The Health Cost of Civil-Law Problems: Further Evidence of Links Between Civil-Law Problems and Morbidity, and the Consequential Use of Health Services


*Pascoe Pleasence, Legal Services Research Centre, Legal Services Commission, 85 Gray's Inn Rd., London, WC1X 8TX, UK; email: Pleasence is Head of the Legal Services Research Centre, Legal Services Commission, and Professor of Empirical Legal Studies, University College London; Balmer is a Principal Researcher at the Legal Services Research Centre and an Honorary Senior Research Fellow in the Faculty of Laws, University College London; Buck is Deputy Head of the Legal Services Research Centre.


There is considerable evidence of links between social and health problems. Some of these links involve social problems that can be addressed through civil legal process, and may be described as civil-law problems. Various initiatives have been implemented around the world to link health and legal advice services to promote better health and justice outcomes. This study examines the links between civil-law problems and morbidity. It uses new data to replicate an earlier analysis of these links, then builds on this by exploring the extent to which problems are reported to act to bring about ill health. It also details the reported consequent use of health services. We examined survey respondents’ self-reports of long-standing illness/disability, use of health services, and experience of 18 types of civil-law problems. Data were drawn from a random national survey of 5,015 adults living in 3,832 residential households across England and Wales. Having controlled for a range of other social and demographic predictors, we found a significant association between age-standardized illness/disability and civil-law problems, one that increases with illness/disability severity. In particular, we found significant associations with 10 of 18 principal problem types. We found that adverse health consequences were reported to have followed over one-third of problems, and some problem types in particular. This led to significant use of health services. We highlight the contribution that legal services may make to public health. We argue that despite the difficulties faced in England and Wales by initiatives such as Health Action Zones and Community Legal Services Partnerships, and despite the cost-benefit ratio of legal advice and assistance (in either the justice or health fields) remaining unclear, the more effective coordination of health and legal services is likely to improve both health and justice outcomes.