A quiet revolution is taking place across Australia that is transforming the way some of the most vulnerable in our community access legal services.
In a practitioner-led movement, community lawyers have been moving out of their offices and into the most unlikely of places – hospitals and community health settings – to collaborate with health services and their patients to address unmet, health-harming legal need.
Known as health justice partnerships, these collaborations work by embedding legal help into healthcare services and teams. They have formed in response to a growing body of evidence that shows there are groups of people who are vulnerable to intersecting legal and health problems, but who are unlikely to turn to legal services for solutions.
The evidence driving collaboration
Over one-fifth of people in Australia experience three or more legal problems in a given year (Legal Australia Wide survey 2012). People often report multiple legal problems and these problems tend to cluster – such as family breakdown and money issues or problems centred around poor-quality housing.
One in five of the most disadvantaged in our community take no action in response to their legal problems, for reasons including not recognising the issue as a legal problem, stress, time, cost, fear of damaging relationships and having bigger problems to deal with. When people do seek advice, they are more likely to ask a nonlegal advisor, such as a health professional, than a lawyer. That’s why health justice partnerships make so much sense.
What do health justice partnerships do?
Health justice partnerships support populations that are particularly at risk of poor health and unmet legal need, like people experiencing family violence, people at risk of elder abuse, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, culturally and linguistically diverse communities and people experiencing poverty.
Health justice partnerships provide legal support across a wide range of needs, such as:
- Advocating for public housing tenants needing repairs to address untreated mould, or having handrails and other aids installed so that people with mobility impairments can continue living independently in their own homes.
- Assisting people with accumulated fines or debt that cause stress or act as a barrier to meeting health costs like filling prescriptions.
- Advising on options for people experiencing family violence or elder abuse; and supporting their healthcare professionals to respond appropriately when they identify these needs among their patients.