Departing Islington law centre chief’s verdict as rich-poor divide widens
Ruth Hayes is stepping down after 18 years as co-director of Islington Law Centre
28 January, 2019 — By Emily Finch
THE DEPARTING director of Islington Law Centre has warned that there is “now a bigger economic divide” between rich and poor in the borough compared with 18 years ago.
Ruth Hayes, 58, is stepping down in the spring as co-director of the centre in Angel which offers free legal advice to residents.
Ms Hayes, who lives in Tufnell Park, spoke to the Tribune about how the borough has changed in the 18 years she’s been at the helm of the centre.
“There are far fewer people in the middle and there’s less of a safety net for people working on low incomes,” she said.
“Over the years I’ve been here, work has become less secure for people while wages have dropped in real terms.
“The cuts in support for disabled people have also become really noticeable. Housing costs are increasing. It’s getting harder and harder to manage.”
She pointed to a rise in the number of middle- aged men coming to the law centre for help after being deemed fit to work by the Department for Work and Pensions and unable to receive benefits. “After years on construction sites or manual labour jobs they have health conditions and can’t do their jobs, but they’re being found fit for work, even though they aren’t,” she said.
Huge issues with universal credit have seen families pushed to the breadline, with rent arrears quickly mounting for many, she added.
“If a payment under universal credit is delayed for some reason a person who may never have had rent arrears suddenly may be hundreds of pounds in debt,” she said.
The centre has helped 15 residents with “Windrush cases” – those who came here from former British colonies after World War II but found themselves with little citizenship rights in recent years.
Ms Hayes said: “The environment has become much more hostile. We continue to work for a number of people caught up in the bureaucratic nightmare.”
The Tribune has report- ed how Marilyn Edwards spent 10 years battling the Home Office after she was told she was not entitled to stay in the country after coming here from
Jamaica in 1974. The 61- year-old grandmother from Holloway was helped by Islington Law Centre, which successfully fought her corner.
Under Ms Hayes, the centre has seen a near doubling in the number of staff.
“There has never been a time when the law centre has been needed more,” she said.
“People’s issues are more complicated and it’s become harder to resolve them.” Ms Hayes will be leaving her post in April.