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Health justice partnership and financial wellbeing

Key messages

Health justice partnership (HJP) is a strategy to embed legal help in community and healthcare settings. Health justice partnership is not a fixed ‘model’ that is replicated in different places; rather, it is a strategy of working in partnership that is adapted to suit the needs of clients, the goals of the partnering services, available resources, and other opportunities and constraints.

HJP evolved in response to evidence that legal problems cluster and interact with other life issues to entrench disadvantage. Examples include family breakdown, family violence, unemployment issues, housing instability and discrimination. While people experiencing these issues are likely to benefit from legal assistance, research shows that they are more likely to seek help from non-legal services, such as health services, than from lawyers (Coumarelos et al. 2012).

Financial issues can be both a cause and a consequence of health and justice issues. Although few health justice partnerships (HJPs) focus on financial wellbeing outcomes as their core aim, most do address financial wellbeing as part of their holistic response to complex disadvantage.

HJPs provide legal assistance for a wide range of legal issues related to finances, including financial abuse, fines and infringements, and credit and debt. They provide this assistance to people who are unlikely to seek legal help, and who may not realise that such financial issues may have legal remedies until they are referred for legal assistance.

In addition to legal assistance, HJPs can provide a pathway to support from social workers and financial counsellors. The flexible and responsive nature of HJP means that arrangements for providing such non-legal support vary widely, including through referral, partnerships with other services, or integrated services. Such relationships with financial counsellors strengthen the ability of HJP lawyers to achieve financial wellbeing outcomes for their clients. Financial counsellors also contribute to the ability of HJPs to achieve outcomes at the community level (through activities such as delivering community financial education), service level (through activities such as improving the capability of staff at health and community services to identify and refer clients with financial and legal challenges) and at the broader systems level (through contributing to advocacy for systemic change).

The holistic approach of HJPs, which recognises that financial issues are intertwined or overlapping with other legal and health issues, aligns with recent research on what works to improve financial wellbeing. Flexible, holistic approaches that include wrap-around support or multiple types of services in a single program have been shown to be more successful at improving financial wellbeing and reducing financial strain than those that focus only on behaviour change or financial education (Yashadhana, Glenn et al. 2023).

There are opportunities to build on the work of HJPs in supporting financial wellbeing outcomes, including by strengthening and expanding arrangements for working with financial counsellors. However, there is not a ‘one size fits all’ model that can be replicated across Australia. Rather, there is a need for flexibility in service funding, design and evaluation that allows HJPs to respond best to the needs of their clients and communities. The strategy of partnership allows HJPs to build upon existing service systems and avoid duplication. Such responsiveness to the needs of a specific place is a strength of HJPs, helping to overcome “the siloed nature of supports and poor referral pathways between them” that can characterise the service system for people with complex needs (Heartward Strategic 2023).

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