Printed and Published by Nova Scotia Hansard Reporting Services
COMMUNITY SERVICES COMMITTEE
Ms. Marilyn More (Chairman)
Mr. Mark Parent
Mr. Gary Hines
Ms. Judy Streatch
Mr. Jerry Pye
Mr. Gordon Gosse
Mr. Stephen McNeil
Mr. Leo Glavine
Ms. Diana Whalen
Ms. Mora Stevens
Legislative Committee Clerk
Women's Centres CONNECT!
Social Assistance Reform in Nova Scotia:
Moving Forward a Woman Positive Public Policy Agenda
HALIFAX, THURSDAY, JANUARY 12, 2006
COMMUNITY SERVICES FORUM ON POVERTY
Ms. Marilyn More
MADAM CHAIRMAN: I am going to call to order the Forum on Poverty. It's a two-day forum, and we're so pleased to have so many with us this early in the morning. We thank you very much. We realize how busy your schedules are.
My name is Marilyn More and I'm the Chairman of the Standing Committee on Community Services. I think, first of all, we'll introduce the members of the standing committee who are here today. I just want to explain that the standing committee is an all-Party committee, we have equal numbers on the committee - three each from each of the three caucuses.
[The committee members introduced themselves.]
MADAM CHAIRMAN: We are also joined at the table by the committee clerk for this committee, Mora Stevens.
I just want to give a little bit of background about how the forum evolved. When the committee met in June, a number of issues that we wanted to investigate came up. There was a common theme among these issues, and that theme seemed to be inadequate income or poverty. So the committee decided to follow a model that it had used fairly successfully last year. We did two forums on family violence. So we thought perhaps rather than inviting groups in one at a time that we'd bring everyone in together to make an effort to really understand and become aware of the factors and issues around poverty and see if we, as an all-Party committee, could actually make recommendations to the government on your behalf and on our behalf in order to move this issue forward and to take some action on it.
We developed a process that I'm going to explain to you. This morning we're going to hear from some of the major networks and coalitions that have been working on these issues for many years and have a lot of experience and expertise in them, and we wanted to hear from those first. Then representatives from those groups are going to join the committee this afternoon for a brainstorming around these issues. Tomorrow morning, we wanted to open it up - we actually didn't have the resources available to go around the province, so we wanted to make it a little easier for smaller community groups and individuals to appear before us.
Tomorrow morning it's a more open session where individuals and smaller groups will be making presentations or just presenting comments. Throughout the whole process there is an opportunity for you to make written comments that will be considered. Tomorrow afternoon the committee is going to meet and summarize and digest as much of this information as possible and try to get a handle on where we want to go with our recommendations.
I want to explain that there are forms at the back and on the side where you can put in your name and address and, if you want, we will mail out a transcript of everything that is said at the forum. Everything is being recorded in Hansard, so it will also be available online. If you want a written copy, you just need to put your mailing address on that form and we'll be sure that the Legislative Committees Office sends out a copy of the Hansard as soon as it is available. Also, if you have any comments on the process that we're using, any recommendations for how we could improve it for another time, please add those comments there, or anything that you want to comment on at all, feel free.
I think those are the sort of housekeeping details. I just want to mention that there are washrooms at the end of the hall, and there are larger washrooms downstairs on the main floor.
We're going to go through this session until about 12:00 noon, then we invite everyone to be back here by at least 1:15 p.m., as promptly as possible, because we want to start at 1:30 p.m. We don't want to shortchange the discussion, the brainstorming, this afternoon. We know how difficult it is to have lunch within an hour in downtown Halifax, but we encourage you to try to be back here by 1:15 p.m. We will start with our first group. We're going to hear two presenters from the Face of Poverty, Carolyn Earle and Alasdair Sinclair. Thank you very much for coming.
MS. CAROLYN EARLE: Good morning, and thank you for inviting us to be with you. Alasdair and I have numbers of members of the committee who are in attendance as well. We are a group of representatives from various faith communities in the HRM who have been working together now for some four years doing advocacy and education around the issues of poverty, which cause much suffering in our community and in our province. We
acknowledge also that each of you have had experiences similar to our own, people knocking on doors and asking for help are familiar to all of us.
Canada is one of the wealthiest countries in the world, but approximately one in eight working-aged Canadians and Canadian children live in poverty. Canada ranks 18th among 23 industrialized countries in terms of child poverty. Approximately 112,000 Canadians died in three wars and peacekeeping missions, and now 10 times that number, over 1 million children, are engaged in a war with poverty; 40,000 of those children are right here in Nova Scotia.
Both Canadian corporations and wealthy Canadians are doing well. Before tax, corporate profits have increased, and the market incomes of the wealthiest 10 per cent of Canadians have increased, but 800,000 Canadians depend on one of Canada's 630 food banks each month. Here in Nova Scotia almost 50 per cent of food bank users are under the age of 18 years. Feed Nova Scotia provided 1.6 million kilograms of food at 150 depots in Nova Scotia in the year 2004. Over 1.7 million Canadians live in substandard or unaffordable housing, and at least 14,000 Canadians are homeless. Right here in Halifax, according to the 2001 census, 16,595 households spend more than 50 per cent of their income on shelter and are therefore considered households at risk of homelessness. If nothing else, these are very shocking statistics, but all of these statistics represent people, people who live right here in Canada and in Nova Scotia itself.
The United Nations Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights states that all citizens have a right to adequate shelter, food, income, health and employment. Canada is a signatory to this and other UN documents of a like nature. Indeed, the Human Rights Act of Nova Scotia states, "The purpose of this Act is to (a) recognize the inherent dignity and the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family; (b) proclaim a common standard for achievement of basic human rights by all Nova Scotians . . . (d) affirm the principle that every person is free and equal in dignity and rights; (e) recognize that the government, all public agencies and all persons in the Province have the responsibility to ensure that every individual in the Province is afforded an equal opportunity to enjoy a full and productive life and that failure to provide equality of opportunity threatens the status of all persons . . ."
A fundamental tenet of each of the faith groups represented in the Face of Poverty consultation is love thy neighbour. One of the ways we do this is to attempt to ensure that all of our neighbours have shelter, food, income, health services, access to education and employment, the very things we desire for ourselves. In our years of study and experience together, we have recognized again and again that persons living in poverty do not have these basic necessities. Poverty then goes far beyond a lack of daily needs and forecloses choices and options that many take for granted. It deprives people of experiences that contribute to
meaning and human development. We have only to look at the recent situations in France and Australia and in some communities here in Canada to realize the damage poverty can do to a society. Something must be done about poverty right now.
Reports and studies from sources as diverse as the Toronto Dominion Bank, the National Council of Welfare, and the Nova Scotia Child Poverty Report Card have come to the same conclusion, people are poor because they do not have enough money. This was one of the first comments made by a young mother we spoke to in a family resource centre. If people cannot earn enough money for themselves, then they are dependent on others to help them with the necessities of life.
Governments are agents that can make changes in this situation. A former Canadian Justice, Louise Arbour, now the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said on a recent edition of CBC Radio Ideas program that Canada has taken a charity attitude with regard to human rights, when in fact it should be viewing human rights as entitlements for citizens. Her idea is that for too long governments have been content to take this attitude of charity, a feel-good attitude towards the elimination of poverty. Churches and other community agencies have supplied band-aids for citizens when what is required is bold innovation by governments.
We believe it is a human right to be free of poverty. Polls consistently indicate that Canadians value their safety nets and want to help their fellow citizens to have a good life. Michael Rachlis, in his book, Prescription for Excellence: How Innovation is Saving Canada's Health Care System, gives an example of an approach used by the Hamilton-Wentworth Department of Social Services, which is significant for the situation in Nova Scotia. I quote, ". . . they randomly assigned social assistance recipients to various interventions that they thought might improve their lives. One group received a package of child care, recreation, and skills development. Another group received employment retraining, while a third had regular visits from a public health nurse, who worked with them to develop a structured problem-solving approach to family issues. Another group received no interventions, and yet another received all of them.
At the end of two years, all the intervention groups were more likely to have left welfare than the control group, only 10 per cent of which discontinued social assistance. Twenty-five per cent of the group with the comprehensive services left welfare. And this relative two-and-a-half-fold increase in welfare departure didn't cost anything. After the decreased welfare payments were factored into the equation, they more than paid for the enhanced services."
The ultimate goal for the Employment Support and Income Assistance Program of Community Services is to move as many individuals and families as possible out of poverty and into independent citizenship. Cost effectiveness for governments and non-profit organizations must be looked at from the long-term point of view. This is not the same
viewpoint that private for-profit organizations use. The cost effectiveness of early intervention in a variety of ways to help people have homes, food, jobs, education, should all be considered when balanced with the later cost to our system of a minimum care which results in chronic health problems, unemployment and law enforcement issues, to name only a few.
This will call for the co-operation among various provincial government departments - Community Services, Health, Health Promotion, Education, Justice, and Environment and Labour. Such co-operation is not a new idea and needs more emphasis at the Cabinet level of decision making.
MR. ALASDAIR SINCLAIR: I will intervene here for a moment. There are a number of issues that we could address and, as noted in that interesting Hamilton-Wentworth experience, there are a number of things that can be done, all of which have some effect. We have decided to emphasize two this year: one, the minimum wage and, two, fairness in the treatment of social service recipients.
The minimum wage is an area where the provincial government is free to act and it is possible because of the way the Constitution works in this country. In our report to the Minister of Environment and Labour, the Minimum Wage Review Committee acknowledged that an increase in the minimum wage is only one of a number of tools with which to combat poverty. This committee said: "that in order for an employee working 40 hours per week, 52 weeks of the year to meet the before tax low income cut off (LICO) in HRM for a single person, the employee would need to earn $9.26 per hour." In our submission to the Labour Standards Review Committee we recommended a minimum wage of $9 per hour for Nova Scotia.
The current minimum wage in Nova Scotia, as you know, is $6.80. It will move to $7.15 next month. It's easy to see why there are so many working poor in our province - some people are attempting to support families on wages that are not sufficient to support even one individual. The minimum wage must be a living wage. I know, as an economist, there are studies galore on the impact of the minimum wage for and against. Many of them show small minimal negative effects and some show some major positive effects. One has to balance the cost with the benefits in looking at the minimum wage and not just focus on potential costs.
Fairness. Some of the same arguments apply to the way in which the department of social services deals with persons who find employment while in receipt of assistance payments. Individuals are permitted to keep 30 per cent of the earnings, but 70 per cent of the earnings are clawed back. That means a person working at the minimum wage is getting about $2 an hour because the other $4 has to go back to the province. This keeps the individual from being able to work his or her way out of poverty because the combination of assistance and 30 per cent retained earnings does not lead to the low-income cut-off.
Surely if a person on assistance gains employment, the person should be able to make a very real contribution to their living standards - a far cry from the present 70 per cent tax. You will remember that Mr. Hamm thought a 70 per cent tax on offshore oil was an inordinately high tax rate. The 70 per cent is symbolic.
We have 10 recommendations we'll go through quickly. You politicians have said you want to hear from citizens and we represent, or are parts of family groups, religious communities, volunteers, and many of us work in different occupations. We have a broad range of interests and support, and we've come up with 10 things that we would like to draw to your attention. First, we call for a review of the Employment Support and Income Assistance program of the Department of Community Services. This program has been functioning since 2001 and so it is time to review the whole situation. It is important to learn about best practices in other jurisdictions, very important. To be innovative with programs and people, to focus on what is needed and what is helpful in individual cases. One size does not fit all.
Secondly, we urge an increase in staffing numbers and in-service continuing education for workers in all aspects of the ESIA program, particularly at the intake level. We urge that all social workers and caseworkers be required to undertake regular professional development, just as other professionals do.
Three, we urge the immediate review of the clawback of any earnings made by individuals while in receipt of assistance with relation to both the LICO and the Income Tax Act in order to choose a more realistic incentive figure.
MS. EARLE: We urge the reinstatement of the allowances for each child when setting the rates of assistance for families in Nova Scotia, in order that the full benefit of the National Child Tax Benefit can be received. We urge an increase in shelter allowances that would make it possible for persons to be housed in safe, affordable, sustainable situations. We urge an immediate increase in the minimum wage for Nova Scotia to $9 per hour. This will assist persons to work their way out of poverty. We urge an expansion to sustainable early childhood education and care programs so that there are more spaces, more subsidized spaces, more portable spaces, higher salaries for professionally-trained early childhood educators, and longer and more flexible hours of operation in more centres. Early childhood education and care should be part of the public education system.
We urge removal of the Nova Scotia portion of the HST on family necessities such as children's clothing, school supplies, fuel, basic utilities such as a basic telephone service. We urge serious consideration of the implementation of a guaranteed annual income in Nova Scotia. When individuals or groups step forward to assist their fellow citizens it is called charity, or service, or advocacy. When governments use their power and opportunities to provide human rights and civil rights for their citizens this is identified as doing justice. To conclude, we are calling on the government to provide justice for all Nova Scotians. We are
calling for all Nova Scotians to have lives filled with dignity and respect. Thank you for your attention.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much. I just want to clarify. There were 10 recommendations, or nine?
MR. SINCLAIR: Sorry, nine.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Okay, that's fine, thank you.
MS. EARLE: We can probably think of another one . . .
MADAM CHAIRMAN: I kept looking for the missing page. That's an excellent start to the discussion today. I thank you very much for your very thought-provoking and thoughtful presentation. I'm just going to give committee members a chance now to ask a few questions or just clarify any points.
MR. JERRY PYE: Thank you, Madam Chairman. It's not necessarily a clarification of a point, but it's the direction of the Department of Community Services and where it sees itself in the role of providing services to Nova Scotians. Community Services plays the role, or takes the role that it is the provider of last resort. It's a government department, yet this is a role it takes. My question to you is, do you think that's the appropriate role a government department providing services to Nova Scotians should take?
MR. SINCLAIR: Last resort sounds like a formidable obstacle for people to overcome, because what is one person's modern inconvenience may be a last resort. I don't like the wording at all.
MR. PYE: That implies that after family, after churches, after agencies in the community, only then shall people be served by their government?
MR. SINCLAIR: That's not consistent with a normal view of how government should operate, in my view.
MR. PYE: Thank you. The final question is a question around the minimum wage. You made a specific minimum wage, I think you said $9 an hour. I don't know how you came about calculating that number, but if you could tell the committee, how does that number calculate to substantiate that that would be the kind of hourly wage for individuals to sustain their lifestyle?
MR. SINCLAIR: It would work out to about $18,000 per year for a person working 40 hours a week, 52 weeks of the year, and that is pretty close to the low-income cut-off if one wants a lower minimum wage than these higher income adjustment payments to people. The objective of this is to bring people out of poverty. You can do it through the market or you can do it through government. There has to be some combination of balance. There's no magic number, but $9 seems reasonable, $10 would probably be better, but $9 is more within the ballpark for Nova Scotia at this time.
MR. PYE: And one other finally, Madam Chairman.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Jerry, I think we're actually going to have to move on to another member. We'll have a chance this afternoon to discuss some of these issues, so just make a note of that one and we can come back to it after lunch. Mark.
MR. MARK PARENT: Thank you very much for your excellent presentation and for the extensive work you've done. I'm just wondering, have you done a costing out to government of what these suggestions would cost? Do you have some sort of ballpark figure?
MS. EARLE: Yes, somewhere in my papers I could give you the answer to that, but not right off the top of my head right now. We do have some information on that. Maybe we can give you that this afternoon?
MR. PARENT: Okay, thank you very much.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: That would work fine. Leo.
MR. LEO GLAVINE: Thank you, Madam Chairman. Thank you very much for your presentation today. I'm just wondering if most of your work and your thoughtful reflection of this issue and some positive solutions put forward, but is it primarily based on the urban, the Halifax experience? I certainly know that there are rural issues where they do have some differences and so forth. I'm just wondering, are you primarily a metro-based organization or do you think you're reflecting province-wide here what is taking place?
MS. EARLE: Well, essentially, yes, we are an urban-based organization, but our rating and interconnected experiences with people in our faith groups would suggest that the urban experience is not that different from the rural experience. I mean, the dollar figures may vary somewhat as far as the low-income cut-off rate and so on, but essentially people's experiences are the same. The 40,000 children living in poverty don't all live in HRM.
MR. GLAVINE: Yes, but I'm just wondering if your organization, however, is pretty well based here as opposed to being in other parts of the province.
MR. SINCLAIR: It's metro-based for sure.
MR. GLAVINE: Yes, okay. (Interruption) Oh, yes, you know, your observations are universal in that respect.
MR. SINCLAIR: Yes.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Anyone else? Okay, I want to thank you both very much for representing the Face of Poverty Coalition here today and we look forward to continuing our discussion this afternoon.
Now I will invite representatives from the Community Advocates Network to come forward, please. Thank you. Just before I ask you to introduce yourselves, I want to remind you that for recording purposes, since we have four people and three microphones, each time you speak, if you could just pull the mic over in front of you, that would work out just fine. So if you could give us your names, that would be great and we'll get started.
MR. JOHN COX: My name is John Cox. I'm the Co-Chair of the Community Advocates Network and I'll introduce our panellists. Wayne MacNaughton is to my immediate right; Donnie Mullins; and then Gayle McIntyre at the end. We're also expecting Jeanne Faye who is not here, obviously, who is running late. So when she comes in, we'll ask her to speak. First off, I want to pass out our position on social assistance reform. There are two pages of these. Then I want to read our mission statement and then we'll get on with our presentations.
The Community Advocates Network's mission statement is, we are committed to full community participation in the decision-making process of social assistance reform. Real issues must be addressed and community-based solutions achieved to ensure well-being for all. Our objectives are to mobilize provincial-wide community involvement in social assistance reform, to develop a common front on social assistance policy, to lobby for change in the social assistance system to meet real needs, and to put social assistance reform on the agenda. So I will hand it over to Donnie who will speak first.
MR. DONNIE MULLINS: My role here today is to talk about the disabled and to focus around their needs. Currently there is no place, or very little place for a disabled person to go. We do have the shelters, but they're not 24/7. So on a day like today where do they go when the shelter is closed? Second, housing, there's lots of housing units sitting empty and I would like to see HRM housing renovate to make them accessible so that we can use them.
I tried for a long time to get housing to commit a line budget on their budget, where they would just take units that already exist and make them accessible by taking dollars and doing the things so we can use them, because we are a growing society of older people with many more disabilities and, if we can't handle the ones we have today, with all the baby boomers coming up, what are we going to do then? We're going to have more shelters and no place to put them, and that really concerns me because I'm a disabled consumer and I find it, more and more every day, harder to get around. I don't know what a person in a shelter who is disabled would do because it's like when you went to school, if you're different, you kind of get bullied. In shelters it often happens, so they don't often want to go to shelters. Sometimes they sleep on the street and they're treated differently.
They can't understand them. Our youth today don't understand an older disabled person in a chair, they just figure that they're disabled and they push them aside. So often not only are they homeless, but they are stuck in a place where they do not really feel welcome, and that scares me because I could be one of those people. Our disabled community is growing, every day, by leaps and bounds. I would like to see a shelter open 24 hours a day, seven days a week - we asked for that the last time we met, and I don't see that - especially in the Winter months with all this snow and everything.
My next thing is Pharmacare. Pharmacare is not accessible to people. It doesn't work for the working poor. It doesn't work for the people who are on social assistance, and many drugs are not covered - and then there is the co-pay. If you have a child who is sick and has to have a cough medicine, if you haven't got the $5 to pay the co-pay you can't get the cough medicine, or if you are mentally ill and need medication. I heard a story over Christmas where one person was sick and he went to social services and got into a scuffle; he went to the pharmacy and got into a scuffle; he went into the North End Clinic and had the same situation. Nobody bothered to tell him to go to the shelter where he could register and get his drugs. Social services never told him that. So he could have ended up in jail, which would have cost us a lot more money and it wouldn't have been a very good Christmas for this person.
So all I'm saying is life for the disabled is getting very tough because we're not being recognized in the Act. It used to say in the Act that accessibility was important. It's been taken out of the Act. I would like to see it replaced in the Act. Not everybody can work. It would be nice if we could, but we can't. There are some of us who have limitations, and there should be some allowance for those who are disabled or who will be disabled, either because of age or disease. Currently, everything is work-driven. If you can work, you are fine, but if you can't work, where do you stand? Your worker has nowhere to put you.
That's about all I have to say. There is a whole population of disabled people out there who struggle every day to get through the day.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much, Donnie.
MS. GAYLE MCINTYRE: My presentation is named Human Dignity, Respect, Fair and Equal Treatment. The papers that were passed around, it's just combining a few of the philosophies that are there, if you just want to follow by that. I do speak fast, you will not offend me if you say slow down. I get very passionate about these things. I have to read from the paper even if just to appear that I'm organized.
As I stand here at this moment, there are people involved in different programs within the Community Services Department who are having at least one of their rights violated. I do not know anyone who voluntarily agrees to live in a status of poverty any more than I know anyone who agrees that it's okay to violate any of the rights that are given to them as full legal human beings. In the time I just said that, another person has been violated by the Community Services Department.
Whether it's the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Children and Family Services Act of Nova Scotia, or the Nova Scotia Residential Tenancies Act, people who live in various states of poverty are inherently at risk of being treated less than what is legally required. This is unacceptable and illegal, yet it happens every day in Nova Scotia within the population who are forced to use programs outlined and administered by the Department of Community Services - one of the greatest offenders of persons of poverty in Nova Scotia. Ironically, the Department of Justice would be the second greatest offender.
The violations of many pieces of legislation are too complex to address in such a short time, but one area of discussion that would inevitably alleviate the imbalance of treatment while enhancing the issues of respect, dignity, and fair and equal treatment is the area of the appeals process. So that would be the appeals process as it exists now within the Department of Community Services. Right now in Nova Scotia the appeals process is being abused and misused. Right now Community Services can make devastating decisions that destroy families within a moment, without benefit of a hearing before such a decision is made. This action alone is in direct violation to the family integrity clause in sections of the Children and Family Services Act.
Community Services cannot promote the integrity of the family while at the same time destroying a family. How can the same department, a government department, be allowed to break the law while supposedly mandated to uphold the law. This and many other policies should be under review for the potential misinterpretation and mishandling by staff who may not have enough training or specific education to implement and enforce.
Human life is far too valuable to be exposed to the whims of people who may not understand the full interpretations of policies and the subsequent damages to human life if not implemented responsibly and humanely. Vulnerable clients must endure a three- to six-month appeal process to get reinstated. I'm sure we all know that three to six months is
inhumane, as families and single persons, young and old, live without necessary funds, housing program supports, and medications to sustain their very basic living needs.
Yet Community Services is not required to hold a hearing to justify such devastating decisions. The person who is the object of such inhumane treatment is thrown into further despair, and at a greater disadvantage of preparing for a lengthy wait for an appeal. Some people in poverty just don't have the resources to organize themselves to know their own rights let alone fight for them. It is not uncommon for those who have actualized the appeal process to feel retaliated against and further issues that pertain to their own file. This becomes a vicious cycle for those who must endure Community Services for long-term reasons. Right now the appeals process is being used by certain caseworkers as a form of dismissal, laziness or retaliation, rather than trying to resolve issues at the primary level.
Nobody wants the hassle of doing appeals, and I'm sure many vulnerable persons in poverty cannot follow through, and sadly their rights and entitlements continue to be under-represented and misrepresented. It is not uncommon for an appeal process to be favourable to certain clients. Yet this information is not circulated to the other caseworkers so that the decision can benefit other clients, thus the client does not have to begin the arduous task of doing a separate redundant appeal. There needs to be a database set up with the outcomes of the appeal process decisions so that clients and caseworkers can bypass the unnecessary waste of resources. To do otherwise is to exhaust an already exhausted population.
I recommend that a separate body be established that manages the appeal process. This would include any caseworkers who wish to alter a client's program or funding. In this system, the caseworker must first utilize the hearing process to justify the position in the first place. The staff person selected for the appeals process must not have any visible allegiance to Community Services so that the impartiality and neutrality are honoured as much as possible. This will reduce the fear in instances of retaliation while promoting a standard level of integrity for hearing processes that do affect the quality of life for those in need of assistance from Community Services. By placing unnecessary roadblocks for those already vulnerable and less fortunate is to add burden to the load they already carry. The philosophy of professional standards for such departments are to be in keeping with the practice and enhance the quality of life and address key determinants of health by Canadian standards.
The separate appeals body can informally monitor those caseworkers in any department who may be overusing or over-referring to the appeals process, and such behaviour should be immediately reviewed. If a problem is substantiated, a service user should have the inherent right to request a change in caseworker so that this pattern of misuse and potential abuse is terminated immediately.
Community Services has, within it its own manuals, mandates, policies and mission statements and the ability to set standards of humanity, dignity, respect, and fair and equal treatment. What is seriously lacking is the professional accountability when they not only fail to meet such legal standards, but act in a way contrary to basic human needs and rights. There are so many aspects of service delivery that need to be examined. Changes to the appeals process is moving in the right direction and the only direction if we are to provide impoverished and vulnerable Nova Scotians with a standard of care that connotes and promotes self-determinism and dignity.
I just have two other recommendations. I have just come across, recently, Janet Mosher. She's a professor out of Ontario, and she has two very comprehensive papers that I highly recommend as a must for each person here. One of them is called Welfare Fraud: The Constitution of Social Assistance as Crime. She was commissioned by the Law Commission of Ontario, and although it is using Ontario as a case study, a lot of the learning and the very overt retaliation and punitive philosophies within Community Services are very clear. So you can read it and know it's that population, but you can certainly apply it to what's going on here. So both her papers, Welfare Fraud and the other one is Walking on Eggshells - and I apologize, I don't have her Web site address right now, but she's immediately there on Google.
The other recommendation is that we really need to put into effect what's called a welfare rights organization. It would set up somewhat of an advocacy network because right now people in Community Services who are already very vulnerable do their own representations, and that's a very difficult burden to put on somebody. So the WRO would set up, have very educated and trained persons to act in assistance, and of course another part of their chores would be to act as an independent monitoring system to check the efficacy of existing policies in Community Services and to be encouraged by government to come forward with recommendations, on occasion, to the provincial Cabinet. Thank you.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Gayle, I just want to check, was the name of that researcher Janet Mosher?
MS. MCINTYRE: Yes, I'm sorry, M-o-s-h-e-r.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Thank you.
MS. MCINTYRE: Yes, she has the two, and there's one in French. They're very - you can't read these papers and not feel the need to change Community Services in Nova Scotia.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much. Wayne.
MR. WAYNE MACNAUGHTON: Yes, actually if I can get the clerk, I've got a couple of reports here that I would like them to distribute to the committee. One is the report that was referred to by the Face of Poverty on the Nova Scotia Child Poverty Report Card, and the other is a paper which I'll be talking a little bit about, called From Welfare to Work in Ontario: Still the Road Less Travelled, that was produced by Toronto-Dominion Economics. I also have a form, just one page, that I would like to pass around to members of the committee from a study that Graeme Fraser with the Nova Scotia Association of Social Workers did on the changes made for families when we moved from the family benefits system to the child tax credit system and how much people lost in the process of that.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Wayne, could I just ask you to pull the mic a little closer.
MR. MACNAUGHTON: Sure.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much, just in front of you.
MR. MACNAUGHTON: Okay, thank you. I will talk in a moment about the child tax credit, but I wanted to start by talking about something which is a little closer to my area of expertise and that is the shelter allowance system. As it stands right now in Nova Scotia, a single person who's considered to be employable is eligible for up to $285 a month for shelter. That includes rent and/or utilities, and this in an era when utility costs are going through the roof as we all know. It was $235 and it was raised to $285 only this year, and I really have to wonder where the logic was in only raising it $50 when it desperately needed to be raised by $250 at least.
The whole point is that what happens right now is that people who are on that basic rate are spending almost all of their personal allowance in order to meet their shelter costs, resulting in the fact that they then have to access soup kitchens and food banks and other charities to meet their basic daily needs - operations which take place by and large during the daytime, during the week. So what does that mean? That means when they are supposed to be out looking for work, they are busy running from the food bank to the soup kitchen, to the charity to get to the clothing bank and so on in order to meet their basic needs. To say that that is counterproductive is an understatement. As well as the fact that it just doesn't reflect human dignity.
A proposal that has been brought forward as part of welfare reform that's going on right now in Ontario, and I think is worthy of consideration here as well, is that the shelter rate should be set at 85 per cent of the average market rent in any jurisdiction, and if it was set at that level, we would be able to avoid that problem here in Halifax, for example, of people not having enough to pay their rent. I would point out that this isn't going to affect every welfare recipient. Anybody who right now has rent geared to income would not see the rate go up at all because they are all paying rent within what's allowed even now. It's only the portion of welfare recipients who are trying to find housing or using housing in the
private market who are really affected by that, but they are seriously impacted by that. It's to the point where some of them are spending almost their entire cheque on their rent.
The second point I was going to make was about the child tax credit. The paper that I just passed around gives it to you plainly that basically what happened when we moved from the family benefit system to the current system in Nova Scotia, the average family lost. At the same time, also, I would mention that disabled individuals who are under family benefits by and large lost as well. The Child Tax Benefit needs to be increased, so that it brings it back up to a level that's reasonable. Also I would point out that by increasing the Child Tax Benefit, you are not only helping people who are living on social assistance, you're helping all of those who are living in poverty, including the working poor, which is very important because that gets into the next point which is talking about the return to work and the TD Bank report that I was talking about.
To sum up one of the important points that was mentioned in that TD Bank report, the Face of Poverty mentioned the 70 per cent clawback, for example. They looked at what had been the system in Ontario where there had been a 75 to 100 per cent clawback, under the previous government and was changed to a 50 per cent clawback under the current government. They found that even with the 50 per cent clawback, people were barely breaking even when they returned to work.
There is a cost to returning to work. It costs money to go to work. If you think about it, we all know that, whether it comes down to additional transportation costs, daycare costs, clothing costs. Even the fact that when you are unemployed you can sit at home and drink your cup of coffee that you've made, you put your kettle on and make your instant coffee that costs a few cents, when you go out to work you're popping a dollar every time you go for a coffee break, what's that, twice a day and maybe a couple of other times. Now that seems like not much, but when you are talking about people trying to get off assistance, those things start to add up very quickly. All of these out-of-pocket expenses add up. Clothing, if you are taking an office job you are required to have appropriate clothing and instead of having clothes that you can wash, you now have clothes that have to dry cleaned. What does that cost, you all know?
So these are issues that happen now. The 70 per cent clawback basically makes it punitive for people to go back to work, and add to that people who are disabled and required to use ongoing medical treatment or ongoing prescriptions. The current system allows for a continuation of Pharmacare only for 12 months. I would suggest that anybody who is in a disabled situation on welfare should receive that benefit indefinitely when they return to work as long as they require it. It is a lot cheaper for the province to continue to pay Pharmacare for them for the rest of their working life than to have them back on social assistance because they can't afford to meet their medical needs. This is a very real issue.
The other thing that happens is that when people are required to pay all of these things out of their pocket, they will let them go. They won't follow through on their medications. They won't follow through on things, so their health deteriorates and they end up back in the system that way.
I would point out that one of things that was mentioned as well by the Face of Poverty and it's worth re-emphasizing, the Premier of the province is very proud - and rightly so - of going to Ottawa and making the case for Nova Scotia having the majority of its gas and oil revenues clawed back from equalization. His point was that how are we ever going to get out of this dependence if we are not allowed to keep the money that we make in various ways?
All that we're asking is that same logic and that same fairness be applied to ordinary Nova Scotians. Instead of 70 per cent on every dollar earned, there should be at the very least a deductible of $150 or $200, free and clear, to begin with, and then a graduated clawback system after that starting at around 30 per cent or 40 per cent and building up to the point where the person loses that amount of money, so that there's a real possibility for people to get out of poverty. Take some of the extra equalization dollars that you're getting, a few million of the extra equalization dollars that you're getting, and instead of using it to pay down the debt, use it for what equalization is meant to be used for, mainly ensuring that Nova Scotians, including those living in poverty, have the same standard of living as other Canadians.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Wayne. John, I'd like to leave a few minutes for members to ask questions, so I'm just wondering if you want to perhaps summarize things in two or three minutes. Have you finished your presentation, as such?
MR. COX: Yes. Jeanne isn't here. I want to thank the committee members for allowing us this opportunity to meet with you. There needs to be an open and honest dialogue between government, community organizations and service users in the way poverty is being addressed. Only then can we begin to address the needs of people in an efficient manner. Every Nova Scotian must have enough to eat and the right to a decent life. The system needs to be set up to respect the person and treat each of us with dignity.
Nobody wants to be on social assistance, nobody wants or asks to become poor, but the policies of the Department of Community Services are set up to be so inflexible that they set up barriers that prevent people from leaving the system. The Employment Support and Income Assistance program is set up to get people off the system as quickly as possible. We disagree. The policies of the ESIA program inhibit persons from leaving the system. People on assistance don't have the same opportunities as other people. People living in poverty do not have the same opportunities as everyone else.
Social assistance is set up to punish people for being poor. A good example of this is the Pharmacare co-pay; $5 a prescription for someone who only has $180 for their entire budget is a huge expenditure, and heaven help those who have more than one prescription a month.
Many times we have heard that people don't get help unless they are in crisis. That's a very subjective term. I believe that every night a child goes to bed hungry in Nova Scotia is a crisis. Every person living on the street in the dead of Winter is in crisis. Without the right supports in place, every citizen in poverty is in crisis, yet the Department of Community Services and its policies do nothing but create a bigger crisis.
Many citizens in Nova Scotia and service organizations want to work with government to create policies that assist in reaching their potential. We want to assist government in providing appropriate supports that will assist us to get off assistance, not punish us for being poor. By working together, only then can we begin to create a system that assists all citizens in Nova Scotia to reach their potential. Thank you.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Welcome, Jeanne. We were just about to see if there were any questions from the members, but do you want to make a brief presentation?
MS. JEANNE FAYE: If the committee wants to ask questions, since I'm just catching my breath, I wouldn't mind a couple of minutes. I can start if you wish.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: We'll do a couple of questions, and then perhaps we'll give you a chance to make a few points.
MR. PARENT: Thank for the presentation and for being here. Just one quick comment before I move on to my question, and that is that the Pharmacare and the issue of drug costs, I think, is an incredibly important issue and one that we need to deal with, somehow, as a province for those on low income or those who don't have drug programs. It's something that I spend an awful lot of time on as an MLA, trying to find help for people.
I was a bit concerned about a comment that Ms. McIntyre made, and I just want to clarify it so I don't misunderstand. You used a fairly strong word about "violated" by Community Services. I assume you meant violated in terms of the fact that there are systemic changes that you would like to see made, not in terms of the treatment by the personnel within Community Services.
MS. MCINTYRE: The latter was correct - it is the treatment by certain personnel towards people who are utilizing the services.
MR. PARENT: I guess the experience I have in the area that I come from is that while there's, now and then, a social worker who may be somewhat burnt out, by and large these are people who are very professional and very caring.
MS. MCINTYRE: With all due respect, sir, unless you are a client of the services, I would hold your opinion in keeping in that framework. Unless you're a client of the services, you can't possibly understand what it's like to be degraded on a regular basis.
MR. PARENT: So you feel that the social workers in Community Services are violating people?
MS. MCINTYRE: Most definitely, every day they are. I think there have to be some sincere investigations into the Department of Community Services in various programs, because they have been allowed to continue this without any interruption, and until there is a thoughtful investigation - your opinion is your opinion, and I'm speaking as a non-client user.
MR. PARENT: Thank you for disempowering me there. Just a quick question.
MS. MCINTYRE: That's fine. Thank you for disempowering me.
MR. PARENT: What region? Are you speaking for all regions of the province, or mainly for Halifax?
MS. MCINTYRE: Sir, no. I am a person of the system, and I have been - I'm on permanent disability myself. I can speak most definitely from my experience, and of course I just finished doing a stint in public housing for four years, where most of those people were being very violated as well. There is a main office, the Gottingen Street office, that has a reputation of degradation, on a regular basis, on various people and various programs.
MR. PARENT: Thank you very much.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Gayle, I just want to mention that if you're asked another question, you can also come to the standing mic here, over to my right.
Does any other member want to ask a question, or shall we see if Jeanne wants to - Diana.
MS. DIANA WHALEN: I would like to ask a little bit about the appeals process. Again, I think it was Gayle who brought that up. As MLAs we do deal with a lot of people who come in and need a little advocacy, extra assistance or how to get through the system. I think, like so much of the bureaucracy, it is really complicated. With the appeals process, I have only had a little bit of experience, directly, with it. Are we saying that if you launch
an appeal - I know you were saying you called for the need for an objective, maybe an arm's-length appeal person or committee that would not be directly part of the department - my understanding is you're almost doing an administrative appeal, you're asking them to review their own work. Is that the way it works right now?
MS. MCINTYRE: Being an outsider using the system, that's what it appears to be. As it is right now, as I'm talking with you, somebody has the right to not pay me my rent cheque next month and I don't find out about it until a month later, then that starts the appeal process. What I'm suggesting is that we stop giving people that much power and that we in fact have to actually have somewhat of maybe a preliminary hearing that says that they have to approach their supervisor and say this is why I think this person should be eliminated.
As it appears from the outside, it looks like that's what they're doing. That is not exactly what's going on. It needs to be more formalized, because we are changing the quality of human life, and I think we need to be more sincere about how we're doing that.
MS. WHALEN: What I'm hearing now is you think there should be a much more formalized process.
MS. MCINTYRE: Most definitely.
MS. WHALEN: If you could have your rent stopped without being notified, for example, that's a major problem. You should have proper notification.
MS. MCINTYRE: Absolutely.
MS. WHALEN: It should go through a proper process.
MS. MCINTYRE: Right now they're saying there is, and on paper there is a proper process, and there are all kinds of legitimized reasons for doing that, but when you come to the appeal process, which has been my experience - I've won more than I've lost - when you actually start arguing it out within an appeals process, it's not at all what they said it was. We just need to have clients have the same voice before those decisions affect their lives, that's all.
MS. WHALEN: I think you've made some good suggestions, also the idea of some sort of advocate or body that could lobby on behalf of or help people understand the system. I think a lot of it is understanding how to navigate through the system . . .
MS. MCINTYRE: Absolutely.
MS. WHALEN: . . . to really protect the rights of the people, because people are not being informed of some of the things they are perhaps able to access, you almost have to stumble upon it sometimes, that's what I'm hearing in my office.
MS. MCINTYRE: You absolutely said it right on. I would not change anything that you have just said. I think you have a full understanding of what's going on and thank you for that sensitivity.
MS. WHALEN: We'll have more chance to talk this afternoon on that.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Thank you. Gordie Gosse.
MR. GORDON GOSSE: I'm the only MLA here from Cape Breton and most of the stuff I hear today is metro-based. Gayle is absolutely right when she says this because I asked the minister this in the Legislature and was definitely torn a strip off, I said to him it's the only place in Canada where you are found guilty before you go to court. I have a lot of clients who come into my office in Cape Breton - and I represent a very high unemployment area in Whitney Pier with the closure of the steel plant - and my office would be somewhat similar to Maureen MacDonald's office on Gottingen Street and Uniacke Street, and I understand that, so I've been to many appeals.
As an MLA, I represent my constituents at appeals. I go with them. I meet with them the day before we go to the appeal and take them to the appeal process. I've been to many appeals in the last two and a half years, so I understand it. I have a real problem with the end of the month when a person is expecting their cheque for their rent and their food for their children and everything else and all of a sudden that cheque doesn't arrive, and they're at your doorstep as an MLA saying, well, I can't feed my children. Gordie, I can't do anything. I didn't get my cheque. So I call the case supervisor and they say well, she was cut off because we had two complaints. Well, from who? Ex-boyfriend, ex-girlfriend, ex who? Automatically that's taken into consideration - and the undue hardship that this causes to the clients who I represent in constituencies is amazing and I see it all the time.
I go to these appeals and I argue with the tribunal - and I don't know if you know this, but recently they took all these people who are independent, who sit on the appeal board, to Halifax about six months ago and gave them a crash course here on - I guess it's like the old insurance advertisement how to say, no, no, no, because recently when I do the appeals I'm like yourself, I wish could say I won more than I lost, but I'm probably batting about 500 because when I get in the appeal process, what I'm appealing and what the client has told me is totally different than what the caseworker and the supervisor says when they arrive in the department. So you are absolutely right, when I dealt with this over the last two years and I have a great difficulty with being guilty before you go to court and the undue hardship it has caused to the clients.
MS. MCINTYRE: I appreciate your sensitivity, then you are going to really enjoy those two papers I recommended because it ties the punitive retaliation system between the Community Services and the justice system against persons on Community Services assistance programs.
MR. GOSSE: I know that there was a question here earlier from another MLA concerning do you think that the office is violating the rights of the clients. I guess that in a sense I can tell who the caseworker is when the person comes in my office, as an MLA, I shouldn't be able to do that, but I can tell who the caseworker is before they come in and there are different things. I have actually told my colleague and I have showed him an e-mail that I am no longer allowed to be in contact with a caseworker, I have to now go through the caseworker supervisor. (Laughter)
MS. FAYE: That's not a bad thing, and that's why I was clapping.
MR. GOSSE: It's saying in a sense you know that that's the e-mail that I received that I am no longer allowed to speak to caseworkers.
MS. MCINTYRE: I take those e-mails as compliments actually. That means you are doing your job. Thank you.
MR. GOSSE: Is that right? Okay, thank you.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Next on my list is Jerry Pye.
MR. PYE: Madam Chairman, I just want to know about process with respect to this committee. As you know, the first presenters who came forward, I asked a few questions and you interrupted and brought to my attention that there would be discussion this afternoon and that further questions could be asked. So I will not ask any more questions until possibly this afternoon. I just want to know about clarity of process, now, and simply because I do believe that this afternoon we're going to have the ample opportunity through discussions with all the groups at a round table, to ask many of those questions as well. So thank you, I just want clarity.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Fair enough, Jerry, and I have to say as chairman, I have given this group a little bit of leeway for a couple of reasons. I actually used to represent my organization before I was elected on this group and I know that many of the activists are consumers and I just felt that their experience would be very helpful for us. It would provide the detail and sort of the colour to some of the more theoretical recommendations that we are hearing and so that was the reason I was giving them a little more time. So I take your point and we actually have passed the end of time for the group, but I will give Jeanne just a few minutes to make some observations and, Jeanne, if I could ask you to perhaps respect that we have three more organizations who want to report.
MS. FAYE: I will, thank you. I'm here to speak to the issue of single parents on assistance attending post-secondary education. With this issue, I'm wearing two hats. Not only has the Community Advocates Network been concerned about this issue, but there is a coalition that was formed last year specifically to lobby for this issue and that's the Changes Coalition which represents people across this province, particularly women's centres, transition houses, the Faculty of Social Work out at Dalhousie University, Saint Mary's University, CACE, the Committee on Racial and Ethnic Equality in the province, so we have a fairly broad representation for our position which is that the province should immediately rescind Regulation 67(1) of the current Employment Support and Income Assistance Act. That regulation reads: "A person attending a post-secondary education program of more than 2 years shall not receive assistance unless the person is funded by the Employability Assistance for Persons with Disabilities Program . . ." That's it. So anything more than a two-year program means that a person will be cut off assistance.
This provision has had a disproportionate impact on single mothers in this province, one of four of whom is on income assistance at this point. We don't know how many women have actually been affected because the department tells us they have no statistics. They can't tell us how many women have been cut off because they have started attending university. They can't tell us how many have approached their caseworker about attending university and have been told they will be cut off, and therefore have decided to forego a university education at this point. That concerns us greatly, that this policy, in the broad sense, it is a regulation which means it requires the Governor in Council to change, but as social policy this is a new and, in our view, backward approach for Nova Scotia.
For years, under the Family Benefits Act and the Family Benefits Program, single mothers and parents, although there's a disproportionate, as you can imagine, number of single mothers in this province - I think this report that I'm looking at says we have 37,000 single mothers and 4,000 single fathers in Nova Scotia. So prior to 2001, when the new Employment Support and Income Assistance Act came into effect, single parents were able to attend university and continue to receive income assistance.
Now, I want to be clear. Their income assistance or their family benefits, in those days, was for their basic needs - food, clothing, shelter. They borrowed money, as all other students do, a student loan for their tuition, their books, and if they qualified for child care and transportation. Now, that basic income that was a security, you have no idea, even though we critique and complain about family benefits and income assistance, and I think you were just discussing this, you have no idea the terror and the hardship that occurs when people lose that source of income. It's a very serious policy to have in place, because I'm sure that it has deterred many women from seeking post-secondary education.
I have a brief here called Fairness in Education for Single Parents in Nova Scotia. It was written by Katherine Reed. It has been recently published by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. I have a copy if the committee wishes to keep this copy and make
photocopies, you're welcome to do so, although I've made some "ticks" on it just so I knew what I wanted to say.
I guess the only other point I'll make is that what this brief does is look in detail at the financial situation of four single parents attending four different universities in this province, in four places that have different - again, we have a very patchwork access to things like social housing and child care, for example. We have a very patchwork system even for Pharmacare coverage, for example, for students. Some universities will continue the health coverage over the Summer and other universities cut off student health care over the Summer, so we have students, single-parent mothers, for example, in Antigonish who have no access to health insurance, including prescription drugs, over the Summer months. And they're not eligible for assistance; they can't go back on assistance for the Summer. Once they're students, they're students in the eyes of the department.
What we've found in this brief is that single-parent families headed by university students face budget deficits of between $180 and $415 a month. It doesn't sound - well, I guess it does sound like a lot, but it's the difference between how many meals the mother eats and how often the family has to resort to the food bank, those kinds of figures. Most people get behind in their rent, then they get behind in their power, then they get behind in their rent, and they keep trying to juggle in order to make ends meet.
So these students are going to end up with more health problems in our view, they're going to end up with a student debt, and they're going to end up with personal debts for basics like shelter and electricity, if they manage to finish university. Believe me, it's a struggle. When we had a press conference a year ago, and we had young single mothers talk, in some cases there wasn't a dry eye in the house because of the hardship that these young women are facing and the determination that they have to finish university. In this society, in this day and age, in this country, the changes coalition, the Community Advocates Network think it's absolutely appalling that we're expecting young single mothers to live this kind of life in order to get a university education.
I would love the committee to make a recommendation to the House that this regulation be repealed or amended. We've worked with some of the Parties, we've worked with the department, we've had meetings with the minister, we've had meetings with government officials, and we're not making any headway, although we're not going to stop. Thank you.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Jeanne. We want to thank all the representatives from the Community Advocates Network for sharing their experiences and their insight with the committee this morning. Thank you very much.
I'll now invite representatives from the Community Action on Homelessness to come forward, please. We're going to take a 10-minute break after this group presents, and we'll be bringing in extra chairs. I apologize if some of you have not had a chair to sit on, but we'll try to remedy that as quickly as possible.
Welcome. Would you like to introduce yourselves?
MS. DARCY HARVEY: My name is Darcy Harvey. I'm Capacity Development Worker for Community Action on Homelessness. We are an umbrella organization that works with community agencies working towards affordable housing and homelessness issues to build the capacity of the community to address these issues, as well as perform public education, advocacy, and participate in local research on the issues as well.
I also have with me today Monique Auffrey, who is the Social Work Coordinator for Adsum Women and Children, and Ida Vincent, who is the Tenant Counsellor for the Tawaak Housing Association.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Welcome all.
MS. HARVEY: Poverty and related issues such as homelessness do not make sense morally and are, economically, not sustainable. We all know that, but sometimes we need to remind ourselves that it is simply not acceptable to have people living on the streets or in shelters in Halifax in the year 2006. We also have to acknowledge that, yes, we are all trying to do a good job and we all work hard for government departments or community agencies, but policies and programs are obviously not working.
Since relevant numbers are all on the rise, we are paying, today, the high price of years of neglect; years of neglecting people living in poverty. Halifax is ranked the second-highest per capita in the country in terms of crime rate; we have a high school drop-out rate; rising shelter costs for an ever-increasing homeless population; and, of course, an ever-increasing number of individuals who are living on income assistance. There is an immeasurable impact on the health care system, since living in poverty is a very unhealthy lifestyle, poor diet and lack of access to health care services, et cetera.
Common sense dictates to treat not the symptoms but look at the causes, and we all know that prevention is the key to evading problems in the first place. CAH, first and foremost, recommends to provide affordable and secure housing for all, and to provide supportive housing for individuals with special needs. Housing is the foundation for living life and participating in society. Only if a person is housed appropriately can he or she think about accessing education, employment and have stability in health care, and thereby have a realistic chance to improve not only their personal life but that of their children and the community.
Lots of research has been done, data has been collected on how many are homeless and why, various models have been analyzed, and, by now, we all know what needs to be done. The question remains, though, why are we not doing it? What prevents all of us from working together, sharing our expertise and resources in addressing this issue? It has to be more than just the will to spend the money, since we all know that to invest now in human development pays off in the future.
Any solution can work, only when developed in collaboration with community agencies, first voice and government. Therefore, CAH appreciates the opportunity to speak here today, and also the dialogue shared over the last couple of months between Community Services and shelter providers, and the collaboration between the housing division and the Affordable Housing Association in regard to the need for a technical support group and social marketing for affordable housing.
CAH would like to make four key recommendations today in regard to the development and accessibility of affordable housing, shelter provision and supportive housing. These recommendations arrive from our experience working with government and community agencies, non-profit organizations and people with first-hand experience of homelessness.
Our first recommendation is in regard to shelters. Shelters should be a last resort and only for short-term emergency situations. Unfortunately, many people in the HRM are housed in expensive shelters or hospital beds for a very long time due to the lack of appropriate permanent housing. The so-called hard-to-house find shelter over the Winter months at Pendleton Place, which comes not only with a high price tag but is also, in a sense, inhumane, since clients have to leave the shelter during the day - with no place to go but the streets or public spaces, rain or shine, healthy or sick. Approximately 80 per cent of shelter users in any shelter in this city have mental health and/or addiction issues. A shelter is not a place for them to be.
CAH recommends the development of permanent housing for the hard-to-house, where they can receive necessary treatment and support services. Pendleton Place is fiscally irresponsible. Does it make sense to house 10 to 20 individuals in a church basement for a cost of $250,000 for five months? This is what we call not sustainable. You do not have to be a genius to ask the question, why not get these individuals out of a church basement by building permanent housing, providing much-needed services as proposed by the Metro Non-Profit Housing Association, since 2004?
A second recommendation is in regard to assisting non-profit organizations in developing their housing. Non-profit organizations need to be enabled to develop much-needed affordable housing units by creating a technical support group. Non-profit organizations are well aware of the housing and support needs of their clients, but do not have the capacity and resource to develop this housing. Of course they are doing it anyway,
mostly on a volunteer basis, seeing the great need and there are many success stories. A great example is the Creighton-Gerrish Development by Metro Non-Profit Housing Association, which houses 18 individuals and provides support in this drop-in centre for approximately 100 individuals a day. The sad part is that it took 10 years to achieve this goal. CAH works closely with groups that are trying to develop housing and see the struggle and barriers that groups experience. So many well-intended and much-needed projects do not get built due to the lack of funding or the process taking way too long.
We urge the approval of the proposal put forward to the housing division of the Department of Community Services, for a technical support group, which would provide services such as capacity building, business planning, proposal writing, housing management and oversee the development process. This agency will encourage and speed up the development of affordable housing by non-profit organizations.
A third recommendation is involving the funding of support services for housing agencies. Many of the individuals served by emergency shelters and other service agencies for the homeless are caught in the cycle of finding and losing housing. This cycle prevents these citizens from developing and maintaining the stability needed to develop other skills and increase their potential to participate in socially and financially productive ways. Housing that has a supportive element is needed to prevent these individuals from falling through the cracks and achieving their potential.
Supportive housing has been proven as a successful model to a diverse range of populations, including homeless youth, individuals with mental health and addictions issues, young single mothers and women leaving violent relationships. The sad reality is, however, that although this need has been identified by local research, various need and demand studies by housing and service providers and even by members of the Department of Community Services itself, there are no funding programs available provincially or federally that allot resources to fund staffing costs for support services. This is a well-known gap and many projects have been sitting for too long on the desks of the Department of Community Services, unable to show sustainability because they do not have guaranteed funding for the support service components. In some cases, other federal funding sources for approved capital reduction grants have been lost because operational funding cannot be secured.
Current supportive project proposals that are sitting and waiting, include long-term support of housing for individuals with co-occurring mental health and addictions issues, supportive housing for young mothers and a similar project in rural HRM for single mothers. Government departments seem to be reluctant to fund programs that require ongoing funding, seeing this as spending more money. However, similar programs that already exist and that have existed in the past proved to actually save tax dollars. Individuals and families who benefit from a voluntary supportive living environment use medical emergency services less, are less likely to become involved in the criminal justice system, have healthier, higher birth weight babies, and pursue education and employment more often and therefore are
more likely to exit poverty and break its cycle. Many would agree that this evidence proves savings, not increased expenditures. Given that this gap is recognized within the Department of Community Services itself, they have a responsibility to the individuals in desperate need of this housing and to taxpayers, to be proactive and finding a solution to this funding gap.
Our fourth recommendation involves program and funding flexibility equals fiscal responsibility and to introduce this recommendation, I have Monique Auffrey here who is going to present a case example.
MS. MONIQUE AUFFREY: Thank you, Darcy. Madam Chairman, honourable members of the standing committee, as Darcy mentioned, I'm the Social Work Coordinator at Adsum for Women and Children and I'm located on Brunswick Street at the crisis shelter. One of the beauties of my work at Adsum is that I only work with the women who are located at the shelter, but I'm able to provide advocacy services on an outreach basis and, based on this advocacy on an outreach basis, I'm going to present a case that came to me last week.
I received a call from a woman outside of HRM, a mother of two children living with her partner. Both mum and dad had been suffering some health-related issues prior to Christmas. Mum had been fired from her job and dad had quit his part-time bartending gig to look after himself and his family. When they called last week they had zero dollars, no money. Their children were hungry. They had applied for assistance and they had been told that, no, they were not eligible because they had the six-week waiting period. So mum proceeds with her case, telling me that she had a job lined up in Halifax working at a call centre. She had found an apartment outside of the city - a three bedroom for a very reasonable rent - and her job was supposed to start on January 3rd. She had no way of getting here and was at risk of losing both the apartment that was lined up and her job.
She called me because she was desperate and she didn't know what to do or where to turn. She agreed to allow me to make some phone calls on her behalf, and the first phone call I made was to her income assistance caseworker, or the individual who had been assigned to her case. The first thing that this individual said to me was there's a six-week waiting period and you know that dad quit his job, right? At which point I reminded this individual that it wasn't my place, nor was it his place, to judge why mum or dad had lost their jobs, that they had two young children who were hungry and that the Department of Community Services would have a responsibility to provide some form of emergency measure for this family. That was the first point of advocacy.
The second point of advocacy was that they were facing eviction and, if they were not supported immediately, they would fall into the shelter system. So at this point I was able to remind the income assistance caseworker that if they did fall into the shelter system, the per
diem rate, per night, per woman - I don't know what the shelter rate is for men - is $86.40 per bed. So that means mum with two kids would be costing the province $250.40 per night. Our average length of stay is 12 days. A mum with two kids would be costing the province $3,000. Why could the Department of Community Services not provide some form of special allowance, a special emergency fund, that would see mum and dad and the two kids make it to Halifax to an apartment that they already had lined up, to a job that mum already had lined up with an employer who was willing to wait for her to arrive here?
The third point is that if they had come into the shelter system, the family would be separated - mum with the kids in one shelter and dad in another. It doesn't make any sense. In the end, because of several phone calls, denial on some ends that phone calls had even been placed because all of this had been asked for already, the appeal was overturned and I received a call from mum, crying, thanking me that the department had decided to provide transportation for the family and the first month's rent for their apartment as an overpayment. Then yesterday afternoon I received another call from mum, they had made it. She wanted to thank me for the work that I had done on her behalf, but they had arrived without their furniture. The department was unwilling to provide the cost of their furniture to Halifax. So they were without their beds and I could hear the babies in the background crying.
Anyway, I'm here to offer that case example. It's not unfamiliar. I hear cases like this almost every day. Sometimes we hear there's no money in the pot - and I would like to ask the question, there is money in the pot, but how's it being spent? That's all I have to say, thank you.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Monique.
MS. HARVEY: Just to point out in that case, the Department of Community Services would never have asked that family to pay back the $3,000 in shelter costs that would have been spent on them in a shelter. However, they're expected to pay back the one-time cost of them moving here to the city, which doesn't seem to make sense either.
No one would argue that our society is rich in diversity and culture and experience, and this occurs in all facets of society and does not exclude those that access the services of the Department of Community Services. However, current policies and procedures of the department and its employees demonstrate an inflexibility and a lack of recognition and respect for the individual life context and needs of individuals. Those who do not fit into specific categories or who are unable for whatever reason to follow the rigid demands of specific programs are often denied service, serviced inadequately, or deemed difficult clients. The result of this lack of respect for difference is the continuance of the cycle of poverty and individuals being left behind to fall through the cracks and subsequently requiring more service for longer periods and then equalling more funds.
In closing, I would like to point out that each one of us working for Community have to act in the best interest of the most vulnerable since we are the only ones who will lobby and work for them. We are accountable to show tangible results. One measure of success may not be how many more shelter beds we can create, but how many shelters will close due to lack of demand. Another measure of success is when a person can escape poverty and make positive changes thanks to support and resources received. An encouraging living example of this is Ida Vincent, tenant and counsellor at Tawaak Housing, who will share her personal story with us.
MS. IDA VINCENT: I'm really nervous, I'm not a public speaker. When I was younger, well, my boyfriend was 14, I was 15, when we had our first child. We were living on the streets and in shelters, and through a lot of support of outreach workers they had at the time and drop-in centres, we were able to connect with a really good person, like this young lady here, who was able to help us set our goals and stick together as a young couple and take care of our child. So many years later and through all that hardship, and at that time I think there was a lot of - when I was younger anyway, I'm way up there, I have four grandchildren now, but when I was younger, there was, I found, a lot of outreach workers and drop-in centres that you were able to go in that you can't go in today. So we had that support. Throughout the years, in my work, I've seen that dwindling down to one point where it really doesn't exist right now like it did for us at that time.
So now, many years later, my husband and I have our own home. We've worked really hard throughout all our lives, went to school, got an education. We now have two children and our children have gotten an education. They've gone to school and are now working themselves, and are working towards their own home. So there is a possibility. My question is, the people in a position of power, do they really know what a shelter is, or supportive housing, or affordable housing? I think that's a question I would like to ask, because I really don't think that people who make these decisions about homes really know that.
I work for Tawaak Housing, and we do offer affordable housing for Aboriginal people in the inner city. In the last five years we've seen four people able to buy their own home, two who left us and were able to buy their own home, and they now pay taxes and live in the community and are good community members. So affordable housing does make a difference.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much, Ida, for sharing your story.
MS. VINCENT: I was really nervous.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: No, you did a great job, thank you and congratulations. Did you want to mention anything else before I open it up to the committee members?
MS. HARVEY: No, I think . . .
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much. Would anyone like to ask a question or make a comment?
MS. WHALEN: I think, again, often by highlighting a case, it brings back other things, and I'm thinking personally of clients or people who have come to visit me, constituents. The idea of the emergency fund is something that I have run into head-on. It was actually a young woman who had fallen between the cracks of trying to go to university, who had an 18-month old, and she had suddenly been designated a student, but they wouldn't give her the emergency fund in any way to help her get into an apartment, even though she had lined up daycare, an apartment - she had done a lot of things that showed she had taken personal initiative. Again, I was certain that the department must have an emergency fund, just a transition to get her into her new life as a student, and came up with the answer, no, we don't have any emergency funds at all for that kind of thing.
It's very parallel to what you're talking about, trying to transition into a new life. I think that point, very much, is something that we should come back to and keep in mind that there is a need for that kind of support because, really, in the long run it's much more effective, it's going to save money, and it's going to help people get on their own two feet and feel proud and get on with life.
MS. AUFFREY: As Darcy pointed out, this is a family that wasn't yet in the system but they were at risk of becoming dependent in the interim for income assistance. In working to avoid that from happening, there's much resistance. The irony is that if they had fallen into the system, then there would have been a greater debt. As Darcy said, if they had fallen into the shelter system, they would not have been expected to pay back the $3,000, the shelter rate as an example, if they had stayed the average length of stay. For many, and especially for mothers we see coming into the house, they're not there for the average length of stay, they're there much longer.
MS. WHALEN: I know some of you are working with Adsum or other housing agencies. I've had clients - I would say constituents in my case - coming to me saying they were advised to go to a shelter, that's where you should be, we have no help for you, go to a shelter. I'm sure the other MLAs here have heard that as well. When I look at that in this particular case, being a young woman trying to get herself on track for an education, it was really hurtful to think that. She couldn't believe the government would suggest that would be the answer for her and her small child, to go to a shelter. I think these are the sort of things we need to hear about today and, hopefully, be addressing.
MS. AUFFREY: I heard another presenter, earlier this morning, who raised the point of income assistance caseworkers who have a tremendous amount of power. What I often hear is income assistance caseworkers are talking like the money is coming out of their own
back pocket, making decisions based on how much of a budget they're being asked to maintain and arbitrarily deciding who's going to be able to benefit from them placing a trump card on the table and saying, yes, we're going to assist you in this way or, no, we're not going to.
MS. VINCENT: If I could also make a comment - I think Jerry made a statement this morning about Community Services and last resort. In thinking back about my family, my daughter has three children and they lived with us for a period of time, so we had five more in our family living with us. At this time her last resort could have been going to Community Services, but at that point, because her husband had a part-time, minimum-wage position, they would have taken off a certain amount from them and they still wouldn't have been able to find a home that they could afford for three children, a family of five.
So at this point there was a choice of breaking up the family; it would have made more sense for her to go on her own as a single mom and access Community Services than to be a family. We ended up taking the family in, and my husband and I supported them and helped them get through school, which was very taxing on us - as grandparents, we don't get tax exemptions or any help whatsoever, so it was very taxing.
Turning to family as a last resort is also very difficult. I think that had there been maybe support on own behalf, we could have - well, we did but it was very difficult. If more families and more grandparents had supports, perhaps tax related or whatever, then families could help each other more.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: You make a good point, Ida, thank you.
Next on the speakers' list, I have Gordie Gosse and then Jerry Pye.
MR. GOSSE: My question is for the Community Action on Homelessness. You now know that the Affordable Housing Program that was signed with the federal government and the provincial government, the pot is $56 million. I'm just wondering, how many units have been built in the metro area since the signing of the first agreement in September 2002? I know there have been zero in Cape Breton, and I just want to know how many are here.
MS. HARVEY: I'm not exactly sure how many units have been built. What I do know is that this bilateral housing agreement, which was a 50/50 cost-share program between the federal government and the province was very slow to get off the ground in the first place, and it was getting close to the end of the five-year agreement before we could see barely any movement at all in the program, and much of that we think is due to the fact that Community Services got into this program and then was reluctant to put up their half of the money that they had committed to the agreement in the first place.
Again, that's another example of the lack of political will, the apparent political will of the department on the issue of affordable housing and the hardship that it's creating for community agencies that have proposals ready and waiting to get off the ground, and just seeing no movement at all on the part of the department.
MR. GOSSE: It must be very hard for your organization to look at provinces like British Columbia and Saskatchewan that have built numerous affordable houses over the years with this program, money that has been given by the feds, and here we are, the Province of Nova Scotia, so far behind for people with disabilities and people who need housing to actually get affordable housing. As MLAs and members of the Standing Committee on Community Services, I wonder how can we help to push forward this agenda of getting more of these homes and more supportive living networks in, all across the province, not just here in the metro area?
MS. HARVEY: It is really disheartening to see that. Our province does have one of the worst track records in the country on this agreement, which is a sad reality.
MS. VINCENT: Even with Aboriginal housing, we've had no new units, but our population, there are less jobs, and we don't only focus on people on Reserve. Somebody like myself, I'm visibly Native, I don't have a status card, I don't come from a Reserve, but yet I deal with all the issues of racism that Aboriginal people deal with here in Canada. We don't have any new units, but the population is growing in the inner city. Our applications are piling up, but the housing is not there to offer. There definitely is a need.
Also, another point I'd like to make is that when we're looking at affordable housing, I think people tend to think of putting affordable housing in, almost like projects, this is where these people should be, not in our community. I've found that in my experience, living in affordable housing in a residential area, fitting in as a part of a community made me feel a part of the community. It really gave me the self-esteem to be a part of that community and to go on from there, where if I had lived in a so-called project or one area of town where all the poor people should live, I think you kind of get that form of mind, that this is all you can afford and know where you're going to be in life. I think it's really important, as well, to look at that.
MR. GOSSE: In my case I represent the most ethnically diverse community in Atlantic Canada, the multicultural community of Whitney Pier. Across the street from my house are two affordable housing units for wheelchair accessible people, right across the street from my home. I do understand what you're talking about, ghettoization of a neighbourhood. When the closure of steel plants in Pennsylvania went down - and I compared this and do a lot of reading on the closure of Sydney Steel, and by putting these
affordable housing units in areas, they kind of ghettoize the area, of the sense of saying that by having all these units in one place.
My theory on that is to build these units in a separate place, in residential areas, to have them integrated and make them feel as a part of society and important by building those units and "spearing" them out across the urban areas. It makes their self-esteem and self-worth a lot better for the people, to not be all in one unit, in one area. So I do take your point.
MS. VINCENT: Have the right to be treated as a human being, and look at yourself as that.
MR. PYE: Madam Chairman, I just wanted to make a couple of comments. First of all, I want to recognize Ida Vincent, because Ida Vincent manages some of the Tawaak Housing units that exist in Dartmouth North, and many of the Tawaak Housing units that exist in Dartmouth North have been able to blend in with the existing neighbourhood. We've been fortunate that there is no stigma attached to those Tawaak Housing units.
I want to also make the comment that as we speak, Adsum Court is expanding and putting eight new units in Dartmouth North, as well, for women at risk. I just wanted to make those comments in the sense that we, in some parts of this municipality, are opening our arms to some of the housing developments despite what might be said in the community. So I want to make that clear.
The other question that I wanted to ask Ms. Darcy Harvey is she had made the comment that policies and programs are not working and I think that she was referring to policies and programs around housing that may not be working and if she can, this afternoon, bring identifiable components of regulations and policies that aren't working, so that when we have that round table discussion we can zero in on some of those areas, that would be fine.
MS. HARVEY: I can try to get some of that stuff together for sure.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Leo.
MR. GLAVINE: Thank you very much for your presentation, very enlightening and, Darcy, I was wondering about getting a copy of your presentation. Is that possible?
MS. HARVEY: Certainly, I could maybe e-mail it to Mora later on.
MR. GLAVINE: Yes. You have made some three or four very strong recommendations here that certainly uphold your theme of investing in human development. I'm wondering, have you made the same presentation to the minister or deputy minister? What kind of response are you getting there? I think you are talking to a committee here
today that for the most part is very empathetic to where you are and, in fact, I don't mind going on the record - and I will expand on this more this afternoon - if there is any one department that I have dealt with in my two and a half years as an MLA that needs a massive overhaul, and you've alluded to some of it today, it's the Department of Community Services. Absolutely missing the mark. (Applause) Missing the mark daily and hourly in this province, and I can cite many examples - but have you gone to that level to present your case?
MS. HARVEY: Yes. I know that we have spoken with the minister on several occasions. The minister has come out to our events many times and, as well, I'm sure almost every agency presenting today has met with the Minister of Community Services. It's one thing for us to present to the minister, and the thing that we hear from the minister often is that he says that he is sympathetic to our issues, and he has said time and time again that he's happy to hear what we say because it gives him more pull in his Cabinet. We hear those things over and over again, but we often do not see the results of that.
MS. AUFFREY: I think we've all made these presentations individually and part of the reason why we are here today is to convince you as a standing committee to support us in our recommendations, right?
MR. GLAVINE: Right, right on.
MS. AUFFREY: Thank you.
MS. VINCENT: Just in closing, for myself anyway, at one time an elder told me that there are no mysteries, there are no secrets, there is only common sense, and when I work with bureaucrats and politicians I kind of wonder where the common sense is. (Laughter)
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Well let's hope that today and tomorrow proves we're the exception to that generalization because, as Leo has suggested, we very much understand the crisis that many Nova Scotian families are in and we're hearing the stories not only in our constituency office, but we're hearing it when groups present to us as the Standing Committee on Community Services, and we're hearing it in the street. Many of us go out to attend meetings with our voluntary sector and it is just such a huge problem that it's time that we stop listening and actually do something about it.
So today that's the reason we're bringing you here together because we need help in deciding where to go and what to do first in choosing our priorities. So the presentations that we're hearing this morning will be very helpful in helping us come up with that plan and those recommendations. So believe me, we're listening very, very carefully, and I want to thank the representatives from the Community Action on Homelessness for coming this morning and, as with the other groups, we congratulate you on the wonderful work you are doing. Thank you.
Now I would like to suggest that we take a 10-minute break and meet back here at 11:05 a.m., and we'll continue with the presentations. Thank you.
[10:55 a.m. The committee recessed.]
[11:15 a.m. The committee reconvened.]
MADAM CHAIRMAN: I would invite everyone to take their seat, and we'll resume the forum, please.
I'm now pleased to welcome representatives from the Affordable Energy Coalition who are going to make a presentation to the standing committee. I invite everyone to take their seats, please, and we'll get started. Perhaps I could ask you to introduce yourselves. I just want to mention there's been a request that each time a person around the table, whether it's a presenter or committee member, speaks, please give your name. That just clarifies, for our listening audience, who is speaking and it would just make the record a bit clearer as well.
MR. EUGENE KUNG: Good morning. I would like to begin by thanking the standing committee for holding this Forum on Poverty and for inviting us to speak. My name is Eugene Kung. I'm a senior law student with the Dalhousie Legal Aid Service and a member of the Social Activist Law Student Association. This is Megan Leslie, and she's a Community Legal Worker with the Dalhousie Legal Aid Service. We're here today on behalf of the Affordable Energy Coalition of Nova Scotia.
Dalhousie Legal Aid Service has a long history of assisting people with energy issues; for example, in assisting people with their Nova Scotia Power arrears, and also we intervene on behalf of low-income Nova Scotians at the Nova Scotia Power rate hearings at the Utility and Review Board. Last year we put together a group of advocates to work on Nova Scotia Power issues and collect information from the community. This group was formalized in 2005 as the Affordable Energy Coalition.
The AEC is composed of community organizations, non-profits, faith groups and professional organizations with a concern for the issues of energy affordability for low-income Nova Scotians. The mission of our group is to work with community groups, the non-profit sector, government and business to ensure universal access to electricity, eradicate fuel poverty in Nova Scotia, and represent the interests of low-income Nova Scotians regarding energy issues.
In keeping with our mission, we support programs that assist low-income Nova Scotians experiencing financial crisis and who are unable to pay their electricity bills; manage the electricity arrears of low-income Nova Scotians such that past accumulated debt does not undermine future sustainable expense levels; ensure that low-income Nova Scotians
are not forced to sacrifice essentials such as food, medicine or shelter in order to afford electricity; and to promote energy efficiency and conservation as part of a long-term solution to ensure that electricity is affordable to low-income Nova Scotians.
Next I'm going to speak about the energy burden and how it affects low-income Nova Scotians. The energy burden is the inability to pay home energy bills - that's a measure of that inability. To put it simply, the household's energy burden is the household's energy bill divided by the household's income. An acceptable level of energy burden is seen to be between 6 per cent and 8 per cent, and anything above 8 per cent is deemed to be an unsustainable energy burden. Low-income Nova Scotians face energy burdens anywhere from 10 per cent to 30 per cent and more, and they're forced to make unreasonable budget decisions between competing household necessities.
This is exactly the problem, the issue we are looking at with the Affordable Energy Coalition. Energy is an essential part of any basic standard of living in our society - from heating the house to storing perishable foods, to cooking, to having lights - and this basic necessity of energy helps cause and exacerbate poverty. As Wayne from the Community Advocates Network stated, people often use the inadequate amounts of the shelter allowance and have to supplement it with other sources of income in order to just meet their basic shelter needs, including energy.
So what are some of the consequences of having an unsustainable energy burden? At the Dalhousie Legal Aid Service we've seen people engage in such activities as increasing high-cost debt by purchasing food and fuel on credit cards; turning thermostats down to dangerously low temperatures; using alternate "energy" sources for heating such as ovens, burners and charcoal grills; burning unsafe and unhealthy fuels in fireplaces and wood stoves such as furniture, clothes, vinyl siding, used tires and doors; engaging in dishonest and unlawful activity such as running bad cheques or setting up accounts in their children's names because they have bad credit with Nova Scotia Power; putting increasing strain on food banks and charities because they've allotted money for food to cover their power bills because it's so essential, forgoing the purchase of food, dental care and medicine and, finally, forgoing the payment of other bills such as rent.
So you note in my many examples that energy affordability issues aren't always self-evident. A client who comes to us with an eviction, for example, doesn't necessarily make us think first about energy affordability, and that's because energy bills get paid at the expense of other necessities. Just because they're paid does not make them affordable. Low-income Nova Scotians, including people on income assistance, are really faced with a decision of "heat or eat" - I don't mean to use that as a catchy phrase, for a sound bite. Low-income Nova Scotians currently bear non-sustainable energy burdens and experience fuel poverty.
American studies have found that low-income Americans are spending about 20 per cent of their income on energy. Those findings are consistent with the 10 per cent to 30 per cent that we find here in Nova Scotia, and that energy burden, again, is unsustainable. If we translated that into middle-class standards, a household that earns $50,000 a year facing the same energy burden would pay $10,000 of that per year to heat their home and cook their meals.
Next I would like to speak about what the Affordable Energy Coalition is doing in relation to this issue, and Megan will follow with a discussion of what the Department of Community Service can do. As I mentioned, the Affordable Energy Coalition is comprised of groups concerned with energy issues for low-income Nova Scotians. Our members are from around the province and include Adsum for Women and Children, Affordable Housing Association of Nova Scotia, Bayers Westwood Family Resource Centre, Canadian Mental Health Association - Nova Scotia, Community Action on Homelessness, Dalhousie Legal Aid Service, Diaconate of All Nations Church, Ecology Action Centre, Feminists for Just and Equitable Public Policy, Halifax Coalition Against Poverty, North End Community Health Centre, the Nova Scotia Association of Social Workers, Social Activist Law Student Association, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Transition House Association of Nova Scotia, Women's Centres CONNECT!, and several individuals from the community.
For us, as a coalition, it's important to have a wide range of groups that comprise our coalition. For example, St. Vincent de Paul helps people out financially with their Nova Scotia Power bills, and we can get information from them about what is happening in the low-income communities on the ground. The Ecology Action Centre has important expertise in energy efficiency and technical issues. Groups such as HCAP are more interested in direct action and identified problems with the Department of Energy's Keep the Heat program recently and held workshops to help people fill out the overwhelming paperwork and avoid misconceptions on clawbacks from those programs. So far, they've had two successful workshops and have one more planned.
Recently, the Affordable Energy Coalition has been working with the Low-Income Energy Network of Ontario to develop a national response to the federal energy rebates program. We're also presently looking to linking with the Department of Energy with community groups to more effectively administer the Keep the Heat program and other similar programs. Finally, we're working directly with Nova Scotia Power to make changes to their credit and collections policies and, hopefully, make joint recommendations for changes in the regulations.
Megan now is going to talk about our recommendations for today.
MS. MEGAN LESLIE: Thank you. I just want to reiterate two things that Eugene said. First of all, just because an energy bill is paid, it does not mean it is affordable. Second, people in Nova Scotia are making the decision between "heat or eat".
So now that we've told you a little bit about what the Affordable Energy Coalition has been working on, I would like to sort of quickly talk about what we think the Department of Community Services should be working on to eradicate fuel poverty experienced by DCS clients and to low-income Nova Scotians, generally. Hopefully, we'll have a chance this afternoon to talk more during the round table. Also, a lot of these recommendations don't cost anything. Some of them, in fact, will find money coming to the Department of Community Services. So we're pretty pleased with our recommendations.
We have nine recommendations. First of all, the shelter rates under the Employment Support and Income Assistance regulations are inadequate. They don't reflect the actual costs of rental housing, especially in high-rent areas like Halifax, Wolfville and Antigonish. The shelter rates are insufficient to pay for the cost of shelter. Now, as you guys probably know, shelter costs are your rent and mortgage, but they also include utilities, and people are forced to choose between paying their rent or paying their heat and lights. Families living on income assistance should not be living in the dark. It isn't the fault of DCS clients that their heating bills are incredibly high. It isn't that low-income Nova Scotians are, as a group, really bad at energy efficiency; they're not incredibly wasteful of energy. It is that low-income Nova Scotians often live in substandard housing. There's poor or no insulation. There are drafty windows and there are old appliances that use a lot of electricity.
Our first recommendation is that the Department of Community Services raise the rates for shelter. Our second recommendation is that more funds be allotted for the utilities portion of the shelter rate. Our third recommendation is to overhaul the emergency assistance policies. That was mentioned earlier today, and we certainly have a lot of recommendations on how it could be overhauled. For example, looking at the overpayment scheme, secondly actually, the Department of Community Services needs a policy on emergency assistance because currently there isn't one. Earlier, I think Monique from Adsum House mentioned - or maybe it was Tawaak - caseworkers who are acting like the money is coming from their pockets, we see a lot of that at Dal Legal Aid. Our fourth recommendation is that the department undertake a commitment to build more social housing. There simply isn't enough social housing in Nova Scotia but, perhaps more importantly, any new housing must be built with high energy efficiency standards.
We have clients who are right now in public housing. So their rent is affordable, but they're at the maximum shelter allowance because they're paying for their heating costs and their electricity costs. It isn't enough to have affordable rent. In order for housing to be truly affordable, the heat and other utilities have to be affordable as well.
Next, it is our assertion that the department has missed a lot of opportunities when it comes to low-income Nova Scotians. Let's face it, the department has expertise when it comes to low-income issues, yet we have the Department of Energy running the Keep the Heat program - a program for low-income Nova Scotians. With all due respect to the minister and the deputy minister, they don't have the expertise that's needed when it comes
to low-income issues. It makes no sense for the Department of Energy to be running the Keep the Heat program. So our fifth recommendation is for the Department of Community Services to take over the Keep the Heat program.
Within this program we do have a couple of sort of sub-recommendations. Our experience with our clients tells us that income assistance recipients aren't applying for the home heating rebate because they are worried that it will be clawed back later on a future cheque. So our sixth recommendation is for the department to automatically issue the Keep the Heat rebate money to any income assistance recipient who pays for their own heat.
Now, we've approached the Deputy Minister of Community Services, Ms. Marian Tyson, and in response she actually informed us that the department could not implement this recommendation because they don't track households that pay for their own heat - fair enough.
Our seventh recommendation is for the department to track households that pay for their own heat, and while they're at it, they could track a few more things, like heating source, utility expenses as a separate line. It's pretty easy to do, just mark it in as a separate line - what are people spending on their utilities and how many people are accessing emergency assistance for their utilities and how much money are they accessing. It's just simple tracking.
It was recently announced that not as many people as expected were signing up for the Keep the Heat program and that the government had allotted, I think it was $25 million for the Keep the Heat program, and now $7 million originally earmarked for this program is no longer needed. Successful heating assistance programs in other jurisdictions show us that the involvement of trusted community-based organizations is integral to ensuring that those in need achieve effective assistance through rebates and energy efficiency. It's our eighth recommendation that the department, through the Keep the Heat program, invest this $7 million in energy efficiency programs for low-income Nova Scotians. So we've just got you $7 million.
In 2004, Dal Legal Aid intervened at the Nova Scotia Power rate increase hearings. We hired an expert to design a rate assistance program for low-income Nova Scotians. The reason why there are experts on designing these programs is because in the U.S. - whom we tend to think we're a lot more progressive than - actually have fantastic rate assistance programs that are legislated in different jurisdictions. So we hired an expert from the U.S. to develop a rate assistance program. This program would provide rate assistance to low-income Nova Scotians with their electricity bills with Nova Scotia Power Inc. The program includes a fixed-credit assistance component, crisis management, energy efficiency, and there's also an arrears management component. This program would be paid for through reduced credit and collection costs to the company - that's Nova Scotia Power - and a small charge to other residential customers.
It is our ninth and final recommendation for the Department of Community Services to work with Nova Scotia Power to create a rate assistance program for low-income Nova Scotians. Thank you very much.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Thank you. Are there any comments? I guess Mark Parent - and I just remind everyone that before you speak perhaps you could give your name again and that would just clarify for our audience who is making the comment or asking the question. Mark.
MR. PARENT: Thank you very much. Just a question, Eugene. You talked of working with Nova Scotia Power and that there were some solutions going to be coming out in the future. Are you able to tip your hand on what those solutions are?
MR. KUNG: Well, we're still in quite early stages of that, so I wouldn't feel comfortable in talking about specifics.
MS. LESLIE: I'll answer a couple of those questions actually. We're trying to deal better - their credit in question policies are quite draconian, and I'm not sure if that's the right word - we've made a lot of suggestions, including ideas for how we could change the regulations and, hopefully, we would make those recommendations along with Nova Scotia Power. Nova Scotia Power has committed to a few things; for example, in Halifax, an advocate - I have a phone number for someone who works at Nova Scotia Power, a customer relations officer, there are two of them, I have a direct phone number so I don't have to go through the 1-800 number and just talk to whoever I get at the switchboard who's making minimum wage and really doesn't care about what I'm doing. I can talk to somebody who actually has a bit of power and negotiates settlement arrangements that are workable for clients.
If you live outside of HRM, you can't access those people. You have to make long distance phone calls. (Interruptions) You can't. You can, oh, well, someone (Interruptions) Are you paying long distance charges?
MR. GOSSE: They have a Cape Breton representative.
MS. LESLIE: Oh, wow. Well, that's great. One thing that Nova Scotia Power has decided to do is make a 1-800 number for those customer service representatives. So it's one small example, but a lot of it has to do with making payment arrangements that are doable, that are workable with what a person's actual income is, because right now Nova Scotia Power doesn't really have that relation. They demand all the money up front. So that's an example.
MR. PARENT: One of the things that I have found is that oftentimes they are letting bills pile up until it becomes impossible for the client to pay it, and so then it puts the client in a no-win situation. So if support could be brought in earlier when it's clear that the energy costs are beyond the capability or financial means, at that time I think that would help.
MS. LESLIE: Yes, that's a great recommendation. Thank you.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Leo.
MR. GLAVINE: Thank you very much, Megan and Eugene, for your presentation. It's nice to hear an upbeat, solution-driven presentation - if only we did more of it in government. There are some really good points there. One of the things about the clawback, and I can honestly say I'm very disappointed in the minister, that he would not go on the record during the last session of the House that there would absolutely be no clawback. He created some of his own confusion here, I think, or that element of mistrust around that, and that could have been clarified very easily with an absolute statement from the minister. So I don't think that was there in the clarity that people needed.
The other thing - and I haven't checked my light bill lately, my wife usually looks after that - was there notification in the power bill that the heat rebate program was in fact in place? What a great way to notify every Nova Scotian. I will tell you how poorly the indication of the program as out there and existing - I sent out an annual calendar and within the first three days I had 40 calls to my office for the rebate information and application. So I'm just wondering, because government could have easily put a quick little notification in the power bills to let people know.
MS. LESLIE: I'm not sure if they did. I think that's a great idea. We did recommend to the Department of Community Services that they include it as a line on their income assistance statement. So they're looking into that possibility.
MR. GLAVINE: When you look at seniors and other groups that qualify.
MS. LESLIE: Yes, and it's really confusing for people too because there is a federal government rebate program, different people qualify for it. So there is also this misunderstanding of, oh well, I'm not a family, so I can't get it, or I'm not a senior, so I can't get it. It's very confusing, but we'll certainly talk to Nova Scotia Power about that. Thank you.
MR. GLAVINE: Thank you.
MR. GOSSE: I like the phrase "heat or eat". I have in my riding, I guess in Cape Breton there are some things about seniors cutting prescriptions in half, and pills in half to pay their utilities, electricity. In the recommendations of Nova Scotia Power, you said, all
your work with Nova Scotia, they gave you a phone number of the communication person here. We actually have a phone number plus a cell number of the communication persons in Cape Breton. What I found is that people are trying to get back into affordable housing that had left in the past, have huge energy bills that they had left in the past and they won't let them back in; the housing authorities won't let them back in because they have this $2,000 or $3,000 bill. You find yourself dickering with the caseworker supervisor to pay that in overpayment, get the person back into affordable housing because they are living under a tremendous amount of stress. My concern is, when I get that done as an MLA I want them on a budget; the client, once they're back in, on a budget for the utilities so this doesn't happen again.
Again, you have the $45 overpayment being taken off of theirs so, again, there is something being deprived from the family with that money being taken out again. With the lack of communications, this government has spent an enormous amount, more than any other previous government on communications for their own government. When you go to Community Services there's nothing in the department to tell you what you are entitled to. You cannot go and take a brochure off the counter and say, okay, I'm going back to work, I'm entitled to $250 for clothes, or I'm getting a job where I need certain shoes. There's nothing there to tell you that, there's nothing there to tell you that you can go on a budget for energy and stuff like that. I find that the lack of communication, when they come in - you have to go on-line quite a bit and find out what the policy is within the department.
MS. LESLIE: Some people don't know that shelter is rent plus utilities, so if their rent falls below the maximum shelter, they are not aware that they can get up to the maximum shelter to get their energy bills covered. There's a real lack of communication.
MR. GOSSE: Absolutely right. So that's where I find that we have to improve on communications. I thank you for the presentation. I've read some of your work in the past and it's excellent.
MS. LESLIE: Thank you.
MS. WHALEN: I just wanted to ask you about the Keep the Heat program. I think it's a real shame that it has not been properly advertised and people are not aware of it to the tune of having millions of dollars that were budgeted for that are not being used. So I think your idea of diverting that into energy efficiency or an improvement for low-income housing will be a great idea, or to help people change and improve their homes.
I wanted to ask you specifically about one of the limitations on the program, and that is that you must use 10,000 kilowatt hours a year in order to qualify. Perhaps you are not aware of it, but if you don't use 10,000 kilowatt hours a year, you are not allowed to access the fund. I had a case over Christmas where somebody had inquired and said that she's just being very cautious and careful and keeping the thermostat lower because she doesn't have
the money to heat the townhouse she lives in the way she would like to, and having looked into this realized she wasn't eligible. I was just wondering, was that something that had come up among people that you're advocating for?
MS. LESLIE: That isn't something that I've had come up, and I didn't know that because it would seem that the Department of Energy may view it as, well, we're rewarding people who are being wasteful. So I didn't know anything about that. Along with the rebates, there are these home energy kits that every low-income Nova Scotian who applies, they get these kits, and they're good. There are a couple light bulbs in there and there is some weatherstripping for a window. We're about poverty, but energy efficiency is key when you are dealing with poverty issues. You can't ask someone who gets $190 a month on social assistance - that's $6 a day - to take $6 and go buy an energy efficiency lightbulb. That's a day's worth of food. So even if the $7 million that's left, that was earmarked, doesn't go towards rebates, it needs to go towards energy efficiency. We need to make these homes more energy efficient so that it's not costing as much money.
MS. WHALEN: Yes, a very good point, and on the 10,000 kilowatt hours, I think that's a bit of a Catch-22 . . .
MS. LESLIE: Yes, I didn't know about that.
MS. WHALEN: . . . for people who are trying to take a very limited amount of money and stretch it to cover all their needs. So it might be something for you to note as well.
MS. LESLIE: Yes, thank you.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: I want to thank you very much for presenting - sorry, Jerry.
MR. PYE: Thank you, Madam Chairman, and through you to Eugene, if I may. Eugene, as you know, the main source of electrical energy, the only source as a matter of fact, is by the Nova Scotia Power Corporation, except for its subsidiary buyers in which they buy and pass on to consumers. The question I have for you, since they are the only providers of electricity in the province, and many people in this province find themselves delinquent in their power bill and many of the individuals then go forward to seek another shelter or another accommodation and find themselves having credit checks against them, with respect to Nova Scotia Power, particularly investment property owners, and many people are denied shelter as a result of that, can I ask you if through your consultations with Nova Scotia Power you have talked about the removal of credit debits to agencies and/or organizations with respect to not using that as a prong to prevent people from getting shelter?
MR. KUNG: Well, thanks for your question. I have to confess that I've only been working with this group for the last couple of weeks. Megan might be better able to answer that specific question.
MS. LESLIE: We haven't looked into that, but that is an excellent suggestion and I'm definitely going to take that back.
MR. PYE: Well, I certainly hope so. The other question that I have is around definition. You made the comment that there are people who don't pay for their own heat. Who are those individuals who don't pay for their own heat?
MS. LESLIE: Renters where heat is included in the rent.
MR. PYE: I take exception to that definition then, because all calculated expenses by the landlord or the property owner . . .
MS. LESLIE: Yes, you're right.
MR. PYE: . . . are calculated in and those individuals do pay for their heat.
MS. LESLIE: Right, that is the criteria for receiving the rebate through the Keep the Heat program.
MR. PYE: And that's the unfortunate part of it.
MS. LESLIE: It absolutely is.
MR. PYE: It is not fair.
MS. LESLIE: Which is something that the Department of Community Services would know better than the Department of Energy, because they have the expertise. This is why we recommend that this is the department that should be running that program.
MR. PYE: And my question is, the Department of Community Services, they would be the recipient of the rebate for the clients that they pay; however, the individuals who are working poor and not on social assistance, who do not have access to that rebate now, should be entitled to have access to the rebate and there should be substantive argument to that I would say.
MS. LESLIE: Absolutely.
MR. PYE: Thank you.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Again I want to thank you very much for your presentation this morning. It has been very informative and we appreciate the time, thought and energy that went into it, thank you. Could I invite . . .
MR. STEPHEN MCNEIL: Madam Chairman, could we have a copy of the 10 recommendations . . .
MADAM CHAIRMAN: I understand the groups are going to be e-mailing those to Mora and she will make copies for us.
Could I invite the representatives from Women's Centres CONNECT!, please, to come forward.
MS. LUCILLE HARPER: It's a pleasure to be here. My name is Lucille Harper and I work at the Antigonish Women's Resource Centre. I'm here to represent Women's Centres CONNECT! and many of you are familiar with Women's Centres CONNECT! Women's Centres CONNECT! is the provincial organization of women's centres. There are eight women's centres in the province: Every Woman's Centre in Sydney, the Antigonish Women's Resource Centre in Antigonish, the Pictou County Women's Centre in New Glasgow, the Central Nova Women's Resource Centre in Truro, Lea Place in Sheet Harbour, Second Story Women's Centre in Bridgewater, The Women's Place in Bridgetown, and the Tri-County Women's Centre in Yarmouth.
Women's centres in Nova Scotia are community-led organizations that provide services and programs to women, and adolescent girls, on a wide range of issues. Women come to the women's centres for issues related to poverty and economic concerns, housing, education and training, legal issues, health, and violence and abuse.
I want to say a couple of things off the script here today. One of the things I would like to do is to really thank everybody who has come here today to talk about these issues because I know in this room, this is such an incredibly rich group of informed, dedicated, hard-working people who represent thousands of people in this province, so when we are sitting in this very opulent space surrounded by paintings of extravagance, I would like us all to bring into this room the thousands of people who are living in poverty and to have them here with us, because that's who we are and who we're speaking to.
When I heard the very excellent recommendations this morning - and Women's Centres CONNECT! would support every one of those recommendations, so I'm going to try not to repeat - I was thinking for a rational, informed, reasonable person, what is the response to what we heard this morning, and the only thing that I can come up with is that the response is outrage. Absolute outrage, that we live in a wealthy country like Canada, and we allow this level of poverty to continue to exist, when we know the stories that we've heard this morning are multiplied by 30,000 single mothers, 4,000 seniors who are living in poverty. Now we got a call from an 80-year-old woman who was not turning her lights on in the Winter. She was sitting in the dark from 5:00 p.m. on because she didn't want to
increase her power bill. She said, I didn't think it was going to be like this when I was 80. That's one story, and we have thousands of them. That's where I want to start.
The other thing I want to say is because most of the women's centres in Nova Scotia are in rural areas that I do want to say that poverty is more complicated in rural areas and I appreciate you bringing that up this morning, Leo. It's more complicated for many reasons. An obvious reason is transportation. Another one is distance from services. Another one is schools. We've regionalized our schools, we don't have schools in the community, so we have poor children who have to go home on the bus after school. They can't stay after school, they don't have somebody to pick them up. They can't get to extracurricular activities. So that level of poverty is significantly increased in a complex way for people who are living in rural communities.
We have urbanization policies that are depopulating our rural communities, which means that we are taking out infrastructure. We are taking out the most skilled and mobile and young people in those communities and we are leaving those communities in increasingly desperate situations. I wanted to say that because I really feel that in this province - not just this province, this country - there is a profound lack of attention to our rural communities and the solutions are urbanization and when I hear people talk, it's from a urbanization perspective and I think we really have to move away from that.
What I want to talk about today are women because when we talk about the thousands of Nova Scotians who are living in poverty, the majority of the Nova Scotians who are living in poverty are women, and we know that women's poverty is deeper, more profound and more entrenched than that of men who are living in poverty. We know that poverty is not only gendered, it's also racialized. If you are a woman you are more likely to be living in poverty and deeper poverty than your male counterpart; if you are a black woman, if you are an immigrant woman, if you are a woman with a disability, if you are a senior woman, that poverty is going to be deeper and it is going to be more entrenched and it is going to be more invisible, because we don't talk about women. We pretend it's a one-stop shopping, that one size fits all and we're not talking about women. That's my message that I wanted to bring here today.
Every day at women's centres we see the effects of growing economic disparity, lack of affordable housing, collapsing rural infrastructure on women and their families. We see what happens when people don't have and can't get the education, decent jobs and other things that they need to live comfortably. We see that poverty captures individuals and families in a cycle from which it is difficult to escape and I think that was well documented this morning, particularly around ESIA. The idea with ESIA is to help people escape poverty; really, it locks them into poverty.
Poverty is often the reason that young people drop out of school early, the reason that women find it difficult to access further education and training. It particularly affects people with mental and physical health challenges. It increases the likelihood of depression and decreases the resistance to disease. Poverty is depressing. Really, if you have to live in poverty and your life is completely caught up in trying to survive moment to moment, day to day, your likelihood of having complicating mental health issues like depression, really increases. So the costs of poverty - and I think this has been said before - to society and to Nova Scotians are high.
Now, the other thing I find interesting is that women's centres have met with all of you before. We've talked about poverty. I believe everybody in this room has met with you before and talked about poverty and probably met with most of the caucuses and certainly distributed reports and probably sent you updates and kept you informed and yet, we're not seeing change. Women's centres have been working on poverty for many, many years. In particular, three women's centres - Sydney, Antigonish and New Glasgow - have submitted two reports now on social assistance reform. One is called Social Assistance Reform in Nova Scotia: Is It Working for Women?, and the follow-up is Social Assistance Reform: Making It Work for Women.
Currently we're involved in a project called Social Assistance Reform in Nova Scotia: Moving Forward a Woman Positive Public Policy Agenda, and Rene Ross is our project coordinator. She has been travelling around the province, has met with 91 women from around the province, documented their stories, reviewed the recommendations in our two previous reports and is putting out another report with the recommendations. Now, the recommendations in our reports are also in the Family Mosaic report, the IMPACT! report, The effect of Nova Scotia's new income assistance system on people who need assistance, by CAN and the Nova Scotia Association of Social Workers. They're in The struggle to feed our families in Nova Scotia: What does food costing tell us? They're in the Report Card on Child Poverty. They're in the Fairness in Education for Single Parents in Nova Scotia, and many more. The recommendations are repeated here this morning. The recommendations have been well documented and well presented, I believe.
Further, women's centres in Western Nova Scotia - Bridgewater, Bridgetown and Yarmouth - have been doing some work on women and public pensions and that, of course, is targeted more toward the federal government, but is a really important piece of work because we know that senior women are more likely to live in poverty and more likely to be dependent on public pensions as opposed to private pensions for all the reasons that are extremely well documented by the Nova Scotia Advisory Council on the Status of Women, in their reports on women, so I won't go through those.
So what do we know about poverty? We know that poverty is gendered and racialized, that the U.N. has said that you can't end poverty without addressing women's equality. We know that poverty in Nova Scotia is not being addressed adequately or
seriously. We know that, as I've said, a person's vulnerability to poverty and the depth of their poverty is increased by factors such as gender, race, ethnicity, age, physical and mental ability, immigrant status, language, and where they live. We know that those most likely to be living in poverty are women and children, and that one in seven women in Canada and one in six children in Canada are living in poverty.
We know that although there has been much talk about child poverty over the past 10 years, little has been done to address it and, in fact, child poverty has been used to disguise and to make invisible the poverty of the families in which poor children live. We know that children are living in poverty because their parents are living in poverty and that those most profoundly affected are often living in households supported by a lone-parent mother. We know that if we eliminate women's poverty, we eliminate the poverty in which their children live. Moreover, we know that because women live in the deepest poverty, if we address the poverty of the poorest of poor women, we address everybody's poverty, which is why it's so important that we focus on women. If we're going to use a yardstick and we address the poverty adequately of the poorest of poor women, we have eliminated poverty - you know, it's clear, it's not difficult.
The other morning I just sort of caught a glimpse of this quote that has really stuck with me because I hate the quote and I'm also quite fascinated by the truth in it. It's a quote from George Orwell who says, "It is fatal to look hungry. It makes people want to kick you." I thought, does this not reflect in some way the systems that we've set up to try to help the most vulnerable of Nova Scotians, the most vulnerable of Canadians - you know, I mean we're talking in generalities here. If we look at Aboriginal women, if we look at some of our rural Black communities, I mean we have to ask ourselves, are we not creating policies that in effect are kicking people who are hungry? Why are we doing that? Why are we still doing that?
So part of my message today is that poverty is policy created. Poverty is not an inevitable part of the human social condition. It does not affect only the disadvantaged. It's not the result of not working hard enough. It's policy created and policy maintained and while some of these policies, such as employment insurance and pensions, fall under federal jurisdiction, others are created and maintained by the provincial government. So I want to speak to three of those policies which have already been spoken to today, but I want to re-frame them in that we have created these policies and these policies are creating and maintaining poverty.
One of them is minimum wage. Now, we've had all kinds of different levels for the minimum wage today and one of the questions I have is if we raise people $1 above the low-income cut-off, have we done our job? If I have $1 more than the low-income cut-off, am I no longer living in poverty? I don't think so. I think what we have to do is we have to have a different vision for what we're trying to do to address poverty in this province but, anyway, I did some calculations and looking at a single parent living in a small town or rural area
who's working full-time, full year, at minimum wage and raising one child, they fall $5,318 below the poverty line. Two parents working full-time, full year, at minimum wage and raising two children fall $762 below the poverty line. That's two parents working full-time. On top of that they require child care and transportation. These parents are working hard. This is policy-created poverty.
Social assistance. The Nova Scotia ESIA Program, which is often a last stop for people - and I said something else, but I can't read it - says that it provides for basic expenses that include food, rent or mortgages, utilities like heat and electricity, clothing and taxes. Yet, the monthly income of a single mother with one child living on welfare in Nova Scotia is $1,091 a month or $13,092, including the National Child Tax Benefit. This is $6,370 below the low-income cut-off. So if this family had an extra $6,000, they would still be living in poverty. This is policy-created poverty. We are doing this. We are creating these policies. We're sitting in there signing them saying this is good enough for poor Nova Scotians. You can live $6,000 below the low-income cut-off and we think you're fine. I see you looking at your watch. I'll move on.
One of the things that I want to present to you, because I think it's an opportunity for Nova Scotia to really take a leadership role and to begin to get some money into this province, because I know we don't have huge coffers in this province, although I question how we spend the money that we do have. The Canada Social Transfer is an opportunity for us to insist that money come into this province that is an adequate amount and specifically designated for social programs including social assistance and child care. Eliminating poverty, I guess my point is, is not difficult but it does mean thoughtful and deliberate policy changes. The Canada Social Transfer comes to the province right now in a way that allows the province to spend it on anything we want and it includes post-secondary education and there are huge debates around whether or not post-secondary education should be pulled out into a separate education fund, et cetera, regardless.
There has been quite a bit of call by women's organizations across Canada to have a Canada Social Transfer Act along the lines of the Canada Health Act that has specific conditions and standards attached to it. Now, you're saying, okay, that's federal. However, a lot of these negotiations are happening not in the Parliament, but at federal-provincial-territorial tables and that's where I think Nova Scotia can really play a role is by going to the federal-provincial-territorial tables and insisting that that Canada Social Transfer Fund to be increased to the levels that were available for social programs in 1995, because billings have been cut and yet we've had eight years of federal government surpluses and during the election it seems there is a plethora to spend on whatever happens to be the promise of the day; well, let's make the promise of the day addressing the poverty of the poorest of poor women. Then we'll address everybody's poverty.
I could say more about that, but one of the things I want to say is that if we had a Canada Social Transfer that was (a) adequate, (b) designated for very specific programs with standards and conditions attached that held the provinces to spending that money on those social programs, then we've got some money for affordable housing. We've got some money to raise social assistance rates. We've got some money to do some of the programs that we've been talking about today and I think that's one of the places where we can do it.
One of the other things that I want to add is, how do we make our pitch to the federal government? Well, the federal government has signed the UN Treaty, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. Now they signed this 25 years ago. Under that convention, they are beholden to address women's poverty. When Canada did its last presentation to the UN, for CEDAW, the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, CEDAW came back to Canada and absolutely rapped our knuckles on the level of poverty that women face in Canada, the lack of intention to address it, particularly the poverty of Aboriginal women, et cetera. Nova Scotia has approved and been part of supporting CEDAW. I think we can really use that to try to hold the federal government's feet to the fire to put some money into the Canada Social Transfer so that we can use it here in our province for the kind of social programs that we've been talking about today.
That's certainly one of our recommendations. The other recommendation . . .
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Lucille, sorry to interrupt, but I'm just wondering if you can summarize fairly quickly and then some of this information might be able to be added this afternoon as well. Okay, thank you.
MS. HARPER: Okay, my last point is that if we do anything out of these two days, I think what we need to do is to take immediate steps to establish a joint government NGO, a community-advocate working committee to develop a comprehensive plan for addressing poverty in Nova Scotia that takes into account women's equality, and put on that a timeline to have that done and the implementation plan begun within the next fiscal year.
So those are the two recommendations. Take the lead at the federal-provincial- territorial table around the Canada Social Transfer and put a real working committee into effect right now.
The rest we'll all do this afternoon. I can appreciate that everybody's hungry but not bad for us to be talking about poverty on an empty stomach.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Thank you so much. You're very passionate about these issues and we appreciate that. (Applause)
Just before we leave, are there any clarification questions that members want to ask? I think, Mark Parent, I have you down. (Interruptions) It's 12:05 p.m., just to remind you, we're going to start at 1:30 p.m. on the dot. So I encourage you to get back here perhaps around 1:20 p.m. Enjoy your lunch, and thank you very much. We'll reconvene at 1:30 p.m.
[The committee adjourned at 12:05 p.m.]