Castlemilk Law Centre opened in 1979, following an initiative by Strathclyde Regional Council with support from the local community and the universities. We celebrated our 40th anniversary in November 2019. In that time we have gone from being the only Law Centre in Scotland to one of ten. From the beginning we have concentrated on certain fundamental areas of work – housing,social security, employment and debt – and we have also focused on particular areas depending on community need. We have created specific projects on disability rights, women’s rights, asylum,anti-discrimination and other issues and many of these projects continue. The Law Centre has operated in a continually changing environment and we are entering our fifth decade facing some of our biggest ever challenges. It is very helpful to have forty years’ experience to fall back on.
2 The 1980s – damp housing and deindustrialisation
From the period from 1979 to 1989, Castlemilk Law Centre was the only Law Centre in Scotland. For most of this period we had two solicitors with one secretary and a part-time bookkeeper. This increased to three solicitors and additional admin staff in 1989. The problems we dealt with were determined by the needs of the local community. Sometimes these were quite obvious. At this time Castlemilk had a population of 35,000, virtually everybody lived in Council housing, and there were extremely serious dampness problems everywhere. The west of Scotland was seriously affected by deindustrialisation. There was a massive increase in poverty with a whole generation of people having to depend on benefits. Forty years later many of the areas in Scotland worst affected by poverty are still in Glasgow. There has never been a complete recovery from the problems which arose in the 1980s. The Law Centre developed a caseload on housing law, social security and employment law,and debt problems also featured. By the end of the decade we were acting for about 600 clients each year. We produced leaflets and other publications on all of these issues, encouraging people to exercise their legal rights. In 1989,Scotland’s second law centre, the Legal Services Agency, started up and,together with Shelter, we published our first text book on housing rights,“Dampness and the Law”, written by Paul Brown and Angus McIntosh.
3 The 1990s – more Law Centres in Scotland
By 1990 it was clear that Law Centres were having a substantial impact. We acted for thousands of clients in greatest need, and developed areas of law for the benefit of local communities. During this period the number of law centres increased to around ten. In Glasgow law centres started up in Drumchapel, Govan and the East End, and the Ethnic Minorities Law Centre opened up in the city centre, all supported and encouraged by City of Glasgow Council. Other Law Centres opened in Dundee, Dumbarton, Paisley and Ayrshire, and although some have closed, others have opened and there are still around ten Law Centres in Scotland. During the1990s, law centres ran campaigns on legal services, housing and disability rights. As well as the Campaign for Community Legal Services, which helped establish more Law Centres, we also ran the Right to Warmth Campaign which focussed on poor quality housing. The number of Housing Associations increased,and there were huge improvements in social sector housing. TheCastlemilk Partnership, along with other partnerships in other areas of the country, brought a significant increase in resources to the area. This enabled us to start our Women’s Rights Project in 1995 dealing with domestic abuse, sex discrimination and other issues affecting women in Castlemilk. With a grantfrom the National Lottery we were able to open a Disability Rights Project in 1996. The end of the decade saw the reintroduction of the Scottish Parliament which brought additional support. The Law Centre is still running its Women’s Rights Project and all aspects of disability rights are still very important to us. Over 70% of our clients have disabilities. By the end of the decade we had developed into Castlemilk Law & Money Advice Centre, providing a greater range of services on debt and focusing on consumer bankruptcies and the Debt Arrangement Scheme.
4 The 2000s – asylum seekers and new communities
By the beginning of the new millennium much of the housing stock in Castlemilk had been improved. A lot of this was due to the work of the Castlemilk Partnership and the groups involved in it. But many houses were still unimproved and many high-rises were coming to the end of their useful lives. In Castlemilk these were used as dispersal points for asylum seekers and at one point they housed around 400 individuals and families who had fled persecution in their country of origin. Many people came from Iraq and Afghanistan. In the first half of this decade we ran an Asylum Project along with the Ethnic Minorities Law Centre, supported by the Scottish Legal Aid Board. We dealt with several hundred asylum claims and appeals and worked alongside many community groups. There was a great deal of support for the asylum seekers by local churches and other groups and this contributed to a community environment which was welcoming and harmonious. During this period the Law Centre worked with Glasgow Council’s Money Advice Clinic in Govanhill. We provided a legal service on asylum and general social welfare law in Toryglen in conjunction with the Toryglen Social Inclusion Partnership, and we worked with the Council and New Gorbals Housing Association in setting up an advice service in the Gorbals. All these local projects are still continuing. Also at this time, the Glasgow Advice and Information Network started, bringing together local law centres, CABs and money advice centres. At the end of the decade we moved to our current premises above Castlemilk Credit Union on Castlemilk Drive. We increased our staff to around ten solicitors with backup administrative support and we are still working at this level.
5 The 2010s – economic downturn and Welfare Reform
In 2008 the country experienced a substantial economic downturn. This resulted in our focusing on mortgage arrears as well as other debt and housing issues. This work was supported by the Scottish Legal Aid Board and still continues. The economic downturn led to a continuing period of government-imposed austerity which increased poverty in communities like Castlemilk. The degradation of the social security system led not just to poverty,but to widespread destitution. Casual labour became commonplace with a related reduction in employment rights. Up until 2013, when Welfare Reform legislation took effect, the social security system usually provided at least some funds for people who needed to use it. The new regime substantially increased conditionality in the system which meant that in many cases benefit claimants did not meet the necessary conditions to qualify for benefit payments at all. This did not just involve a lengthy wait at the start of a Universal Credit claim or the imposition of benefit sanctions for long periods. Many of the cases we dealt with involved a reduction in disability benefits. Individuals were taken off sickness benefits such as Employment and Support Allowance, with no justification whatsoever. Access to Disability Living Allowance, and its successor the Personal Independence Payment, were restricted and people were denied their full entitlement. These changes to peoples’ benefits, at an individual level, resulted in a massive loss of income leading to huge disadvantages for disabled people. From 2014 to the end of the decade there was a huge rise in foodbanks throughout the country. By 2016 there were around 50 foodbanks in Glasgow alone, with around 12 in south east Glasgow. We transformed our Govanhill office to a service which specifically catered for those attending the Glasgow South East Foodbank, one of four Trussell Trust Foodbanks in Glasgow. We have been taking on hundreds of clients after seeing them for the first time at the foodbank. Over 70% of these cases relate to social security problems. During this time there was a massive increase in the number of our social security cases. At one point we were representing clients at over 600 benefit tribunals each year with a success rate of around 80%. By 2016 we were acting for over 2,000 new clients each year in benefits, housing, debt and employment cases. Between 2011 and 2019 the number of people supported by the foodbank in south east Glasgow became unconscionable. In 2011 the foodbank had helped 600 people. By 2019 referrals to the foodbank from local agencies resulted in emergency food aid being provided to over 11,000 people. Each food parcel contains enough for ten meals over three days and so every year the foodbank provides the equivalent of one meal for every member of the population in south east Glasgow.
6 The 2020s
The beginning of this decade presents us with the biggest crisis we have ever had to face. Many people have lost their lives or are suffering the after effects of infection. The current emergency exacerbates all of the existing health, social and economic problems and it is clear that some form of radical change is necessary. Like many other agencies, the Law Centre has adapted its practices and methods of working and there will be continuing change into the foreseeable future. There has been a hugely impressive response from the local community. The food networks created and maintained by the Housing Associations, Seniors Centre and others working in the Castlemilk Together group have ensured that the most vulnerable people in the community have been looked after, and food networks and support groups have formed in other areas. It is likely that the economic problems in the latter half of 2020 will be much more serious than those experienced in 2008. It is likely that problems with state benefits, employment and debt will increase substantially. The legal problems we identified in 1979 – social security, employment, debt and housing – will be even more serious in the 2020s. Over the next few years it will be important to ensure that our clients have enough to live on, are not unfairly dismissed, can deal with debt problems, and are protected against homelessness, whether due to rent arrears, mortgage arrears or any other reason. For this, co-operative working with other agencies and the continued support of local and central government is crucial.