The Legal Problems of Everyday Life - The Nature, Extent and Consequences of Justiciable Problems Experienced by Canadians

Chapter V: Multiple Problems

Problems often do not occur in isolation. They occur in clusters in which certain problems can sometimes serve as triggers for other problems. The significance of experiencing multiple problems is that they may have a compounding effect. Similar to the principle of whole being greater than the sum of its parts, or in this case, more problematic than the sum of its parts, experiencing multiple justiciable problems can set in motion a process in which the cluster of problems creates out of the series of individual problems, lives of trouble. This is what is often referred to as social exclusion. A frequently cited definition of social exclusion is “a shorthand term for what can happen when people or areas suffer from a combination of linked problems such as unemployment, poor skills, low income, poor housing, high crime, bad health and family breakdown”.[145]  Justiciable problems are frequently treated as aspects of the Gordian knot of problems that constitute social exclusion.[146]

Multiple Problems

Tables 35 and 36 present two ways to look at the extent of multiple problems. Table 35 shows the percentages of the respondents that experienced two or more and progressively higher numbers of problems.

Table 35: Respondents Reporting One or More Problems
Individuals Reporting one or more and Higher Order Numbers of Problems
No Problems 55.4%
One or More 44.6%
Two or More 26.4%
Three or More 17.6%
Four or More 12.0%
Five or More 8.4%
Six or More 6.0%

Table 36 shows the percentages reporting specific numbers of problems. In subsequent parts of the analysis, three problems will be used as the threshold for multiple problems.

Table 36: Respondents experiencing Specific Numbers of Multiple Problems
Individuals Reporting Specific Numbers of Problems
No Problems 55.4%
One Problem 18.3%
Two Problems 8.8%
Three problems 5.7%
Four Problems 3.4%
Five Problems 2.4%
Six Problems or More 6.0%

The Cumulative Nature of Justiciable Problems

The risk of experiencing justiciable problems appears to be cumulative. That is, the risk of additional problems increases as the number of problems already experienced increases.

Table 37 shows the proportions likely to experience additional problems given that a certain number have already occurred. The proportion of respondents who experienced one problem who then had a second problem is 0.323.[147] Since a simple proportion can be interpreted as risk, we can say that the risk of experiencing a second problem, having already experienced one problem is 0.323. 

Table 37: Cumulative Risk of Experiencing Justiciable Problems
Cumulative Risk of Experiencing Justiciable Problems
Number of Problems Already Experienced Probability of Experiencing Additional Problems
One Two Problems .323
Two Three Problems .394
Three Four Problems .457
Four Five Problems .406
Five Six Problems .410
Six Seven Problems .416
Seven Eight Problems .385
Eight Nine Problems .456
Nine Ten Problems .400

The progression is not perfectly linear. However, probability of experiencing three problems if the individual already has two increases to .394 compared with the probability of .323 of having a second problem for respondents who have already experienced one problem. The probability of experiencing four problems, among those who experienced three, increases to 0.457. After four problems the risk of each additional problem varies but, with one exception, remains higher than the risk of moving from one problem to two or from two problems to three.  This provides some evidence that experiencing civil justice problems has a momentum. Problems tend to generate more problems, suggesting the trigger and cascade effect that is the core dynamic of the process of social exclusion.

The Social and Demographic Factors Related to Multiple Problems

Like the experience of justiciable problems generally, experiencing multiple problems does not occur equally to all people in the population. People in certain demographic categories and social groups are more likely to experience multiple problems, and with increasing numbers of problems may increase the risk of unmet need.

Respondents with a self-reported disability are more likely to have multiple problems. For example, among all respondents reporting only one problem 10.8 per cent report some form of disability. This increases to 35.3 per cent for respondents reporting more than six problems. Thus, 24.5 per cent more disabled people report a high number of multiple problems that only one problem. Exactly the opposite is true for non-disabled respondents. Twenty-four per cent fewer respondents report more than six problems compared with the percentage reporting one problem.[148] When the number of problems is split into a two category variable, less than three problems and more than three problems, for purposes of binary analysis and producing an odds ratio measuring the increased likelihood of multiple problems, disabled respondents are 2.5 times more likely to report multiple problems that people who are not disabled.[149]

People indicating they are members of a visible minority group are also more likely to experience multiple problems. Among all respondents reporting one problem, slightly over seventeen per cent, 17.3 per cent, are visible minorities. This increases to 35.1 per cent for respondents reporting more than six problems. The percentage of respondents who are not visible minorities decreases by about seventeen per cent comparing respondents reporting one problem with those reporting more than six.[150] Comparing respondents with less than three and more than three problems, members of visible minorities are 2.4 times more likely to experience multiple problems.[151]

The percentage of Aboriginal respondents reporting one problem is 3.3 per cent. The percentage of people reporting more than six problems who are Aboriginal rises to 8.7 per cent, a percentage difference of plus 5.4 per cent.[152] This corresponds with a percentage difference of 5% fewer people among non-Aboriginal respondents. Aboriginal people are 1.7 times more likely than non-Aboriginals to experience three or more problems.[153]

Black Canadians are also more likely to experience multiple problems. The number of respondents reporting more than six problems who are Black is 9.6 per cent greater than the corresponding number reporting only one problem.[154] Blacks are 1.3 times more likely than people from other origins to report three or more problems.[155]

The percentage of people with one problem who are receiving social assistance is 15.0 per cent, rising to 33.1 per cent among those respondents who reported more than six problems, a percentage difference of 14.9 per cent. The percentage difference is in the opposite direction for respondents not on social assistance. Among that group, 19.1pe cent fewer people report more than six problems compared with the percentage reporting one problem.[156]  People on social assistance are 1.7 times more likely to experience three or more problems compared with all others.[157]

Younger people are more likely to experience multiple problems. The percentage of respondents reporting more than six problems is 8.8 per cent greater than reporting one problem among 18 to 29 year olds, and 9.6 per cent greater among people 30 to 44 years of age. The opposite is true among people over 45 years of age from whom the percentage of respondents with more than six problems decreased compared with the percentage with one problem.[158] People in the 18-29 group are 1.3 times more likely to experience three or more problems[159] and respondents in the 30 to 44 age range are also 1.3 times more likely to report they experienced three or more problems within the three-year survey period.[160]

People with high school educations and those with some post-secondary are more likely to report multiple problems and people who are university-educated are less likely. People with high school plus are 1.4 times more likely than all others to report three or more problems.[161] The effect of education on experiencing multiple problems may be confounded by respondents with less than high school. These respondents show less likelihood of reporting multiple problems. It is possible that this reflects a reporting effect where people with the lowest levels of education are less likely to report problems rather than experience them.

With respect to family status, being a single parent is related to experiencing multiple problems. Among respondents reporting only one problem, 6.0 per cent are single parents. This percentage rises to 22.1 percent who are single parents among all those reporting more than six problems.[162] Single parents are 2.5 times more likely to report three or more problems.[163] Couples, with or without children are less likely to report multiple problems. Unattached individuals, including single, widowed, divorced and separated, are only slightly more likely to experience multiple problems.

Being unemployed is related to multiple problems. Among people reporting one problem, 4.8 per cent are unemployed, compared with respondents with more than six problems in which 12.3 per cent are unemployed. This is a percentage difference of 8.5 per cent, compared with no percentage difference for people who are employed.[164] People who are unemployed are 1.7 times more likely to experience multiple problems, that is, three or more, than all others.[165]

The lowest income groups are more likely to report multiple problems. Among respondents reporting incomes of less than $25,000 there is a percentage difference of 10.5 per cent in favour of experiencing more than six problems. This decreases to 7.3 per cent for the $25,000 to $45,000 income bracket.[166] Expressed in terms of odds ratios, people earning under $25,000 show a modest 1.4 times greater likelihood of experiencing three or more problems and 1.3 times more likely for the $25,000 to $45,000 income group.[167] Higher income groups are less likely to have multiple problems.

Finally, living in the province of Quebec is related to a lower occurrence of multiple problems. The percentage difference for Quebec between people reporting one problem (22.6%) and reporting more than six problems (9.0%) is 13.6 per cent; that is, 13.6 per cent fewer people report more than six problems. Comparing this with the two other big provinces, 6.9 per cent more people report over six problems in Ontario and 2.9 per cent in British Columbia. People living in Quebec are only 0.56 times as likely to experience multiple problems as people living elsewhere in Canada. Reversing the odds ratio, people elsewhere in Canada are 1.8 times more likely than Quebecers to experience multiple problems.[168]  Coincidently, respondents who completed the interview in French were 1.7 times more likely than their English counterparts to experience multiple problems.[169]

Binary logistic regression was carried out to determine the factors that have an independent statistically significant effect on experiencing multiple problems. Two variables, disability status and receiving social assistance predicted that respondents would experience multiple problems. People self-reporting some form of disability were 2.8 times more likely than all others, net of the effects of other variables,[170] and people on social assistance were 1.3 times more likely to experience multiple problems.[171] People living in Quebec, living in places with a population of less than 5000 and employed were less likely to experience three or more problems. Having less than high school education also predicted reporting less than three problems although, as already mentioned, it is possible that this is a reporting effect.

Multiple Problems and Social Exclusion

The term social exclusion describes more than a condition in which people experience a cluster of interrelated problems. According to Giddens, social exclusion may also be viewed as a process by which people fall away from the social mainstream, from lives of self-sufficiency to lives of dependency[172]. If this is the case, then problems related debt, social assistance, disability pensions and housing should tend to occur more frequently as the overall number of justiciable problems increases. This appears to be true. Whereas 20.4 per cent of all respondents indicated they had experienced a debt problem of some type, 62.7 per cent of respondents with at least three problems reported a debt problem, and 78.5 per cent of all respondents who reported six or more problems reported a debt problem. Debt appears to be an overwhelming problem for respondents with multiple problems. However, Figure 3 shows the same pattern for other problems types related to social exclusion; welfare benefits, disability pensions and housing. Housing, for example, was reported by 5.4 per cent of the total sample. About eight per cent of respondents who had three or more problems reported a housing problem and 15 per cent of respondents experiencing six or more problems reported a housing problem. Similarly, there is a pattern of increasing frequency of problems with social assistance and disability pensions as the size of problem clusters increases. Among all respondents 3.5 per cent reported one or more social assistance problems. This increases to 4.9 per cent of respondents among those reporting at least three problems and to 10.3 per cent of respondents who experienced six or more problems. In a similar pattern, 2.6 per cent of all respondents reported a problem with disability pensions. This increases to 4.6 per cent and 8.5 per cent, respectively, for respondents with three or more and six or more problems.

Figure 3: Multiple Problems and Problems Related to Social Exclusion

Figure 3: Multiple Problems and Problems Related to Social Exclusion

[Description]

This does not appear to be a simple reflection of the random distribution of these types of problems. Taking social assistance problems as an example, 3.5 per cent of all respondents reporting at least one problem have a problem of this type. The 4.9 per cent of respondents with three or more problems having a social assistance problem represents a 40 per cent increase. The 10.3 per cent of respondents having six or more problems reporting a social assistance problem represents a 110 per cent increase over the group with three or more problems. This is a geometric pattern of increase that also holds for both disability pensions and housing problems. Problems related to debt display a different pattern. There is a large 200 per cent increase from the 20.4 per cent of all respondents having at least one problem with a debt problem to 62.7 per cent of all respondents with three or more problems. The percentage increase fromthe 62.7 per cent of respondents with at least three problems to the 78.5 per cent of respondents with six or more problems is 25 per cent. This is a progressive increase, but not a geometric pattern. Overall, the predominant geometric pattern of increase in the incidence of these types of problems for people with at least one, at least three and at least six problems suggests that the progressively larger number of problems typifying social exclusion is systematic rather than random. It suggests that social exclusion is a property of increasingly large clusters of justiciable problems. Refer to table 38.

Table 38: Problems Related to Social Exclusion: Patterns of Increase
Debt Social Assistance Disability Pensions Housing
Number of Problems % % Increase % % Increase % % Increase % % Increase
At Least One 20.4% -- 3.5% 2.6% -- 5.4% --
Three or More 62.7% 200% 4.9% 40% 4.6% 77% 8.1% 50%
Six or More 78.5% 25% 10.3% 110% 8.5% 85% 15.0% 85%


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