for those with justiciable problems,99 defined ‘as a matter experienced by a respondent which raised legal issues, whether or not recognized by the respondent as being “legal” and whether or not any action taken by the respondent to deal with the event involved the use of any part of the civil justice system’.100 As we have noted, she talks of the ‘lumpers’ (no advice, no contact, no action), who made up 5 per cent in her study, but also the ‘self-helpers’ (problems handled without any advice), who made up 35 per cent, and those who obtained advice about resolving their problem, who made up 60 per cent.101 Moreover, 24 per cent went to see a solicitor (who, in one fifth of these cases, might have been a family member or friend), 21 per cent went to Citizens Advice and only 2 per cent went to ‘Other advice agency’.102 However, as we have shown, in Great Yarmouth where there is so little free legal advice, the role of ‘Other advice agency’ is crucial.

From our data, we suggest that two further facets arise which are not so far captured in the literature. First, there is the question of a person’s problem consciousness, as opposed to legal consciousness. That is, clients often recognize they have difficulties needing resolution. Second, there is the question of the different type of frontline agencies and what they offer. Some are focused on providing legal advice (law centres and advice clinics) or more legally orientated advice (such Citizens Advice, where all advice is based on a national database with online texts which have been written with the benefit of legal advice and are, in the view of one of our interviewees, “much more focused on supporting English and British nationals”103 (in Figure 8.1, levels D and E)). Others go to services, like GYROS (Level F), which offer problem resolution against a background knowledge of some law or ‘rules’ – for example, the requirement to have pre-settled or settled status prior to claiming certain benefits.

As Cowan and Halliday conclude:

‘although the role of lawyers as an audience has traditionally been a major concern of socio-legal studies in relation to the emergence and management of disputes, there is much to be gained, we suggest, in systematically enquiring into the role played by family, friends, fellow applicants and so on, despite the difficulty of the task’.104

We agree and we would add to this list frontline advice organizations. The literature does not so far capture the work done by charities such as GYROS: the extensive advice being given which is not formally described as legal advice but which is underpinned by a familiarity with the law, and the work of engaging with the client that extends beyond the specific (legal) issue, seeking to address clustered problems with which the client has presented as well as pre-empting future problems. We have tried to capture this broad, holistic engagement using the term ‘pragmatic law’.

D. Pragmatic law

1. The ‘how’ of pragmatic law

Those who come to GYROS know they have a problem. Few recognize their problem as a legal problem; rather, like Irina, they attend GYROS with a carrier bag of paperwork, or they seek help to complete a document or write a letter to their employer, or help with a front door to their home that cannot be locked.

GYROS advisers also see their clients as having problems which need resolution. A member of the GYROS team identified three types of client: “those at crisis point, those who are planners (just a few) and then those who have used us before and come back when something else comes in. We are a trusted source of information to our clients so they will come in even just to check something with us.”105 GYROS also recognize the conceptual murkiness of what they do, although they would not describe it in these terms. In a focus group with the advisers in March 2021, the following exchange occurred:
Researcher:Do you think you give legal advice?
Adviser 1:No, I don’t think we give legal advice. We inform and we signpost.
Adviser 2:We can be perceived as [giving] legal advice and then there is an anxiety in trying to find the best advice. Do I have enough knowledge and training? Very likely people have nowhere else to go.
However, the most senior adviser (and the most highly trained) said:
Adviser 3:I disagree. I think, yes, we give low-level legal advice. Certainly, at the beginning of advice. Housing law, employment law – when we give advice on these issues, they all contain various rules and reg[ulation]s and law, and we interpret it and present to client. That’s legal advice – at least, I think!’106

So there is an awareness of the law when asked directly about it, but in the day-to-day work of the advisers, there is little reference to it. Out of the 6,856 case notes we analysed, a search for the word ‘court’ returned just 163 responses (2 per cent); a search for ‘law’, 105 responses (1.5 per cent); and a search for ‘tribunals’, just 22 responses. There was no reference to ADR107 as such in the dataset, but there were three references to ‘mediation’ (one concerning a child injured at school, the other two concerning child custody issues) and one reference to ‘early conciliation’, mandatory prior to bringing an employment tribunal case. There were 90 references to ‘FLA’ (free legal advice), the shorthand for the services provided by each of the local law centres,108 and the term ‘solicitor’ came up 89 times. We would therefore argue – and the discussions of GYROS’ approach in previous chapters show – that the advisers do not have ‘legal’ consciousness, but rather ‘problem consciousness’.

If the advisers’ focus is generally on resolving the problems, then they are less likely to refer clients on to lawyers. Conversely, as Pleasence et al note, when a problem is characterized as ‘legal’, there is a significant increase in the likelihood that it will go to a lawyer.109 So there appears to be a strong alignment at GYROS between the client’s problem consciousness and GYROS’ pragmatic problem resolution. The advisers act to resolve situations, with little express reference to the law. It is plain in the case notes that law percolates into the arena, but it is rarely at the forefront of the advice given. ‘Law’ is often seen as a set of rules which have to be complied with or navigated around – for example, the requirement to have pre-settled or settled status to be able to work, claim benefits and rent accommodation; the rules around eviction; and the requirement to update the Universal Credit journal.

Our description of the approach adopted by GYROS advisers as ‘pragmatic law’ is adapted from Boltanski’s term ‘pragmatic sociology’.110 Pragmatic sociology seeks to explore when things go wrong for people in their everyday lives and the ‘values of worth’ that are used to justify or explain actions. From a theoretical perspective, the focus of pragmatic sociology is on understanding the dynamics of action and how actors operate within a dispute situation. Like Boltanski, we are interested in how actors operate within a dispute situation in which law features but is largely unacknowledged. Specifically, we are concerned with the (legal) problems facing GYROS’ clients and how they, with GYROS’ help and support, interact or engage with the law and respond to those problems outside the traditional pathways of justice. It is pragmatism against the background of the law.

Clearly, the ‘layer’ that is pragmatic law (Level F in Figure 8.1), sitting as it does, just below the legal advice centres and below the level of the lower courts, will inevitably bump into those levels higher up at times. That interaction with the next level ‘up’ is particularly apparent in the housing advice that GYROS gives and in immigration advice. In those interactions, it is apparent that advisers need, and use, greater legal knowledge to navigate issues of possession and homelessness. However, the relative rarity of those ‘legal’ interactions emphasizes the importance of the lower ‘pragmatic law’ level of the pyramid (Level F).

2. The risks of a pragmatic approach to law

But is it as simple as that? Does the lack of legal consciousness on the part of client and adviser mean that a piece of the jigsaw is missing? Does the focus on problem resolution come with risks? When clients come to GYROS with a problem about, for example, not being able to pay the rent, GYROS helps with the resolution of this specific issue. Yet, as we saw in chapters 2 and 5, the quality of much of the housing lived in by migrant workers is low and landlords often fail in their statutory duties towards their tenants. A lawyer would (and should?) focus on this issue. Likewise, as we saw in Chapter 4 on employment, GYROS deals with the problems following job losses, but not the potential underlying legal issues as to why the job was lost in the first place, or it helps a client change jobs but not challenge the underlying bullying, discrimination and harassment which led the client to move. Indeed, GYROS’ clients do not complain to GYROS about these issues: they came up only rarely as a drop-in enquiry matter. However, they were frequently mentioned in focus group discussions.111 So it may be that by focusing on the immediate problem of, for example, not being able to pay the rent or wanting to find another job, the systemic (legal) issue, such as failure by landlords to fulfil their statutory obligations or failure by employers to protect workers from race discrimination, is not addressed. This was recognized implicitly by one of the GYROS staff:

‘But it’s the work we do, the range of work. It’s like in the beginning, when I came here, I have this idealistic idea that we can help people. That we’re, like, little superheroes. And sometimes it’s really rewarding. But then little by little you see that sometimes because of the system you can’t help. It’s really frustrating. Sometimes it’s rewarding, but many times it’s very frustrating.’112

There are further risks of a pragmatic approach to law, such as ensuring the quality of advice and the accountability of the advisers and the board of trustees. Oversight by the Charity Commission is too remote from the day-to-day reality of GYROS; yet the onerous bureaucracy entailed by regulation through the Solicitors Regulation Authority would be overkill. As mentioned in Chapter 2, GYROS’ work is audited either annually or biannually by their various accrediting bodies – the OISC, Matrix and the Financial Conduct Authority. The OISC, for example, says: ‘The OISC aims to audit all newly regulated organisations within 12 months of approval and will decide when further audits are required.’113 This still raises the question of whether this type of regulation is sufficient to ensure the clients and their advisers are protected.

3. The need to identify the role of organisations offering pragmatic law

Until (if) there is comprehensive and affordable (legal) advice available to all who need it, organizations like GYROS play an important role in (legal) provision.114 We would argue that by identifying this problem-resolution-led approach and naming it (pragmatic law), a light can be shone on an underdiscussed part of the (legal) landscape. This enables further work to be done to analyse the strengths and weakness of the pragmatic law approach, to consider what constitutes success, to think about safeguards that can be put in place and how the different levels of the pyramid could work together more cooperatively so that, in an ideal world, key frontline advisers can refer up to law centres when they need to. However, the reality is that each organisation - grassroot and law centre - is already working at capacity, with frequent issues around continued funding plaguing both (and sometimes they compete with each other for funding). This currently makes referrals difficult.

We also need to learn from what the advice organizations are seeing on the frontline. They are the canaries in the coalmine. Better connectivity between frontline advice organizations across the country, working in conjunction with the relevant statutory bodies, such as the Independent Monitoring Authority, would mean that problems facing those with little effective voice, such as the day-to-day operation of the EUSS, can be highlighted at an earlier stage and, hopefully, addressed.

4. Role of pragmatic law within the legal landscape

What role, then, does GYROS play within the legal landscape? We have shown the pragmatic approach GYROS takes to (legal) problem resolution. However, the footprint of the law lies under the work GYROS does. It is rarely directly acknowledged, except in relation to immigration law advice, where ‘the law’ comes to the fore, and, to a lesser extent, to housing matters. A legally centred approach, adopted by a lawyer, would be to ask: What is the legal issue at root and what are the remedies available to set things right legally, (perhaps taking action about other legal issues, such as discrimination and harassment)? A problem-centred approach, as that adopted by GYROS, would ask: What is the problem and how can it be resolved? The focus is on identifying the problems or unpicking the (carrier bag full of) problems, prioritizing them and then trying to resolve them.

GYROS’ approach is also broader: its advisers provide holistic help to their clients, extending well beyond problem resolution and into English language support; accompanying clients to the GP, to the hospital, to the housing office, to the Job Centre, to a support group; attending meetings at a school; and even reading client’s post. This ‘hand-holding’ support to access other services and navigate day-to-day life is very different from traditional legal advice services and specializations. That holistic support enables GYROS to work at (albeit on an individual level) both prevention and cure.

We recognize that there are many other frontline advice agencies who work in a similar way to GYROS. These agencies often seek to work within communities where there are linguistic, cultural and biographical similarities between advisers and clients. Clients usually have limited English language skills and cannot interact with other mainstream providers, even were such providers available. As with other agencies, this makes GYROS’ clients particularly marginalized. The fact that there are biographical similarities between the clients and advisers helps to establish trust, empathy, insight and understanding. GYROS workers have worked in the same factories as their clients; some have the same landlords; all live in the Town itself and are visible members of their local community, with children in the same schools and using the same Portuguese and Lithuanian supermarkets. One former GYROS worker, who became an ESOL (English as Second or Other Language) teacher then a primary school teacher, has come back to GYROS as a trustee of the organization. She has lived in the UK for 15 years now, her children have grown up in the UK and Great Yarmouth is home; she looks to help others facing the same migration journey.

So pragmatic law sits within the legal landscape as a resolution-focused holistic approach, engaging with communities who are often described as ‘hard to reach’. It is also free. In legal advice terms, GYROS is one of only two free advice organizations in Norfolk that have staff qualified to OISC Level 2,115 and the only one in Suffolk. For GYROS, this Level 2 OISC qualification is held by two workers, working across the two counties. Without them, the advice desert would be even more barren. Even if solicitors were available, the majority of clients would not be able to afford them and so their problems would not be resolved, and future issues would not be prevented.

E. Conclusion

Great Yarmouth has always been a town of migration. For the last 25 years, GYROS has been a constant source of support for migrants, working in the Town to assist newcomers. While nationalities change over time, the issues do not: a striking feature of the data was that the experiences of those who arrived in and around 2004 were often very similar to those arriving in 2020. Almost 20 years on, conditions for migrant workers have not improved, despite the development of employment law, health and safety regulation and housing law in that period. The question now for EU migrant workers is whether Brexit and the ending of free movement will mean that employers will be forced to improve conditions. The formation of an office such as a pay and work rights ombudsman116 or a migrant commissioner, as proposed by Wendy Williams in the independent review of Windrush,117 might be helpful in addressing some of these issues. Better enforcement by statutory bodies such as the Health and Safety Executive and local authorities would also help. This all serves to remind us that passing laws is, in fact, the easier part; ensuring compliance on an ongoing basis is much more challenging. Failure by these bodies to enforce the law leaves organizations like GYROS to pick up the pieces, addressing the immediate needs of their clients but with no ability to address the fundamental problems.

In Chapter 1, we said that we have pitched our tents on the side streets of Great Yarmouth – rather than on the steps of the Supreme Court, like many law academics do118 – to examine everyday law as experienced by those who are marginalized – in this case, EU migrant workers. Through a case study of one House, one Street and one Town, we have described problems which we imagine are also common in other deprived areas across the UK. We have shown how GYROS helps its clients address those problems. Further research is needed to examine the benefits – and risks – of pragmatic problem resolution offered by non-legally trained advice workers. More robust data collection and evaluation is needed so that we can build up a more complete picture of legal needs in the UK, reaching out to those who never access any legal advice and/or are unable to participate in traditional legal needs surveys to gain a fuller, thicker understanding of ‘everyday law’. For now, those who access GYROS services get help and support in a way that many other marginalized groups do not. It may not be perfect, but it is considerably better than the alternative.


H. Genn, Paths to Justice: What People Do and Think about Going to Law (Oxford: Hart Publishing, 1999), 31.


P. Manolova, ‘Inclusion through irregularisation? Exploring the politics and realities of internal bordering in managing post-crisis labour migration in the EU’ (2022) 48 Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 3687.


C. Barnard, A. Ludlow and S. Fraser Butlin, ‘Beyond employment tribunals: enforcement of employment rights by EU-8 migrant workers’ (2018) 47 Industrial Law Journal 226.


C. Hodges, Delivering Dispute Resolution: A Holistic Review of Models in England and Wales (Oxford: Hart Publishing, 2019), Chapter 15.


C. Han, ‘Precarity, precariousness, and vulnerability’ (2018) 47 Annual Review of Anthropology 331, 335.


G. Standing, The Precariat the New Dangerous Class (London: I.B. Taurus, 2014), 41.


L.F. Vosko, Managing the Margins: Gender, Citizenship and the International Regulation of Precarious Employment (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), 2.


H. Zhang, L. Nardon and G.J. Sears, ‘Migrant workers in precarious employment’ (2022) 41 Equality, Diversity and Inclusion: An International Journal 254, 260.


S. McKay and E. Markova, ‘The operation and management of agency workers in conditions of vulnerability’ (2010) 41 Industrial Relations Journal 446, 458.




P. Manolova, n 2, 3687.


Ibid, 3701–3702.


Interview with a GYROS management team member (Great Yarmouth, February 2022).


Interview with a Citizens Advice worker (online, November 2021).


Client ID 1111.


P. Pleasence, N.J. Balmer, A. Buck, A. O’Grady and H. Genn, ‘Multiple justiciable problems: common clusters and their social and demographic indicators’ (2004) 1 Journal of Empirical Legal Studies 301.


I. Pereira, C. Perry, H. Greevy and H. Shrimpton, The Varying Paths to Justice: Mapping Problem Resolution Routes for Users and Non-Users of the Civil, Administrative and Family Justice Systems (Ministry of Justice, 2015), available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/media/5a757131e5274a1242c9e58c/varying-paths-to-justice.pdf, accessed 9 October 2023, 2.


H. Genn, ‘When law is good for your health: mitigating the social determinants of health through access to justice’ (2019) 72 Current Legal Problems 159.


R. Franklyn, T. Budd, R. Verrill and M. Willoughby, Findings from the Legal Problem and Resolution Survey, 2014–15 (London: Ministry of Justice, 2017); H. Genn (1999), n 1.


Pereira et al (2015), n 18, 34.


Interview with a Citizens Advice representative (online, November 2021). Also, see S. Kirwan, ‘The UK Citizens Advice service and the plurality of actors and practices that shape “legal consciousness”’ (2016) 48 Journal of Legal Pluralism and Unofficial Law 461.


P. Pleasence, N.J. Balmer and C. Denvir, How People Understand and Interact with the Law (Hove: PPSR, 2015), available at: https://research.thelegaleducationfoundation.org/research-learning/funded-research/how-people-understand-and-interact-with-the-law, accessed 2 February 2023, 94.


Client ID 463.


R. Sandefur, ‘What we know and need to know about the legal needs of the public’ (2016) 67 South Carolina Law Review 443, 459.


P. Pleasence and N.J. Balmer, ‘Caught in the middle: justiciable problems and the use of lawyers’ in M. Trebilcock, A. Duggan and L. Sossin (eds) Middle Income Access to Justice (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2012).


Genn (2019), n 19, 159.


The referral to local charity DIAL for help with a debt relief order was necessary because GYROS does not offer this service.


M. McDermont, ‘Acts of translation: UK advice agencies and the creation of matters-of-public-concern’ (2013) 33 Critical Social Policy 218, 219.


I. Koch and D. James, ‘The state of the welfare state: advice, governance and care in settings of austerity’ (2020) 87 Ethnos 1, 7; A. Tuckett, ‘Ethical brokerage and self-fashioning in Italian immigration bureaucracy’ (2018) 38 Critique of Anthropology 245.


GYROS client feedback (January 2022). Note, however, that the person helping the client – the GYROS adviser – is also the person asking feedback questions.


GYROS client feedback (January 2022).


M. Lipsky, Street-Level Bureaucracy: Dilemmas of the Individual in Public Services (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1980).


Tuckett (2018), n 30.


I. Koch and D. James (2020), n 30, 11.


A. Forbess and D. James, ‘Acts of assistance: navigating the interstices of the British state with the help of non-profit legal advisers’ (2014) 58 Social Analysis 73, 74.


P. Pleasence, N. Balmer and C. Denvir, ‘Wrong about rights: public knowledge of key areas of consumer, housing and employment law in England and Wales’ (2017) 80 Modern Law Review 836.


LAPSO is available at: www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2012/10/contents/enacted, accessed 22 November 2023.


Ministry of Justice, Post-Implementation Review of Part 1 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) (Ministry of Justice, 2019), available at: www.gov.uk/government/publications/post-implementation-review-of-part-1-of-laspo, accessed 10 February 2023, 171.


In October 2022, the Ministry of Justice announced it was launching the Early Legal Advice Pilot (at a cost of £5 million) with independent evaluation of ‘the possible benefits of holistic, legally aided advice in encouraging early resolution’. The pilot was delivered in Manchester and Middlesbrough. As part of the pilot, participants, selected as they were facing ‘housing, debt, or welfare benefit matters’, received three hours of non-means-tested and non-merits-tested legal advice on these matters. See ‘Early Legal Advice Pilot’, available at: www.gov.uk/guidance/early-legal-advice-pilot, accessed 22 November 2023.


These advice deserts predate LASPO but were then exacerbated by its impact. See J. Sandbach and Citizens Advice, Geography of Advice: An Overview of the Challenges Facing the Community Legal Service. Evidence Report (London: Citizens Advice, 2004).


J. Wilding, The Legal Aid Market Challenges for Publicly Funded Immigration and Asylum Legal Representation (Bristol: Policy Press, 2021), 3.


Research conversation with staff at Shelter (Norwich, November 2022).


See the Norfolk Community Law Service website at: www.ncls.co.uk, accessed 10 February 2023.




GYROS staff focus group (online, March 2021).


Genn (1999), n 1, 1.


D. Cowan and D. Wincott (eds), Exploring the Legal in Socio-Legal Studies (London: Palgrave, 2016), 3.


M. De Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984); L. Back (2015) ‘Why everyday life matters: class, community and making life livable’ (2015) 49(5) Sociology 820.


R. Austin, ‘Employer abuse, worker resistance, and the tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress’ (1998) 41 Stanford Law Review 1, 59.


Braithwaite’s pyramid of responsive regulation is available on his blog: ‘Responsive regulation’, John Braithwaite: War·Crime·Regulation, available at: http://johnbraithwaite.com/responsive-regulation/, accessed 2 October 2021.


A.W.B. Simpson, Reflections on ‘the Concept of Law’ (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 151. Simpson tells us ‘law is like the air we breathe; it is all around us; it is with us from cradle to grave. But it is with law as it is with air, most of us know very little about the stuff’, 155.


R.L. Sandefur, ‘Access to civil justice and race, class, and gender inequality’ (2008) 34 Annual Review of Sociology 339, 342.


S. Engle Merry, Getting Justice and Getting Even: Legal Consciousness among Working Class Americans (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990), 59.


P. Ewick and S.S. Silbey, The Common Place of Law (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998), 20.


Simpson (2012), n 52, 151.


D.M. Engel, ‘Law in the domains of everyday life: the construction of community and difference’ in A. Sarat and T.R. Kearns (eds) Law in Everyday Life (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2009).


See W. Twinning, Jurist in Context: A Memoir (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019), 167; D. Galligan, Law in Modern Society (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), 6.


D. Galligan (2006), n 58, 12.


A. Sarat and T.T. Kearns, ‘Beyond the great divide: forms of legal scholarship’ in A. Sarat and T.T. Kearns (eds) Law in Everyday Life (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2009), 23–33.


Ibid, 35.


M. Hertogh, ‘A “European” conception of legal consciousness: rediscovering Eugen Ehrlich’ (2004) 31 Journal of Law and Society 457, 472.


The Law Society, ‘A decade of cuts: legal aid in tatters’ press release (31 March 2023), available at: www.lawsociety.org.uk/contact-or-visit-us/press-office/press-releases/a-decade-of-cuts-legal-aid-in-tatters, accessed 22 November 2023.




Engle Merry (1990), n 54; J.M. Conley and W.M. O’Barr, Rules vs Relationships: The Ethnography of Legal Discourse (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990).


Conley and O’Barr (1990), n 65, 34.


Engle Merry (1990), n 54, 88.


Ibid, 37.




Ibid, 89.


Although critiqued, for more, see D. Cowan and S. Halliday with C. Hunter, P. Maginn and L. Naylor, The Appeal of Internal Review: Law, Administrative Justice and the (Non-) Emergence of Disputes (Oxford: Hart Publishing, 2003), 3; Merry (1990) n 54, 90.


W. Felstiner, R. Abel and A. Sarat, ‘The emergence and transformation of disputes: naming, blaming, claiming’ (1980–81) 15 Law and Society Review 631.


Conley and O’Barr (1990), n 65.


Ibid, 58.


Ibid, 80.


Merry (1990), n 54.


Cowan et al (2003), n 71.


Ibid, 13.


A. Güdük and E. Desmet, ’Legal consciousness and migration: towards a research agenda’ (2022) 18 International Journal of Law in Context 213, 220.


M. Hertogh, Nobody’s Law: Legal Consciousness and Legal Alienation in Everyday Life (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018), 12.


D. James and I. Koch, ‘Economies of advice’ in M. Aldenderfer (ed) Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Anthropology (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020), 1–20.


Forbess and James (2014), n 36, 73.


Lipsky (1980), n 33.


Forbess and James (2014), n 36, 73.


For more see: J. Lindquist, ‘The elementary school teacher, the thug and his grandmother: informal brokers and transnational migration from Indonesia’ (2012) 85 Pacific Affairs, 88.


Forbess and James (2014), n 36, 75.


Conley and O’Barr, n 65.


Forbess and James (2014), n 36, 83.


M. McDermott, ‘Acts of translation: UK advice agencies and the creation of matters-of-public-concern’ (2013) 33(2) Critical Social Policy 218, 232.


N. Creutzfeldt, M. Mason and K. McConnachie (eds), Routledge Handbook of Socio-Legal Theory and Methods (Abingdon: Routledge, 2019), 4.


Genn (1999) n 1, 1; Pleasence and Balmer (2012), n 26.


Sandefur (2016), n 25, 459.


Ibid, 449.


Ibid; see also Genn (1999), n 1, 141.


Sandefur (2016), n 25, 449.


Ibid, 455.


D. Rhode, K. Eaton and A. Porto, ‘Access to justice through limited legal assistance’ (2018) 16 Northwestern Journal of Human Rights 1, 3.


H. Genn (1999), n 1, Chapter 3. Across the landscape of the literature, various terminology is used – ‘justiciable problems’, ‘legal problems’, ‘justiciable events’, ‘legal needs’ and ‘unmet legal needs’ to name but a few.


See also Pleasence et al (2015), n 23.


Genn (1999), n 1, 12.


Ibid, 68.


Ibid, 83.


Interview with council worker (online, October 2021).


Cowan and S. Halliday with C. Hunter, P. Maginn and L. Naylor, (2003), n 71, 210.


GYROS staff focus group, Great Yarmouth (March 2021).




For more on ADR, see: H. Genn, ‘What is civil justice for? Reform, ADR, and access to justice’ (2012) 24 Yale Journal of Law and the Humanities 397; H. Genn, ‘Tribunals and informal justice’ in S. Cann (ed) Administrative Law (Routledge, 2017).


However, this number is likely to be slightly higher than this, as during 2015 the GYROS office hosted the free legal advice service in Great Yarmouth and direct referrals increased accordingly at that time.


Pleasence and Balmer (2012), n 26.


L. Boltanski, De la critique: Précis de sociologie de l’émancipation (Paris: Gallimard, 2009).


See, for example, C. Barnard and F. Costello, ‘Working in a UK poultry factory: faster, faster, faster’ (2021) UK in a Changing Europe, available at: https://ukandeu.ac.uk/working-in-a-uk-poultry-factory-faster-faster-faster/, accessed 16 March 2023.


GYROS staff focus group (Great Yarmouth, November 2021).


Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner, ‘Regulations that immigration officers must follow’ (24 May 2022) Gov.uk, available at: www.gov.uk/government/publications/regulations-that-immigration-advisers-must-follow--2/regulations-that-immigration-advisers-must-follow, accessed 22 November 2023.


The role of early advice is also key in helping the pyramid function properly, a point reinforced by the Ministry of Justice during their Early Legal Advice Pilot in Manchester and Middleborough (see n 40), although take up at the time had been low; see M. Fouzder, ‘News focus: early advice pilot was a missed opportunity’, The Law Society Gazette, available at: www.lawgazette.co.uk/news-focus/news-focus-early-advice-pilot-was-a-missed-opportunity/5116528.article, accessed 22 November 2023.


The other was the Law Centre.


Barnard et al (2018), n 3.


W. Williams, Windrush Lessons Learned Review (HMSO, 2020), available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/media/5e74984fd3bf7f4684279faa/6.5577_HO_Windrush_Lessons_Learned_Review_WEB_v2.pdf, accessed 22 November 2023.


Engel (2009), n 57.

  • Figure 8.1:

    Pyramid of resolution pathways: how problems and cases can progress

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