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Benton said that disconnect and alienation are a major reason only small numbers of the needy go to the justice system for a solution: They go elsewhere first.

Only one in four sought legal or non-legal assistance. A third resolved the problem on their own. The rest procrastinated.

“Historically, talking to your brother-in-law, some other family member or a friend are by far most common,” Benton said.

The top reasons for not acting were not knowing what to do, believing it would be too stressful and thinking nothing could be done. 

Of the agency’s roughly $105 million annual budget, about $30 million is spent on family, child protection, indigenous, immigration and refugee issues.

In 2019, justice department figures indicate some 13,000 people applied for civil legal aid and about 8,000 received it.

Legal Aid has historicallyconducted studies every five years to better understand the types of problems the poor face and the help they need, but the pandemic prompted a much earlier look.

Of the respondents, 15 per cent attributed their legal problems directly to COVID-19, while about 20 per cent said the public health emergency made it worse.

The findings of the Everyday Legal Needs Survey and the coincidental report on community perspectives on legal aid — a project that included in-person focus groups, online discussion boards and in-depth interviews with clients and intermediaries, involving about 260 people — are not surprising in some ways.

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