Community Law delivers real return on investment
27 October 2017
Community Law delivers real return on investment for NZ public
The Community Law network is delivering up to $50m worth of free legal services each year to vulnerable New Zealanders for an annual investment of only $11m according to a report by the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research.
Community Law Centres o Aotearoa Co-Chair Cameron Madgwick says the report shows effective social investment in action and demonstrates the value increased funding agreed in the Labour–NZ First coalition deal would deliver.
The value of investing in Community Law Centres: An economic investigation finds that in 2015/16 Community Law Centres provided more than 100,000 hours of advice, assistance or representation to at least 48,000 clients on more than 53,000 legal issues.
“Community Law is not only giving New Zealand’s most powerless access to free legal advice, but by addressing – and stopping – legal problems from escalating, it is ultimately reducing the number of people relying on social services and the associated costs for taxpayers.
“The clients we’re representing come mainly from the bottom two socio-economic deciles – around 800,000 people. But there are many thousands who cannot afford a lawyer or don’t have access to legal aid, who Community Law could assist with the resources to do so. The flow on benefits could be significant for not only our communities but for the wider economy.”
NZIER estimated the value of Community Law’s services at between $30-$50m based on what it would cost if Community Law’s role had to be undertaken by an alternative publicly-funded service along the lines of the Public Defence Service. This estimate does not include the benefit of more than 16,000 hours of information and education services provided by Community Law Centres to more than 32,000 participants, nor the value of the social harms avoided through early intervention from Community Law.
NZIER says not only is there a high positive return on the funds employed, but the types of avoided consequences are those that society most wants to prevent – family breakups, crime and social tension.
“And these are potentially expensive. The social value of mitigating the impact of such events is not established here, but in Australia providing accommodation for a single child following a family break-up is assessed at $A112,000 per annum.”
The report comments on the richness of the role filled by the Community Law network, illustrated through a range of individual case studies. It highlights the types of cases Community Law provides assistance with, covering issues that are both critical to clients’ daily lives (employment, family, financial, criminal and immigration) and complex and expensive to resolve using privately funded or legal aid advice.
Mr Madgwick says the main takeout from this economic investigation is that there are opportunities for Community Law’s significant assets in terms of organisational structure, reputation and skillsets of staff and volunteers to be extended to provide additional services.
“There is no doubt about the financial and societal value Community Law is delivering and the potential for us to be doing so much more. We welcome increased funding earmarked by the coalition Government and look forward to working together to ensure that the legal needs of those with least are met.”