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Virtual Shelter

Published by Phil Morgan on Wednesday, February 13th, 2013 at 13:58 pm

The announcement that Shelter are to close 10 offices offering face-to-face advice is an indictment of the cuts to the legal aid budget. 

Given the 50% cuts that they have faced Shelter have done a sterling job in minimising the impact on their services and their staff. There are three debateable points to be made though.

For third sector bodies such as Shelter there is an interesting tension between their mission, such as resolving homelessness, and delivery of that mission through their work. The first leads to challenging Government and public sector organisations. The second leads to seeking funding from the same bodies that are being challenged.

Shelter has been fighting on two fronts – the outrage that funding for legal aid for the homeless is being cut, and the impact on Shelter itself of that funding cut. Of course a Government that preaches the ideal of ‘the Big Society’ has been undermining the very fabric that supports that ideal. I think Shelter are right to balance these two roles although in the future this may become even more difficult.

Whilst the loss of face-to-face services will cause issues it would be interesting to see how well other approaches such as phone calls and emails work in practice. To an extent some people seeking to use Shelter services now don’t have a choice for a face-to-face meeting and this will grow in the future. Likewise many other providers of services rely heavily on phone lines and digital support.

Whilst I do understand this may not necessarily apply to the homeless there is a danger in overplaying the ‘virtual’ nature of support that can be provided through on-line and digital advise services.

Finally UNITE are calling on Shelter to put the closures on hold. Big mistake. Failure to go ahead with the closures would simply put Shelter, and all its staff, at risk of closure. Shelter are right to work within their means.

Whilst I can understand UNITE wanting to support its staff, waiting for a chimera of future funding to suddenly appear simply makes matters worse. UNITE do make a strong case for the jobs to remain. Unfortunately they are aiming that case in the wrong direction.

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