FREE legal advice and support services have provided a lifeline for thousands of vulnerable people in Govanhill for almost 15 years.

The decision by the Scottish Government to abandon community-based organisations like Govanhill Law Centre (GhLC), Positive Action in Housing (PAiH) and Path Scotland (PS) as we come out of the pandemic makes no sense.

Arguably, it’s reckless and a strategic disaster. Evictions are returning at a gathering pace, along with the enforcement of debts and the exploitation of some of the poorest people in Scotland.

Glasgow Times: GovanhillGovanhill

All at a time when furlough ends next month, and people will be pushed into poverty and foodbank use as they lose £20 per week from Universal Credit cuts.

In Govanhill, this manifests as illegal evictions, slum living conditions with no repairs by dodgy private landlords, and the exploitation of migrant workers by unscrupulous employers. Over a third of housing in Govanhill is in the private rented sector.

The Govanhill community has been a major route for migration and immigration for over a century. Highland and Lowland Scots and Irish families came to live. Then Italian and Jewish people fleeing persecution in Eastern Europe.

From the 1950s onwards many people from the Punjab came to make Govanhill their home. From 2000, asylum seekers and refugees came as part of the UK dispersal scheme.

Later that decade economic migrants began to settle from Poland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Romania.

The Govanhill community is now the most ethnically diverse neighbourhood in Scotland. Why choose to remove its vital frontline services now?

The local organisations at risk of closure sought continued funding from the Scottish Government’s new £21m Equality and Human Rights Fund.

Its stated purpose was to tackle inequality and advance human rights. Apparently not in Govanhill though.

Is this part of a wider malaise and neglect that many believe has swept across the city?

Over the last four years Glasgow City Council has implemented cuts to homelessness services. Last year it reduced funding to all local advice agencies by one third – the original plan was to remove one half of funding. Its reduced our cleansing staff and bin collections. Most recently the council has closed local libraries, community facilities and sports venues.

The reason Govan Law Centre set up GhLC goes back to a social work seminar in Govanhill’s Samaritan House 13 years ago.

I remember hearing horrendous first hand evidence of how gangmasters were exploiting migrant workers – defrauding them of what little money they had before entrapping them in overcrowded flats with bonded labour.

It was evil, and so we worked with Govanhill Housing Association, the trade unions UNISON and USDAW, Oxfam and the Scottish Government to do something about it. And in 2008, a new local law centre was born.

We’ve made remarkable progress since then. Won some big strategic legal cases than have benefited people across Scotland and the UK. The need for GhLC remains as essential now as it did in 2008. Last week the centre undertook emergency work to prevent an eviction. This is what it does as a matter of routine.

A Govanhill tenant said: “I was able to get urgent advice – I spoke to them on Tuesday and court papers were lodged on Wednesday morning – it will hopefully save my home. I don’t know where else l’d get that legal work done so urgently, and for free”

Other projects at risk of closure include PAiH’s New Migrants Action Project (NMAP). Last year it assisted 395 Roma households in Govanhill with pre-settled status, self-employment and secured social security entitlements of over £696,000 that went back into the Scottish economy.

The NMAP – like GHLC – operates on a local case by case basis, building trust, overcoming literacy and language barriers, arming people with vital information about their rights.

Robina Qureshi, Executive Director of PAiH said: “Our multilingual team take the time to listen to people who are often dismissed and excluded by mainstream institutions. Our experience and understanding enables us to execute solutions that work.

Glasgow Times: Robina QureshiRobina Qureshi

"Without this work, those words ‘Equality’ and ‘Human Rights’ are nothing more than abstracts”.

Another local black and minority ethnic project at risk of closing is Path Scotland. Director Najimee Parveen said: “The loss of funding for our leadership programme will have a devastating impact on the people we work with”.

Local participants value its impact and said: “Please keep doing it for people like myself, who really need it. It’s improved everything for me. My whole life has changed.”

Another participant said: “The course was really good. It boosted my knowledge and confidence. As a result, I moved into a managerial position after 10 years”.

Abandoning all of this good work in Govanhill gives rise to a simple question. Where will local people go for help if these projects close?