MADAM CHAIR: Good evening. I think we will get started. I would like to introduce myself. I am Maureen MacDonald, the MLA for Halifax Needham and the Chair of the Standing Committee on Community Services. I would like to welcome everybody and thank you for coming out tonight and explain to you a little bit about the process that we have been using as we go around the province. I think this is our sixth meeting in a different community in Nova Scotia. We started in Cape Breton, in Sydney, and we were in Port Hawkesbury, Guysborough, Stellarton, and last week in Yarmouth.
We begin the process, generally, by having the members of the committee introduce themselves and we have an agenda of people who have identified in advance that they would like to come and make a presentation to us. That doesn't preclude people, who have come tonight and haven't told us in advance that they would like to make a presentation, from doing so. So we would like to hear from everyone who would like to talk to us tonight, even if we haven't had your names already. It is Kim, I believe, at the side table, who will take names, if there are additional people who would like to present to the committee.
We try to keep the process as informal as we possibly can in this kind of a session. Some people come with written briefs that they feel comfortable reading from; others come with written briefs that they just want to highlight certain points that they want to emphasize, and other people come without written briefs and just want to talk to us about their concerns and the recommendations that they would have for the committee. Any of those methods of presenting is just fine with us. After each presentation, members of the committee then take an opportunity to either ask questions or make comments and we have a bit of a discussion. That is the process we use.
On our agenda tonight, we have four groups or individual citizens who have indicated that they would like to present, but there may be more. We have asked various groups to take about 20 minutes in their presentations and individuals to keep it to around 15 minutes, so it gives us a chance to get everybody in. So I will start having members of the committee introduce themselves with the vice-chair of the committee.
[The committee members introduced themselves.]
MADAM CHAIR: The first presentation is from the Ending Poverty Coalition, Reverend Jim Slack and Lacie Greene. Good evening.
REV. JIM SLACK: Good evening. We are set to begin. My name is Jim Slack, as you have said. I am the Pastor of St. Paul's Lutheran Church here in the community, and I am also a member of the South Shore Anti-Poverty Coalition. That was the name I saw on our latest documents. The group that I represent is a grass-roots coalition of religious, charity and women's organizations and also individuals who are living in poverty. Our coalition currently includes eight churches in three counties, representatives from three agencies and several individuals, as I have mentioned, and the group is rapidly growing.
Individually, our organizations felt rather powerless addressing this large problem of poverty and the whole business of social service reform, so we decided to form the coalition earlier this year to try to work on those things together.
Part of what we were noticing had to do with our increasing inability to address the concerns of those who were coming to us. Their needs were much greater than any of the resources that we had. We also felt that we lacked an opportunity to communicate with one another and other agencies that were trying to respond to the same kinds of issues and maybe even working with the same people, even agencies within the provincial government. We were also quite aware that some of those people who are most affected by poverty and any proposals to reform the system also feel very uncomfortable coming and speaking or trying to become advocates for their own cause, feeling, sometimes, very powerless through all of those things.
So we are here, perhaps, as advocates for some of those folks. One person will be speaking to share her story in a moment, but as a group we are concerned about demonstrating compassion for members of our community and especially those who are poorest and who are disenfranchised in many ways at the present time.
We have a written brief prepared. I suspect that you received that earlier this evening, but I don't think you have had time to read it unless you have taken the speed reading courses. So let me just identify a couple of highlights for you and allow you later on to take a closer look at our written presentation. As we have reviewed the Rebuilding the System discussion paper, this is our verbal comment to go along with the written comment.
I am referring mainly to some things now on Page 13 and Page 14, if you are looking for places to make notes. As we looked at the discussion paper, we responded somewhat generally because the proposals at this point are very general. Relating to Issue #1, which has to do with moving people towards work, the difficulty, of course, is finding jobs for those people who need to be working and jobs that are sustainable. So these comments I would share with you.
First, we would define sustainable jobs as jobs that are full time, that are dependable and that pay at least $12 an hour. Our research and studies suggest that part-time jobs that may come and go with the seasons or with the economy or which pay less than $12 an hour really don't allow people to break free from the system.
Secondly, how and who will be evaluating who is employable? If the goal is to get people working, we are very much in support of that, but how will those people be identified is a good question, and what guidelines will be used to ensure that persons being evaluated will be treated fairly? Maybe even more broadly, what is work? That is a pretty basic question. We might suggest that a job like parenting, where maybe very little money is moving through the economy, is still very valuable work and needs to be affirmed in some way. We would also want to ask how can we make sure that employed people are not displaced by subsidized workers? So those are some comments to that section, Issue #1.
Issue #2 has to do with education and retraining, and we would offer these comments. First, that evaluation for education and training should take into consideration the individual's abilities, past knowledge and experience. Sometimes the process begins assuming that someone has nothing and we begin at ground zero. It might be that affirming some of the working knowledge of each person would be a good place to begin. Also, education and training should be fully supported and funded by social services programs. If someone is going to be asked to do some training, they have to eat while they are training, too; having to choose between studying and eating is a pretty difficult position to be in.
Also, educational institutions should be part of this process and should take some responsibility to make sure that the programs they are offering have some relevancy to the labour market. Training people for jobs that don't exist or providing them with skills that aren't marketable really doesn't serve anyone well.
Issue #3, having to do with the clawback of the federal child tax benefit, we would offer these comments - Page 14 - the message being sent is that parents in receipt of social assistance are incapable of spending those few dollars wisely, and our research would suggest the opposite. If we were to examine those in society who are spending their money in the best way and may be getting the most out of their dollar, it may, in fact, be the poorest people in our communities.
We are also concerned that preventive programs be developed with this money, but sometimes they are developed without doing a needs assessment or consulting the community or soliciting input from the clients. Again, just as we might educate people for jobs that don't exist, we may be developing programs for needs that don't exist or that don't address the most pressing needs of a community. We are also concerned that programs will only benefit a small number of clients and some of the things suggested here seem to have the potential of being very invasive. It may rob those who are part of the system of some of their dignity, what little dignity may be left after being through the program. So I would identify that as a concern.
Finally, Issue #4, having to do with family responsibility and support. This is probably, for us, the most distressing part of the document, probably also the most complicated. We believe that the direction proposed here is ill-advised and, if implemented, will probably create more problems than it solves. Family systems are complex. Families, many of them, wealthy or otherwise, experience some form of dysfunction, and abuse is common, and our track record, to date, of improving those things is quite poor. Throwing people back into that environment to find aid may not yield very many positive results.
We are also concerned that this direction will lead to increasing family dysfunction and abuse, which will lead to even more costs to the Health and Justice Departments and also probably some permanent damage to people's lives. That doesn't seem to have been calculated into the present paper; it also appears to be targetted at reducing the number of teenage mothers. We certainly don't encourage unplanned teenage pregnancies. We are concerned about the welfare, though, of those mothers and children and, in most cases, the families of those teenage mothers aren't able to provide them with a healthy environment or home, so taking what little support they have now away is probably short-sighted.
This direction may also degenerate relationships between single adults and their parents, between older people and their children. While voluntary support from one family member or neighbour to another is to be commended, forcing that issue may be more disruptive than anything else.
Our final comment is a rather strong one. This is a serious direction. This is something that should be stopped. If this is the direction we are thinking we should be heading, our group would ask the government and the department to reconsider.
At this point I am going to pause for a moment. I just have a closing comment after this, but the person with me, you have identified already, is Lacie Greene. She is going to tell you a little bit about her story also relating to these four issues that I have just commented on.
MS. LACIE GREENE: Hi. My name is Lacie Greene. I am also a member of the South Shore Anti-Poverty Coalition and I also live within the social assistance program. Poverty is a real issue for me and my two children. The opinion that I wish to express is one
of a personal nature and I will be addressing the same four key issues which Jim has addressed, but on a more personal slant.
Issue #1, Moving people towards work without the availability of sustainable jobs. For me to have a job would be a godsend because I don't want to be in the system, but in the same breath this "job" has to enable me to live at least at the poverty line. A job of this sort is very hard to find when you take into consideration childcare and transportation costs, and then there is the added concern of benefits. What about your dental? What about your prescriptions?
Issue #2, Education and Retraining. This is a very touchy issue with me. I am already "trained" in the eyes of the social assistance worker, meaning that I have my Grade 12 and I have a community college diploma. For me to go back to a job in my field would require a refresher course and a reinstatement of registration. This alone costs over $1,000. I have been told by the workers to take out a student loan. Simple solution, right? Wrong. Because of my credit rating, this student loan is an impossibility for me. Many people don't understand the bureaucratic red tape involved with this process and the constant feeling of guilt because I am trained to do something but cannot do that particular job because of my financial situation.
I feel as though I have gotten more help and retraining, if you want to call it that, through volunteering in my community than any help that I have gotten from social services. The response I get from social services is that I am trained and can work which poses my question. How can I work in my field when I need financial help to upgrade my qualifications in order for me to be employed?
Issue #3, The Clawback of the Federal Child Tax Benefit. This issue utterly frustrates me to no end. How can the government decide that I haven't the ability to use this extra money wisely? Who knows better than I know what my children need? I am not saying that I am a money expert but what I am saying is my children come first and foremost. For me to teach my children about responsibility is my goal. How do I do that if the government is revoking my responsibility, to have the needs of my children dictated to me?
Don't get me wrong, I think it is a great idea to have more services and programs but how do we ensure that there is no duplication? What about the duplication of programs that are already up and running and they doing great? They have a great success rate. I feel as though this clawback is unfair to social assistance recipients and thus enforcing the stereotyping between low income families and social assistance families. Don't we have enough barriers to overcome already? Do we really need more stigmas attached to the social services programs? Why should I, of legal age and then some, be treated like a child in a candy shop?
The last issue that I want to address is Issue #4, Family Responsibility and Support. My comments on this are rather brief. My family has taken care of me from the time I was an infant until I left the house, say age 18. Shall I have to ask them now to take care of me as well as my two children? My family supports me in an emotional manner rather than a financial manner. How can I ask them, fairly now, how can I ask them to take the financial responsibility of me, as an adult, and my two pre-school children? My father has worked all his life to actually have a retirement fund. I can just imagine the animosity he would feel if somebody told him that he was to support me and my children. This would lead, in my opinion, to a dysfunctional family rather than a loving, functional family.
In closing, I hope you take these opinions with you and maybe make some amendments to the issues. If nothing else, I hope that they at least get you thinking about my life in poverty.
MR. SLACK: Just as a closing comment from our organization, I would like to say thank you. Some of our comments earlier are rather pointed but we do thank you for the opportunity to speak and to be heard. We received the document, Rebuilding the System, and spent some time, as an organization, looking at it and discussing it and some time preparing our response.
So we are glad that you have been able to listen and to receive it. We expect that you will be able to take time later on to read it carefully and consider it along with the other comments you will be receiving from other organizations and we hope that the discussion begun through this process will continue.
I notice the sign-up sheet over at the side table about receiving some documentation about these meetings and I am sure someone from our group will be getting that as part of the follow-up.
We do have one final question or comment, if we can. We do want to ask a basic question and this is a question we might follow up in a few moments and deal with at future meetings. It has to deal with the motivation for the reform that has been proposed. We know that several factors could be driving all of this. It could be that there is a renewed sense of compassion for others in our society. There could be a greater concern to invest in people in our province. It could have to do with long-term cost avoidance. So we would like to ask if you could help us understand what is driving this process. If it is primarily an issue of cost avoidance, is it likely that short-term gains in social service spending will be more than offset by increased long-term expenses to programs and departments like Justice, Health, Education and the Environment. If we are really concerned about long-term costs, there may be a number of ways to approach this. Maybe the compassionate response is also the least expensive in some ways, long term. So thank you again for allowing us to be with your this evening.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you very much. I am going to give members of the committee an opportunity to answer your question. I think it is a good one. I am going to start by saying that the discussion paper is a paper that has come from the minister and from the Department of Community Services. The department and the minister are looking for a response from people, in writing, but this committee had thought it was important to have a more participatory process and that is why we have decided to go around the province. So we are not entirely connected to the department, which I am sure you appreciate.
MR. SLACK: Yes, we appreciate that divergence.
MADAM CHAIR: That is right, that distinction. At any rate, I do think, though, members of this committee would all have their own views on what is driving social assistance reform and it is a fair question to pose to members of this committee. I am sure people will have some questions for you as well. I am going to start first with Mr. Muir.
MR. JAMES MUIR: Thank you, Madam Chair, and thank you for such a clear and insightful presentation. I will try to answer your question first, very briefly. I am relatively new to the political process and like Jerry who is now, I was the PC Community Services Critic until a very short period of time ago. The portfolio has been switched now and that is one of the reasons that I am on the committee. I think the government has had sufficient feedback from its workers as well as people who are consumers of the social service system to realize that the system probably wasn't working as well as it could and that there were improvements. One of the things that we felt as a committee, I guess, is that too often too many decisions are made without the input of the people who perhaps know best and they would be the users. So I guess for those two reasons, if there was a feeling by the government who initiated the reform - it wasn't initiated by this group - there was a reason for it and why we are here.
My question, I guess, would go to you Reverend Jim. I wasn't really entirely clear on your third point there under the clawback, when you talked about programs which made have potential to serve only a small number of clients and may be invasive. I just wonder if you could clarify that for me a little bit, please?
MR. SLACK: If it is possible. The group that I am part of included a group of writers of the document and if it is possible, could I ask one of my colleagues to respond more specifically?
MR. MUIR: I would ask that they do. Make sure they speak into the microphone, please.
MR. SLACK: This is Tammy Cushing who is part of our group as well.
MS. TAMMY CUSHING: I was not prepared to speak but I will try to do my best. When we were drafting this paper and looking at this, we heard a number of comments coming from the Department of Community Services about the programs that they are looking at. We have not had enough detail about it but there is certainly a potential for some of the programs they are looking at to focus in on what are considered to be at-risk parents, to visit within the hospital and visit in the homes afterward. These can be very invasive programs and they may only target a certain number of people.
MADAM CHAIR: I would like to welcome Mr. MacEwan who has joined us and introduce him to people who are here tonight.
MR. JERRY PYE: I guess if we talk about motivation for the reform proposals, as we know there have been no changes in welfare reform in Nova Scotia since 1962, as a result of that there is a very real need to define what is best needed for the citizens out there in this particular community, particularly those people who are on social assistance. I spent 11 years in local municipal government in the City of Dartmouth and, as a result of seeing the real needs that people have not being met, that certainly drove me to want to motivate changes within the welfare system.
I want to go to you, Rev. Slack. I see that on Page 2, the Ending Poverty Coalition is made up of eight churches within three counties, three agencies and several individuals who in fact are living in poverty. I am wondering if in fact I can have the names of those individual churches and agencies? I don't think they are in this report anywhere and it might be interesting to have those as well.
MR. SLACK: I would prefer to check with our membership to see if they are comfortable sharing that information with you. I think our group would be happy to forward that to you.
MR. PYE: As well I am wondering how many citizens come to you and do you offer programs, services or assistance to individuals who are now living in poverty or are on social assistance within the catchment of Bridgewater-Lunenburg area?
MR. SLACK: The coalition, as I mentioned, was formed less than six months ago, but I think the one common thread among us as we gathered is the fact that we are working with folks who are living in poverty. I think each of us meet those persons, some of them as clients or parishioners in a variety of contexts and situations but I think most of us have agreed that the resources that any one of us has as individuals or organizations are far less than the need. We have a congregation with a crisis fund. We have some limits in terms of what we can provide for any individual or family or couples, and typically that amount of funding does not provide relief for a week, much less a longer term. So we offer them really a drop in the bucket. Our concern is, how do we provide better and more comprehensive care for these folks.
One of the things in our report that I didn't mention in my statement was our hope that we could somehow develop a system in the province that would be more comprehensive, involving all of the agencies and organizations that are trying to help the same people in our communities so that we can not only reduce red tape running from one office to another, but provide care that is more comprehensive and really does meet some needs, not just provide some token response the same way that a food bank might give someone meals for a couple of days but not really solve anyone's longer term problems.
MR. PYE: Can I ask you if you do have a food bank in your local area?
MR. SLACK: There is a food bank in the community. Unfortunately, one of the things happening of late is that those who go looking for assistance at social services are directed to go across the street, as it turns out in this community, to the food bank to use that as part of their social assistance.
MR. PYE: Also, do you have a clothing depot?
MR. SLACK: There are several outlets for discount clothing in the community.
MR. PYE: Finally, Madam Chair, this is just a comment to Lacie Greene. I want to tell you that I do share your concerns with respect to the clawback of the National Child Benefit Program. As you know, it certainly is so very little money for the government to claw back. I also want to say that you've certainly, as an individual on social assistance, maintained a great degree of emotional poise in making your presentation here this evening. Thank you.
MADAM CHAIR: Ms. Atwell.
MS. YVONNE ATWELL: I just want to say, first, that this report certainly has touched on many key issues. There is a lot of food for thought here. My question to Ms. Greene is, what field of work are you looking for? What type of work were you looking for?
MS. GREENE: I am trained as a nursing assistant.
MS. ATWELL: So in order to upgrade your skill, you mentioned that you would have to go back to school to upgrade?
MS. GREENE: I have to take a refresher course.
MS. ATWELL: A refresher course, and that's going to cost you about $1,000?
MS. GREENE: And to be registered.
MS. ATWELL: Do you feel that if you had an opportunity to do that, would that help you get back into the workforce and to make a substantial amount of money to be able to support yourself and your family?
MS. GREENE: Yes.
MS. ATWELL: And there is employment for the type of work that you're in?
MS. GREENE: Yes.
MS. ATWELL: Thank you.
MR. SLACK: If it was full-time employment, I think.
MS. GREENE: Yes, full-time would be really nice.
MS. ATWELL: But there is employment?
MS. GREENE: There is employment.
MS. ATWELL: And you feel that if you had an opportunity to do that, you may be able to come off the system?
MS. GREENE: Yes.
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. Montgomery.
MR. LAWRENCE MONTGOMERY: My feeling is that in any program where there is a service for people, whether it be in Education or Community Services, or anything of that nature, my view would be that anyone who's operating a program of that nature would always ask the question to themselves, how can we do it better? I don't think that there's any question that the people who are in charge, if you like, and this committee here has that in mind and to that end, we hope to have some recommendations come out of this committee. That would be my stand.
Rev. Slack, I would like to ask you a question. You mention in Issue #4, "Family systems are complex - family dysfunction and abuse are common and our society's track record in improving them is dismal to say the least.". In your opinion, why is this so?
MR. SLACK: I am not an expert on family functions so I would be offering at best a personal opinion but my sense in that section of the document, the discussion paper, seemed to be testing the waters for a further downloading of social service assistance, as we move from reduced federal support and maybe towards reduced provincial support and so on, that
maybe a further downloading to not only communities but families might be what's being tested here. We are concerned about that.
There are probably a variety of reasons why families aren't functioning as well as we would like to think they did years ago. Some of that may have to do with our memory. It is rather selective on those good old days, but it may also be that years ago a larger percentage of the people in our communities lived rurally and were able to be rather self-sufficient; that has changed dramatically in the last 50 to 60 years. Most of the people in Canada live in larger towns or cities. Not only do they not own their home but they don't own land on which to grow food. That places a great deal of stress on a family.
In this modern era job security is no longer present. If someone cannot count on having their job, even if they're doing it well, five years from now, before their mortgage is paid, that adds a great deal of stress as well. So I would suggest a lot of the family dysfunction that is presently existing has some roots in the economy and our ability as individuals to provide for our own basic needs. Other members of the panel may have some other comments but the question about family dysfunction, we could probably spend the evening on.
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. Balser
MR. GORDON BALSER: Thank you, Madam Chair. Your question reminded me of something that Bob Dylan said some time ago when the United States decided that they were going to begin a war on poverty. His rather cynical reply was, that was when they decided to make war on the poor. So I think the answer to your question is that they're motivated by a couple of things: probably a desire to improve the bottom line; and probably by a need to be perceived as being much more community minded.
Certainly, from my perspective and my involvement on this committee, the vast majority of calls that I receive in my constituency office are directly related to difficulties people are having accessing the system or making their way through it to a more productive and fruitful life. So I have a personal stake in this. I would like to see the committee come forward with resolutions and decisions that will improve the system. So, hopefully, that's the intent but I do think there are many facets to it.
Having said that, one of the things that I am having difficulty with is we speak of poverty and people living in poverty. What is the definition of poverty? I have heard the UNESCO baseline figures and, you know, I can look at someone and attribute my value system and say, yes, they live in poverty. Perhaps they don't see themselves that way. So what is your committee's definition of what constitutes a life in poverty?
MR. SLACK: I don't think our group has identified its definition. I suppose different agencies that are part of our group would define it differently. In my own case, as a parish pastor, I would define poverty or the poor as those who do not have sufficient resources to have basic things required for life. That would be those who do not have the resources for a proper diet, who do not have shelter, who do not have clothing, who do not have things that most of us would consider necessities of life.
For myself, as a parish pastor, I am not so concerned about how much money someone has made but there are other groups that probably would identify a line, that would identify the amount of money required. In our report we suggested $12 an hour as an hourly wage that would be needed to provide a family with those basic needs, but it may be that Tammy or Lacie have some other definitions they would propose as well.
MS. CUSHING: I represent Second Storey Women's Centre and I believe our definition of poverty would be much the same as Jim's, people's inability to meet their basic needs.
MR. BALSER: Further to that question, there seem to be a large number of people who are gainfully employed and who are working at well below $12 an hour. I guess the common definition is to call them working poor. I haven't had a chance to look at your document in its entirety. Do you have information in it that addresses the issue of the working poor? There are many outside the system trying to enter the workforce but there are a large number of people, it is my understanding, who are presently employed and still are not able to break out of that cycle.
MR. SLACK: I would say that many partners in our coalition work very much with those who we might call the working poor but I am not sure the document has any specific comments relating to that group, except to say that in this community, and probably across the province, there seems to be an increase in employment, not in full-time jobs that could sustain a family but an increase in part-time jobs without benefits, or without any kind of long-term security or opportunity for advancement.
So we sometimes can cite figures of increased employment but they're not jobs that most of us could survive with. They may be nice as a supplementary income but they're not enough for someone to have proper food, clothing and shelter, much less provide eyeglasses for their children or medicine in the case of illness. They may be in a position where they make too much money to qualify for social assistance but they don't earn enough to buy a pair of eyeglasses for their children.
MR. BALSER: That sort of was the point behind the question, that there are a large number of people who just need a leg up, so to speak, to rise. One last question, if I may, Madam Chair, and that's one of the other things that we've heard repeatedly is the issue of
the need for working parents to have access to flexible subsidized day care positions and, again, I didn't hear you mention it and I wondered if you would speak to that in particular?
MR. SLACK: That is part of the document.
MR. BALSER: Is it? Okay.
MR. SLACK: We like the word flexible, it appears a couple of places in the discussion paper. Developing a fair system across the province that is flexible, we kind of like that concept but the idea of providing affordable childcare across the province, not only in larger towns or cities but in rural regions, is quite a concern and providing care that is flexible that may meet the shifts of those who are working strange hours and so on would be a real benefit to folks if our motivation is to get them in the workforce bit by bit.
MR. BALSER: Could I just ask one more, it is a result of the use of the word flexible, I am greedy here, taking more than my share, and that is we have moved to a one-tier system of provision of social support and a number of people in my constituency have indicated that that has created less flexibility. I am just wondering if you could comment on that in terms of your experience. Has the move to a one-tier social support system been an improvement in your perspective or has it become less effective?
MS. GREENE: I am on family benefits so I really wasn't affected by the whole tiering system. There are good points and bad points I feel to both systems. The Income Assistance Program, and I am not that familiar with it, is geared to get people out into the workforce. There are somewhat more benefits on the Income Assistance Program than there are on the Family Benefits Program. I think it depends on who you talk to, whether they want to work or whether they don't. For me, like I said, I am on family benefits so I was not affected by the change. I know that if I do go out to work, it is my choice that I can go on income assistance, which is a lot lower than family benefits, and that may benefit in the long run and it may not. That would be something that I would have to weigh myself.
MR. BALSER: Thank you very much.
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. Baker.
MR. MICHAEL BAKER: Thank you, Madam Chair. I guess my first comment would be to Pastor Slack. I think that part of the motivation for the review of social assistance is clearly the fact that the provincial government has now become responsible for the old municipal social assistance system. First of all, when I was practising law, and now since I have been elected, I have seen the difficulties posed by the two systems and the fact that they don't match up at the present time.
The classic example of that is I happen to have two constituents who are siblings, one of whom is in receipt of family benefits. They are both single adults who for various reasons cannot work, one because the skill levels would be so low to make him unemployable and the other person is disabled. The person who is disabled gets the princely amount of $408 a month which is not much but compared to the sibling, who gets $308 a month, it is a princely amount and that seems to make no sense to me since you've got two adults of roughly the same age, actually living under the same roof, and making different amounts and that's the most glaring example I can think of, of why we should all be sitting here tonight, because that makes no sense to me from the point of view of a system that's providing the benefits to people to live.
That makes no sense, you know. Is one person to be penalized because they're not disabled, not that the person with the disability, certainly there is no question that person can't work, but the other person is equally unable to work because of educational problems? I guess that just, hopefully, helps answer some of the question about why I think we're here because you have a system that never worked very well but now that the province is administering both systems, it is more glaringly not working.
I guess, Ms. Greene, I take it that you do not qualify for Canada Student Loan assistance now because of the fact that the kind of upgrading, I assume you're trained as a licensed practical nurse, is that correct?
MS. GREENE: Yes.
MR. BAKER: Yes, and the fact that you can't get a Canada Student Loan, you don't qualify for a Canada Student Loan and no bank will lend you money because of your credit rating, is that . . .
MS. GREENE: You've got it.
MR. BAKER: That's a fairly common problem. I assume that you feel the solution to the problem would be for the government to provide assistance either in retraining you or, alternatively, to provide a loan to you so you could get retraining? I am asking a question.
MS. GREENE: It would be, I know it seems like it is asking a lot, short term, you know, I mean $1,000 here, $1,000 there, and you're really getting up in the bucks. Short term, yes, it would be very costly. Long term, how many people are you going to get off the system? How many people are you going to empower with that self-sufficient motivation to pass that on to their children?
MR. BAKER: No, I don't think you're alone. During the election campaign I met a number of young mums who were in the boat that you were in. They had pre-school children and wanted to either go back for retraining or upgrade their skills and the system seemed to actively discourage them.
MS. GREENE: Yes.
MR. BAKER: I guess that's your plight and that would seem to be counter-productive. Even if the cynical purpose of the system, you know, of reviewing the system were to reduce the cost drivers, it would seem in everyone's interests to reduce the cost to the system by allowing you to become gainfully employed because, to be candid with you, I think you've got a skill that's marketable.
MS. GREENE: Yes.
MR. BAKER: I mean there are lots of jobs for nurses. I guess my last question is for Pastor Slack. If, and I know this is a difficult question, but if you were to identify a single problem that could be fixed in the existing system that would make the most difference for many of the people that are parishioners, or clients, do you have anything that you might suggest? It is a difficult question.
MR. SLACK: Could I suggest two things?
MR. BAKER: Sure.
MR. SLACK: Clearly housing is the largest single expense to all the folks that we deal with, whether they have a place to live or whether they're still searching. In this particular community, I meet a lot of single men who are given about $350 a month to live on and normally the cheapest apartment in the community is $300. They're asked to go find a place that offers room and board for $300 but those places are very hard to come by in this community and how much more so, more difficult in smaller communities in this county and on the South Shore. So how does someone live on that amount of money? Housing would be one of the concerns. If we could provide affordable housing, that would be one of the greatest improvements.
Secondly, a system, personally and our coalition likes the idea of a system that's fair across the province, evenly administered. Probably the fewer tiers and the fewer different doors and offices you have to go to, the better. But we would also like that system to work in such a way that those who are clients are able to have access to the information that is being used by these caseworkers to provide for their care. Typically, the people that I speak to don't understand what the formula is that provides for their assistance. They meet someone. They tell their story. Someone works on some figures.
They have no idea whether they should challenge those figures or accept them the way they are and they have no idea whether they should accept the fact that the next appointment they can get is two months from now, or whether they can push and get one tomorrow. If the clients could better understand how the formulas work, if that process could be transparent, if there was a standard system across the province that calculated those things, and the people who were receiving benefits understood why they got the amount they were getting and how they could apply for additional amounts that they would qualify for, that would be tremendously helpful.
MR. BAKER: Thank you. I guess my last, and I just thought of it after you mentioned the two points, and earlier in the presentation you mentioned childcare. I am familiar with the situation in Lunenburg because I am on the board of directors of the day care centre and the situation in Lunenburg for day care is actually quite unusual in Lunenburg County in the sense that there are some spaces available typically from time to time, subsidized spaces. But I assume in Bridgewater subsidized spaces are practically impossible to obtain because I understand that Bridgewater has large waiting lists for most public day care facilities. Is that the case?
MR. SLACK: Yes. There is a shortage, as I understand it, as well, plus as far as I know, you have to go a private route to hire your own babysitters if you have needs beyond the 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. time-frame.
MR. BAKER: In Lunenburg, the day care centre for example is from 6:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., and the Bridgewater day care system is less flexible?
MR. SLACK: It might be. I don't know the hours. Please don't quote me on the hours.
MR. BAKER: No. No. But you sense it is less flexible than that.
MR. SLACK: My sense is, in this community a number of the part-time jobs that people are being expected to take in order to kind of rise from the system are jobs that require them to work at hours that day care isn't available.
MR. BAKER: Okay. Thank you very much.
MADAM CHAIR: I guess in closing, I would like to go back to the question you posed about what this process is all about and where it might go. I think that it is important to say that the Standing Committee on Community Services last met in 1993, and looked at the issue of gambling and went around Nova Scotia. When we reconstituted the committee in the last session, all of the members of this committee with the exception, I think, of Mr. MacEwan and Mr. Downe, who is unable to be with us tonight, were new first-term MLAs, and we were aware that reform and restructuring was happening throughout Nova Scotia
without much public discussion, and we saw this as an opportunity to go out to communities and hear from people about what their concerns were, and what their recommendations are as well so that we can do a better job.
Social assistance, I think we all recognize that the system is antiquated and it requires improvements, and that as it has existed, it really hasn't contributed to a lessening of poverty. With the recessions in the 1970's and 1980's and 1990's, the numbers of people on social assistance in this province have steadily grown, which means that the costs have gone up, which of course is a concern. I think what is even more of a concern is that the quality of life of more and more people has been low, it hasn't been a good quality of life. People who are receiving assistance tell us this all the time and so do their advocates.
Clearly there are other costs involved, health care is a big cost that is associated with poverty as you indicated. I tend to see the rising financial costs and concern there to be connected to compassion. You posed the question, almost as if it was in opposition, but it doesn't necessarily have to be, I guess is what I am saying. It can be linked if we choose to make that connection. I think that your brief was so good, and it leaves me again questioning whether or not social assistance is the place to look to address problems in the labour market. I want to thank you for your presentation. It was great. Thank you again.
MR. SLACK: Again, thank you for hearing us.
MADAM CHAIR: Our next presenter is Cathy Mosher.
MS. CATHY MOSHER: Just a few comments before I do my presentation. I have chosen not to address the issues that were raised in the discussion paper, but to talk about my experiences and some of the experiences of people that I work with, and make some recommendations. I also want to apologize, there are some typographical errors in this. I have many skills, but being my own secretary is not one of them.
First of all I would like to thank you for allowing me to voice my thoughts to you this evening. I want to tell you a bit about myself, for who I am and my experience in life frame my thoughts and opinions about the social assistance programs in this province. I am a social worker with 21 years experience in the health care system. In addition to working full time, I am a part-time student, a wife, a mother, and an active member in my church. I am a volunteer with a national health care charity on a local, provincial and national level.
I currently serve as President of the Canadian Association of Nephrology Social Workers, yet I am here this evening, not representing any of these organizations to which I belong, but as an individual who believes that how we treat the most vulnerable and disenfranchised in society is a reflection of the kind of society we are. I do not see that reflection as a positive one.
I do not believe one can speak about the social assistance system in isolation. The services we provide are to those who must, for whatever reason, depend on the system impact on other societal institutions, particularly the health care, education, child welfare and criminal justice systems.
The determinants of health are well-documented in the literature. They are identified as sanitation, housing, nutrition, working conditions and income. There is a direct link between poverty and societal status and the overall health of individuals and thus the cost to our health care system. Armstrong and Armstrong quote from Nurturing Health, "Greater wealth (socio-economic status) is associated with greater health; poorer and middle income people appear to be more vulnerable than wealthy people to a variety of ailments. The type of ailments that disproportionately affect poor people changes over time.". The authors point out that children suffer the greatest effects of poverty and the risk to both their physical and mental health is greater than to those children who do not live in poverty. I also want to comment that children do not live in poverty alone. They live in poor families.
Further, the trend of linking lifestyle to health fails to recognize that broader societal and economic circumstances are often beyond the control of individuals. Dependence on financial assistance from Community Services certainly, in my opinion, places people in the category of poverty thus rendering them vulnerable, without power and status and as disenfranchised members of society.
I am less familiar with the literature that supports my supposition of the impact of the social assistance system to the education system, child welfare and criminal justice systems. However, one does not need to be a rocket scientist to know that children who are hungry, who do not have adequate clothing or are lacking necessary school supplies have a disadvantage when it comes to learning. While adequate income in and of itself is not indicative of no contact with either the child welfare or criminal justice systems, the numbers of people living in poverty tend to be overrepresented in both these groups.
When considering the social assistance system, it is important to consider how those services and programs are delivered. It is important that those delivering the service have appropriate training and manageable caseloads that allow the service to be provided with respect, dignity, compassion and in a timely manner. Throughout my years of practice, I have met many caseworkers who treat clients with dignity, respect and who will go the extra mile to ensure clients' needs are met to the best of their and the system's ability. I have also met many workers who suffer from, what I think is a rather generous description, compassion fatigue. These workers do not treat clients with dignity, respect or compassion. These individuals are the ones who refuse to respond to phone calls, intimidate and threaten clients. Caseworkers by their very position wield enormous power over clients.
I want to share with you some stories and experiences of some of my clients, both past and present. Many of these stories are of people who have end stage renal disease. I have known them for many years. Others are people with whom I have had fleeting contact as their contact with the hospital has been brief.
Mary is the person who really, when I spoke with her, made the decision that I have to make my voice known. Mary is a 57 year old woman who left an abusive and alcoholic husband after 30-odd years of marriage. She has Grade 6 education and spent all her married life raising the couple's four children. When I met her recently she was suffering from severe depression, was barely able to care for herself - and that was because of the depression - and had been admitted to hospital with dehydration. She had been separated from her spouse for approximately two years and over that time her support from him was reduced from $800 a month to $200. Therefore, she had applied for and was receiving additional support through short-term assistance of slightly over $300. Most of her income was spent on rent. When I suggested to her and her family that she may be eligible for family benefits, I learned that this woman had asked about it. She had been told to upgrade her education and get a job. Further, when her family had asked for information about finding affordable housing, they were given no direction and were surprised to learn that she might qualify for senior's housing.
Mary is not the only abused woman that has been further abused by the system. There is Jane, a 24 year old mother of two, ages 7 years and 8 months. In Jane's 24 years, the most stable relationship had been a six and one-half year relationship with a man from whom she had to flee several times because of his violence toward her.
In counselling Jane about her options, I asked her what it was that pulled her back to him. She responded that she wanted a better life for her children than she had experienced. She wanted them to have an education, to be able to participate in sports and recreational activities, have warm clothes and boots for winter, not to go hungry at the end of the month, to have decent housing, and for her elder son to be able to return to school in September with all of the school supplies he needed.
This man was a good provider for both of her children. During the times they had been apart, she had relied on social assistance and she and her children had done without some basic necessities. Her son had to wait several days to get antibiotics to treat an ear infection because Jane's worker did not respond to her request in a prompt manner. Jane could have benefited from group therapy sessions for abused women offered by a private agency. She was afraid to ask her worker for the minimal cost to attend these sessions or to even have me approach this worker. She was afraid that it would come back on her at another time. In the end, she returned to this man and I pray that I do not read her name some morning in the obituaries. I have known too many Marys and Janes in my professional life.
Then there was Pat, and he is now deceased. Pat was one of those people who had a full-time job prior to becoming disabled and his story goes back several years. He was in receipt of Canada Pension disability and was receiving $7 more than he would have received had he been eligible for family benefits. Again, his ineligibility was based on income. His medication costs were $700 per month and he was wanting a drug card. He lived with his mom and was eligible for partial drug coverage through short-term assistance. He appealed the decision that denied him drug coverage through Pharmacare and was told that if he moved out of his mother's home he would then qualify for assistance with the increased cost for housing and drug coverage. He subsequently moved into a basement apartment of his mother's home, received an additional $200 a month and his Pharmacare card.
When this young man received a transplant he wanted to upgrade his education and find employment suitable to his medical condition. His biggest fear was that he would lose his drug card and that fear prevented him from following through on his desire to return to the workforce. His condition eventually deteriorated to the point where he was again disabled. I have known many Pats for whom the high cost of medication and fear of losing drug coverage is a major barrier in their attempt to re-enter the job market.
Jim is also disabled. While he was waiting for his application for Canada Pension disability to be processed, and after that time when he appealed the decision that denied him the disability, he was forced to rely on short-term benefits. In spite of many medical problems and a doctor's letter advising the particular caseworker that a telephone was a medical necessity, he was told that a phone is not a budgetable item, nor were some major car repairs in spite of the distance to and frequency of this man's medical appointments; likewise for some home repairs. When this man was finally granted his Canada Pension, he spent some of the back pension that he received on the bills he had accumulated during the time he depended of social assistance. He then discovered that every cent that had been provided to him, even to the last cent that was covered for medication, had to be paid back, leaving him in a significant financial pickle.
To this day, this man has difficulty covering the costs of all of his medication and would do without if we were unable to find some way of providing it through the hospital. Again, that is something that we fight every day, especially with the budget cuts and our current budget problems. I know many, many Jims.
Fred recently returned to dialysis after 10 years of having a transplant. He is single and lives alone in his own small home. He is in receipt of Canada Pension of less than $500 per month. He lives in a small community about two and one-half hours from the nearest dialysis centre, and must travel three times per week until such time as he is stable enough to be dialysed at a satellite clinic near his home. Fred has a loan with his local credit union for repairs to his home. Part of Fred's treatment is a special diet and over-the-counter medications such as vitamins and phosphate binders, but he was unable to follow this part of his treatment regime because of the cost. Although Fred was receiving prescription drug
coverage from Community Services, he was not eligible for anything else. His loan is not considered a budgetable item, in spite of the fact that it was for home repairs.
After much advocacy on the part of two hospital social workers, he received an extra $40 per month to accommodate his special diet. He was also provided with funds for travel, but only until the local health-care shuttle could accommodate him for free. While this is a good service, it means Fred leaves his home about 5:00 a.m., has four to five hours of dialysis and often can't leave for home until late in the afternoon, because of the other users of this transportation service.
Once Fred's caseworker fully understood his situation, she did everything within her power to ensure his needs were met. Fred had attempted, without success, to renegotiate his loan for a lower monthly payment, in an attempt to have sufficient funds to meet his new realities. This worker offered to intervene on his behalf and was advised by her supervisor that she could not do so, it was against department policy. Again, I have too many Freds counted as my clients.
Sue has had kidney disease for many years and suffers the ravages of living with long-term dialysis and several failed transplants. She does home dialysis with a great deal of support from her husband, and is emotionally dependent on him to a high degree. She has had several near-death episodes and will not be admitted to hospital unless accompanied by him. This couple has a teenaged daughter at home, and have relied on social assistance as their sole source of income for many years.
The caseworkers this couple has had over the years have been fantastic and made every effort to ensure John could accompany Sue during her numerous hospitalizations, covering the cost of accommodations and meals, as well as their transportation. For expenses not covered by social assistance, such as a comfort allowance for Sue during her longer hospitalizations, I have been able to obtain additional funding from the Kidney Foundation. The Kidney Foundation provides last-resort financial assistance for short-term costs associated with the kidney disease, based on financial need and providing they aren't eligible for assistance with these costs from any other source.
As Rev. Slack talked about the food bank and people being sent from the social assistance office to the food bank, I have had many workers - their clients, people already in receipt of assistance - telling me to go to the Kidney Foundation for funding when it is totally inappropriate.
Upon Sue's last admission to hospital, I was advised the policy of covering meals and accommodations for an essential escort had changed - here is our single-tier system, and how it has improved - while this worker was able to provide accommodations for John, this couple was expected to use their food allowance portion of their assistance to cover his meal costs. Further, I was advised that should the worker become aware that funds from another source
were provided to this couple, i.e. funding from the Kidney Foundation, that amount would be deducted from their next month's assistance.
Now, it is my information that the food, clothing and personal allowance portion of their assistance is $144 per adult per month. That works out to $4.80 per day per adult. If this couple had not already spent that amount to ensure groceries had been in the house for the month, that would have given John both his and Sue's daily allowance of $9.60 to purchase his meals while she was hospitalized. One can eat fairly cheaply at our hospital cafeteria, but not that cheaply. I know too many couples like this, and not enough caseworkers like theirs.
I am grateful that we have a social safety net to assist those in need, and I am saddened to see it being eroded. I am spending more and more of my days advocating for basic necessities on behalf of those who are dependent on social assistance for nothing more than an existence. Far too often, I am turned down for assistance with the real cost of transportation to dialysis treatments or other medical appointments, medication costs, nutritional supplements, basic telephone coverage, adequate clothing and housing. I fully appreciate the need to ensure accountability to the taxpayer but believe there are better ways to ensure good value for our tax dollar.
Let's take a look at our Pharmacare Program. Why is it that, unlike some other provinces, we don't have a central pharmacy that can provide medication to those who qualify? Would it be possible to approach the pharmacies in the province and put it out to tender for the provision of medications? What about heating costs for those who rely on oil? The system needs to be more responsive to those who use the system. Caseworkers need to be able to work with those on their caseload to assist them in realizing their full potential, to ensure that those who are able to return to the workforce have every opportunity to do so, rather than have impediments put in their way.
This may mean smaller caseloads, more counselling, more vocational rehabilitation programs, more access to childcare, and ensuring that those who find employment are not worse off than while in receipt of assistance. This will also require a change in public perception, that people want to be on assistance. I have met few people who choose this lifestyle. That there are the deserving poor, those who are working poor and disabled, and the undeserving poor, single women with dependent children. I guess I should have said, single parents.
I challenge the system to meet the real needs of those who for whatever reason must depend on the system for the basic necessities of everyday living. This means the real costs for proper nutrition, electricity, heat, an appropriate allowance for school supplies in September for those with school-aged children, an appropriate allowance for warm clothing and footwear in winter, basic telephone service, necessary dental and vision costs, rather than depending on service clubs, that is a common practice in some areas, and the recognition of the necessity for reliable transportation, especially for those in rural areas. The costs
associated with these changes may increase the cost to the system, but the overall cost to the other systems and society at large may decrease.
This province should be ashamed at the abysmal way we treat our poor. I abhor the decision of this government to provide the new Child Tax Benefit program to only the working and thus deserving poor, and not those who are in receipt of assistance or undeserving poor.
I become enraged when I think of the Michelin Tire Corporation having millions of dollars in loans forgiven, and yet if someone in receipt of assistance receives any amount of overpayment, it is deducted from future assistance, even if the mistake originates with the Department of Community Services. The fact that the necessity for food banks and soup kitchens still exists and is expanding is further cause for shame.
It seems to me that governments have forgotten that its business is to provide services to the people not multinational corporations. I want my tax dollar to ensure that the basic necessities are provided to those who must depend on social assistance to meet their basic needs. I want my charitable dollars to enhance the quality of life for those same individuals by providing the opportunity for recreational and cultural experience, social and emotional support. Some recent decisions by this government, such as the forgiving of the loan to Michelin and to extend loan guarantees so one Irving company can buy vessels from another Irving company, while necessary for job creation and stability, clearly demonstrates that providing a decent standard of living for those in receipt of assistance is not a matter of money, rather it is a matter of political will. Thank you.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you very much. I think I will start to my left with Mr. Baker.
MR. BAKER: You obviously work as a nephrology social worker. Is that at the Queens General?
MS. MOSHER: No. The Queens General doesn't have a social worker. I am at the Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre. That is one of our satellite units.
MR. BAKER: I knew there was a satellite unit at the Queens General, I didn't know if you worked there or not. Obviously there are many stories in here. The difficulty that you indicated that surprised me the most, I guess, was the difficulty when you indicated that the social worker had told you that if you got assistance for a client from the Kidney Foundation, they were going to deduct this off the benefits.
MS. MOSHER: That if he knew about it, basically what he was saying is, if you get some assistance, I don't want to know.
MR. BAKER: It was all right if you lie about it, but not if you tell.
MS. MOSHER: Don't lie, just don't tell me.
MR. BAKER: The other difficulty of course is the problem that you referred with the Pharmacard, and that is a very common problem that I run into with my constituents . . .
MS. MOSHER: Non-formulary drugs or over-the-counter medications that are necessary.
MR. BAKER: Yes, that is a significant problem, particularly with a large number of people that I see who are on Canada Pension. While they may or may not have enough for their daily needs, there is no way they can cover $600 or $700 a month drug bills. I assume that the cost of medication is really the kicker for a lot of these people.
MS. MOSHER: It certainly is and it is a constant decision. Do I take my medications as prescribed or do I try and skip? I did not even touch on how many people I have known over the years who have been admitted to hospital because they have been unable to take their medications, as prescribed. We bring them in, we get things under control, send them out for it to happen all over again.
MR. BAKER: I guess the other question and you alluded to it tangentially, which was the difficulty with specialized diet for kidney disease.
MS. MOSHER: Yes.
MR. BAKER: In particular, do you have any idea what it would cost the average individual to increase their food budget by to have the specialized diet that you need with people for kidney disease?
MS. MOSHER: A dietician could tell you and generally I get her to write the letters. With the specialized renal diet, people cannot depend on food banks because it is restricted in salt, potassium, sodium and a number of other things. Frequently they have to have fresh foods, no processed foods, no bologna, no wieners and most of the people who are on assistance cannot afford to buy roasts, chickens and turkeys on a regular basis. That is a real problem because if people's nutritional intake is not appropriate it can interfere, especially for those on home dialysis, with the dialysis treatment and the effectiveness of that treatment.
MR. BAKER: I take it their social assistance caseworkers are not volunteering to these people that there is assistance available for specialized diet, generally speaking?
MS. MOSHER: Some are and some are not. Again, I would hesitate to blanket all of them with that. There are some super people out there but there are also some people who do not volunteer any information and unless we actively pursue it and advocate on behalf of the patient, they do not receive it.
MR. BAKER: One last question, I know other members will have questions. I have become aware, of course, of a large number of people in the Lunenburg/Queens area that are receiving dialysis. Have you any suggestions to how to make the transportation network better for these people? They tell me stories of getting up at 4:00 a.m. and getting home at 10:00 p.m. and taking a day to recuperate and then they have to spend the next day going to dialysis so their lives are a living hell of constant recuperation and travel.
MS. MOSHER: Yes.
MR. BAKER: Do you have any suggestions on how we can make it better for those people?
MS. MOSHER: I think if they have access to individualized travel that is going directly to the centre and directly home, that is also tied up with the schedule, the overcrowding of the unit and the difficulty we have of even providing dialysis to people these days. What we do encourage people to do is if they can do home dialysis to do that because that certainly is a major concern for many people. It is really hard for them to focus on some of the other aspects of dealing with what is happening to them when they do not know how they are going to get back and forth to treatment. It really takes a lot of time and there is no organized transportation system for these individuals.
The other thing is the cost. For example, one woman I know who is waiting to be stable enough to go back to Liverpool to that site, she would be allowed $35 per trip to travel. The shuttle would charge $75 because they take her in, they have to wait around for the four to five hours. So during the time she has been waiting, she has been staying at Point Pleasant Lodge at the hostel service with the cost, that per diem rate, I believe, is around $65 a day, going to the health care system. It makes perfect sense. She would rather be home, she would rather be able to travel but it is not possible for her.
MR. BAKER: That is my experience as well, is that these people are hostage to the system. Well, thank you very much for taking the time.
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. Balser.
MR. BALSER: I will show my ignorance, could you tell me what a nephrology social worker actually is?
MS. MOSHER: Specializing in kidney disease and dialysis and transplant.
MR. BALSER: Thank you, that clears that up. You certainly cite a number of instances where social workers have, by and large, failed to be sensitive to the issues and concerns. You make reference to compassion fatigue. Would you say that in your estimation it is more common for them to lack compassion than it is for them to be compassionate?
MS. MOSHER: I really would hesitate to make any general statement about that. I think they are an individual, perhaps some of those people I have caught on bad days when they have been up all night with their kids, I don't know. But I do know that there are some areas of the province that I hate calling because I know the answer. I have one gentleman right now whose truck broke down, he can't get to treatment and it is costing him $25 a day and he does not have that.
His worker refuses to call him, she refuses to respond to my calls. I fax her a letter and this has been consistent over the time that I have known her. Now whether it is her caseload, whether she is busy, when we finally do get through, in the past she has been helpful. Then I have others who are like this worker for the couple I spoke about, who is fantastic about negotiating the system to the best of his ability to see that the needs of his clients are met.
MR. BALSER: That kind of leads into my next question which is, does the system lack the flexibility to allow caseworkers to exercise discretion? You indicated at least once in your presentation that the caseworker kind of winked at you and said, if I don't know then there is no . . .
MS. MOSHER: Yes.
MR. BALSER: So is that part of the problem that the system we have created is so rigid that these people are fearful of the ramifications of what . . .
MS. MOSHER: Yes and it is worse now with the single-tiered system than it was when we had the opportunity to go to municipal assistance. Another gentleman who was receiving municipal assistance with the cost of his over-the-counter medications which came to about $60 per month, when it went to a single-tiered system he did not get that assistance anymore and it is the same with some of the non-formulary medications that Pharmacare does not cover. There is not that flexibility in the system to provide for those special needs that was present at one time when we had the two tiers.
MR. BALSER: To borrow from Mr. Baker, my last question would be if you could offer one suggestion of ways in which we could improve the system, from your perspective what would it be?
MS. MOSHER: Do away with automated attendants in social assistance offices for starters. It is intimidating for people. I certainly appreciate the need for voice mail in my own practice but you have to answer those messages. When you call and have to press this number
and press that number, that would certainly be intimidating. Have a real person, have someone who understands. Most of these people are not there because they want to be. It is difficult to ask for help.
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. Montgomery.
MR. MONTGOMERY: Thank you very much for your presentation. These are the kinds of scenarios that I think go through our offices on a daily basis as well, I know it is in mine. I think what you are suggesting is that we show there is a necessity for support for the basic necessities that everybody has and I have to agree with what you are saying.
The compassion fatigue, as you have mentioned, I want to hit this as well as Gordon did. When we were thinking some time back in discussions of this kind on other evenings in different places that we have been, I was thinking back to this. I think that maybe as a result of people dealing, maybe it is the heavy caseload because you did refer to the caseloads in here, I think it was in your presentation.
MS. MOSHER: Yes.
MR. MONTGOMERY: Maybe, after a period of time, there is a necessity for caseworkers to have time off to reflect a little bit in terms of how they are operating; maybe they need that. After a period of time, when you are dealing with depressed situations, maybe you, yourself, become fatigued in that sense.
MS. MOSHER: You also need the opportunity and the time to get to know people, to know what their needs are and to work with them and to think about and plan what your interventions are going to be, whether you are a caseworker or whether you are a social worker in a hospital system.
MR. MONTGOMERY: Do you see a relationship between caseload and this kind of scenario: someone not having compassion fatigue?
MS. MOSHER: That is my supposition.
MR. MONTGOMERY: Okay, thank you.
MS. MOSHER: I also think there are people in every profession who should not be there.
MADAM CHAIR: Even politics? (Laughter)
MS. MOSHER: We sometimes have a chance to change that.
MR. BAKER: Or direct removal.
MADAM CHAIR: Ms. Atwell.
MS. ATWELL: Just one question. Oftentimes, people who live in poverty, it is seen, by society, as something that is their fault. I have known people, myself included, who at times had to work three part-time jobs to raise their family and at times were looked upon as still being lazy and not being able to find a full-time job for various reasons other than the fact that you don't really want it.
So I was wondering if you could give us your view on ways in which we can educate the public around the issue of poverty, that there are people who live in poverty, virtually by the fact that the economy is not well and some of those issues?
MS. MOSHER: I think it has to be attacked - is the word I will use - on both a micro- and macro-level. As an individual, I constantly hear comments like: why do they need drug coverage, they have a leather jacket? We need to recognize that people have a right to have gifts given to them, and people have a right to have some social activity in their life. I have had a municipal worker talk about someone who went to bingo, and that is why they didn't feel that they deserved to have assistance with a particular need. You know, they could have spent that money. Well, maybe her sister took her to bingo.
So I think it has to start with each and every one of us. I think we have a responsibility to speak out when we hear those kinds of attitudes and I also think that it does have to be attacked at the broader societal level. I am not sure how we do that. I think certainly the opportunity to participate in forums like this and to hear people like Ms. Greene speak and put a real face on poverty, instead of those lazy bums who don't want to work.
MS. ATWELL: Thank you.
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. Pye.
MR. PYE: Cathy, I agree with you and it has been brought to our attention, as well, before, about dispelling the myth and I think we, as politicians, standing on the doorsteps during election campaigns, ought to go a long way in dispelling that myth as well, and often we don't do that.
I want to tell you that I do have some concerns with respect to people looking at the old Municipal Assistance Program, which is now the IAP Program, and implying that there was better flexibility and that that in fact was the way to go and that people seemed to get that. That is not true, in my opinion. It was left open to much abuse and certain people
received benefits, who certainly did not require benefits, and others who desperately needed them did not. I want to tell you that I firmly support and strongly support a single social service, single-tier system throughout the Province of Nova Scotia.
MS. MOSHER: I do as well, Mr. Pye, and I didn't mean to imply that that system has not improved. I think a single-tier system has to have the flexibility to meet the special needs and the real needs that people have, rather than pigeon-holing everyone in such a very strict and inflexible system.
MR. PYE: I want to say that I agree with you that the flexibility should be at the single-tier level. It bothers me somewhat when I know that a person on family benefits who needs a special need cannot get that directly from their caseworker, but must call an intake worker, require that special need through the intake program under the IAP Program and then have to get it through that way.
MS. MOSHER: That is only if they know that that is the process.
MR. PYE: That is only if the advocate who is acting on their behalf and knows someone who has enlightened them gives them that opportunity to go through that, I agree. I see these as real barriers that have to be addressed as we go throughout this province listening to people.
Also, I want to go to your reference to Jim, who is a disabled individual, who received CPP. As a matter of fact, I think we all are aware that these individuals must sign a release form.
MS. MOSHER: He did know he was going to have to pay back some of that, but what he didn't realize was that it was even to the last penny, and it was over $800 for his medication costs.
MR. PYE: My question to you is this: simply because you had stated that the pay-back left him in a significant financial pickle, that meant that there was an overpayment . . .
MS. MOSHER: Yes.
MR. PYE: . . . and that he had to make an overpayment which was a reduction in his monthly allocation?
MS. MOSHER: Yes, and also because he had incurred some expenses that were not allowed. He had been forced to take out a very high-interest loan for necessary car repairs.
MR. PYE: Also, did he get the opportunity to make an appeal on that decision and have someone go . . .
MS. MOSHER: Oh, yes.
MR. PYE: Oh, they did?
MS. MOSHER: That was this county.
MR. PYE: Okay, the other finally is - I am going to your third last page - where, in fact, you make reference to food banks and soup kitchens that still exist, and I want to say that I agree with you. I think since 1984, I believe, the first food bank was opened in Nova Scotia. I think that we have had our fair share of them.
MS. MOSHER: I think so.
MR. PYE: Enough is enough. Thank you.
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. MacEwan.
MR. PAUL MACEWAN: I don't have any questions, but I certainly compliment you for your advocacy, Ms. Mosher.
MS. MOSHER: It is part of being a social worker.
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. Muir.
MR. MUIR: I just wanted to thank you for the very real illustrations you gave. One of the concerns that I have, and I really haven't figured out how to get a handle on it, is the drug issue which you raised, I believe, in all four of your case studies, and also the non-prescription drug thing. Would a way around this be to recommend a universal Pharmacare Program in Nova Scotia?
MS. MOSHER: I think that from my perspective - and this is my opinion only - I am well aware that universal programs are a thing of the past and I do believe that people, my experience is, want to be able to contribute, so that I do see that there does have to be some needs test. Again, I think it has to be flexible to be able to provide - and I am speaking specifically with reference to people with kidney disease who require over-the-counter medications - the same as a prescription drug for their overall maintenance. A lot of times simple things like vitamins, the phosphate binders can be as inexpensive as TUMS, and in and of itself, those drugs are not expensive, but when you add to all the other costs that people have because of their illness, that, in total, makes it expensive.
I am not sure the universal drug program, I think it would depend on how that was administered. I do know that in other areas of the country, they do have central distribution for medications, for people specifically with kidney disease, and that is one way of controlling costs. Medications are an enormous cost to the system.
MR. MUIR: One of the perplexing things we all deal with is - and you mentioned them, and I guess Michael mentioned them starting off - the non-prescription drug issue but also the dietary supplements. I could use brand names - but I won't - that really needy people come and say, well, the doctor has told me to take this and it doesn't work so the St. Vincent de Paul Society or Reverend Slack's group or somebody, you have to find some source for this.
MADAM CHAIR: Cathy, I would just like to thank you. I think that I am the only social worker in the House and so it is always nice for me to encounter people who bring the perspective of social work. It is perhaps a rhetorical question, but do you think the Department of Health ever speaks with the Department of Community Services?
MS. MOSHER: No.
MADAM CHAIR: That might be a recommendation.
MS. MOSHER: I don't think various levels of the Department of Health speak with each other. Let's not get on that topic.
MADAM CHAIR: Let's not got there. Anyway, I have really appreciated your presentation and I think that, in particular, it has really highlighted the problem around the so-called special needs and what has occurred. I think we are hearing this province-wide, that with the change in administration, certainly the flexibility that seemed to exist at a municipal level with respect to special needs has gone by the boards. So thank you for making it so clear with the case examples.
MS. MOSHER: Thank you for the opportunity.
MADAM CHAIR: Our next presenters are the Shelburne County Mental Health Action Group. David Williams and Peggy Young.
MR. DAVID WILLIAMS: I am going to try to be brief. I would like to make a few statements and then Peggy Young, who is the mother of a disabled child, would like to speak about her experience. She has a letter, also, to read from Heidi MacLean who suffers from being on welfare.
Just before we start, I happen to be totally unrelated to this in one way. I am the Chairman of the Board of Examiners of Social Work for Nova Scotia. So if you have questions about social work, I will be glad to try to field them.
We are so glad to see a legislative committee in the South Shore, to have the chance to speak to the Legislature. It is greatly appreciated. I would like to get into the archaeology of the information about the two-tier system and the one-tier system for a moment to just tell you something you won't know and that is in 1992 to 1994, a group of poor people, who were recipients of welfare, organized themselves to train themselves as participatory researchers and developed a proposal which they took to the department and to the deputy minister, in which they offered to create an ongoing system of feedback from welfare recipients themselves throughout Nova Scotia. So instead of having to do whatever you do to travel as a committee every x years, you could have ongoing feedback from the people who actually experience the problems. Unfortunately, the department did not decide to fund that. It would have created some 20 jobs and six of them would have been ongoing and people would have left poverty by means of learning to do research.
Instead, we get research like the discussion paper which uses such methodologies as focus groups. Focus groups, of course, have the disability of suggesting the answers to people or limiting the questions. It shows up, interestingly enough, when you see that in the results, there is a very clear statement that people say, welfare does not supply enough money in benefits for people to maintain a comfortable or decent life. How could it when we know that family benefits approximate 47 per cent of the poverty line for a family of four. So the startling, great fact, you really don't have to go too much further, is, you don't pay enough money on welfare. That doesn't, interestingly enough, show up among the conclusions. There are discussions about the nuances but where is the statement that there is not enough money paid. The welfare grant is too small.
Well, let me stop there and I will come back to talk about the concerns that we specifically talked about in the Shelburne County Mental Health Action Group which is a group of consumers of mental health and mental health professionals who are working together to try to improve life for people who suffer from mental illness. Our associate, Peggy Young, has her own story here.
MS. PEGGY YOUNG: I would like to read Heidi's letter first, if I could, since she is not here to put her own word in.
"Dear Ms. Desmond:
I am writing to you in reference to the provincial Government of Nova Scotia's decision to deduct the payment of child tax poverty money off of the monthly social assistance cheque. I am a working single mother, trying desperately to get off the social assistance program. I am trying to better myself as well as independently provide for my two children.
Unfortunately, I am still required to receive some assistance in order to meet the bills. I am also hoping to be a good role model for my children in the hopes that they will grow to be good prominent citizens of society.
I am very angry at the way the system has been set up. When I received my monthly cheque last week and sat to figure my bills, I found there was very little money left over for my sitter and groceries. I was on the verge of quitting my job as Manager of Sandspit Art Gallery and Quality Crafts. The realization that I would be better off staying at home and drawing a full welfare cheque was very disturbing.
I am all for getting people off the welfare system. If I was sitting at home doing absolutely nothing, then I could understand tougher programs and firm actions but I am really trying my hardest and when a setback like this happens, it makes me wonder what I should be doing. According to broadcasts I have seen on ATV News, the government states that it plans to start more programs for children. I am sorry, but these programs will not help children who are weak and tired from lack of proper nutrition. Surely a smaller deduction could be made to put towards children's programs instead of taking the full amount that has been allotted by the federal government. As I understand, the New Brunswick Government has not made this drastic decision.
I urge you on behalf of all working single parents, still relying on the system, to reconsider this decision and to begin considering the children. Not only is it hard to provide adequate nutritious food for a whole month, but the new school year will be starting soon and school supplies as well as new shoes, are not free. I will be sending copies to my local MLA, Clifford Huskilson, as well as my social worker, Don Archer and the Regional Director of Social Services.
Thank you for taking the time to read my letter. I do hope that my one small voice will be loud enough for the government to hear. I will also be praying for an improvement to the system, not for my benefit but that of my children and other children who may not be as lucky as mine, to have grandparents who care and will help in some necessities. Thank you.
Sincerely, Heidi B. MacLean.".
I knew what I was going to say before I got here and I have a cold so my voice will keep cutting out. I only learned about this Friday night. My social worker asked me if I would consider doing this. I don't know if any of you have ever had to watch your child die. My daughter is 15 and she will never grow up. She has the mind of a three year old. I have been fighting social assistance since I had my daughter, from the day she was born. The social worker who thought he was doing the right thing, and I put that loosely, wouldn't even wait until I had recovered from the Caesarian section to try to force me to give up my child. I was 21 years old. I was a single parent. I had just gone through three months of fighting with the so-called man who sired my child. He was charged with rape and he got away with it because
they said I was asking for it. This is before the laws changed. They still can't touch him but I still have to live with everything they have done to me. I have been called emotionally unstable, I have been called a whore, I have lost job after job because my child needs me more than the boss thought was necessary.
I lived through 14 years of abuse, physical and emotional, from the man that I married, the father of my second child. The children watched him put a rifle to my head. He got three months and they let him back. I applied for social assistance so I could get away from him and protect my children. The social worker came to my home, looked me in the face and told me to stop being so stupid, take my husband back and save the government a lot of money. It was the first time I had to ask for help. It was also the first time I ever had my dignity totally taken away from me. That did something to me that rape couldn't do. It made me lower than dirt. It has taken me 14 years to be able to talk to somebody that I don't know, to look them in the eye and say please, wake these people up.
I asked for help from Juniper House, that is the nearest place for Shelburne, for people who have been abused. They didn't have room for me or my kids. I had no protection from the police. They wouldn't keep him away from me. I have had people break into my home and vandalize it. Again, I asked for help. They sent me a cheque for $25 to feed my kids for one month. The costs for the medication for my daughter were $300 a month for Phenobarbital. She was on it for two years before I had to take her off because she was sleeping straight time. If it wasn't for a social worker at the IWK, I don't think I would have gotten anywhere. I am sorry. This is a little bit hard. I thought I could do this.
MADAM CHAIR: You are doing fine.
MS. YOUNG: My son is 13 years old. He started high school this year but for him high school is a hard time. Elementary school was a hard time. Day care was a hard time. They would accept my son, my daughter wasn't welcome. When she was six years old and ready to start elementary school, I had to fight for her to be allowed to go to school. They didn't want her. They told me to put her in a residential home. They didn't even know the homes were closed four years before that.
I had to go to a school, and because I was a single mother they told me I had no rights to face the school board and tell them what was going on in the classroom. My son was being called a bastard, useless, stupid. I walked into the classroom and the teacher was talking to my child this way. I sat in the school board office for three hours before someone would even speak to me and the only reason they would speak to me is there was only one door in and one door out and I wouldn't leave until someone would say something. All I got was, I am sorry this happened to you. The teacher wasn't even spoken to. Again, I was told I was emotionally unstable, I didn't know what I was talking about and I was uneducated. I have my Grade 12. I started our community college. I had to quit because of a ruptured appendix.
I wasn't allowed to go back to finish. I got a completion certificate for the course I was taking. Again, the people were telling me, it is just my imagination.
Two years ago, I filed for a divorce so I could finally have a life for me and my children. I went through five social workers in two years until the one I have now, who actually took the time to sit down and talk to me, not my file, not the people who thought they were helping me, who thought they knew what they were talking about and who didn't give a damn.
Three weeks ago now, I had to take a representative from the school board, the PCW who helps to care for my daughter while she is at school, and go to the IWK to the Developmental Clinic. The school board decided they could pay for that trip. It took 10 years for her to be seen at the Developmental Clinic because the so-called social workers didn't want to be bothered to write a letter to ask that the child be seen. The doctors in our area didn't want to be bothered with a child who wasn't going to survive. They told me she wouldn't live past her first birthday, she wouldn't walk, she wouldn't talk, she wouldn't be able to do anything for herself. My daughter is walking. She is toilet training herself, something she was never supposed to be able to do. She is trying to feed herself. She still needs help because her muscles contract so tightly that she can't open her fingers, she can't open her arms and I have to live in a place where my bathroom floor is so soft that anyone over 200 pounds is going to go through it. I have waited four years for a bathtub to be fixed. It is held together with duct tape and black wiring tape. I have moved five times in one year because my daughter was hurt and no one cared.
I live on $630 a month plus whatever I can make with odd jobs. Last week I started a full-time job but I am only guaranteed work until May and even then my largest paycheque for last month was $120-odd. That doesn't even cover what she needs for special medications and diapers. I didn't learn about the respite program until five years ago but that doesn't cover what she needs either.
I have done every job from scrubbing toilets to baiting trawl. If you are from a fishing community, you know how hard a job that is. The trawl tubs weigh twice as much as what I do and I had to lift those and move those myself. It pays $10 for a tub. Then I was told I was lazy, I didn't want to work, I didn't want an education. I applied for the programs when they came for our learning centre, hopefully to learn computers and hopefully get a better job. I was too old for those. I am 36 years old. I want to work. I enjoy working. My first job, I was 12 years old. I was scrubbing toilets with my grandmother. I want my children to have a good life and I will do what it takes but I can't afford a babysitter. Right now, the lady who looks after my daughter is the same lady who looked after me when I was a little girl but she is getting old and she can't do it for much longer.
Our community needs to wake up. Social services needs to shake up. It needs people there who care about these special kids. In our community, there aren't very many special needs kids. The lady from the school board, when we went to the IWK, called my daughter a pilot project for the high school. That is all she is. She is a statistic. The ladies that are with her now, I have to give them credit, it is the first time my daughter is treated like a human being. She was used as a punishment for other kids at the elementary schools. She was treated like she had a contagious disease. To me she is the greatest gift God ever gave me. She is a sweet, loving child, and she deserves a life. My son needs to be able to look at me and see a strong person but I feel like giving up. For 15 years I have depended on myself. I have been too scared to say anything to anybody. I finally found them both. I refused to give up and I am going to keep on fighting. In the car coming up, I said it is just like hitting a brick wall with your head but I am stubborn enough that sooner or later that wall is going to turn into sand because I am not going to stop and I am not going to stop causing trouble for these people who think that they are better than I am, that think that their kids are better than my kids.
Kids are a treasure. We shouldn't be using them like that. We should be teaching them that respect is the biggest thing that you can earn. It is not given. I would like to see social services wake up to some other kids that are in our town, too, that are being abused. Start caring about those kids, too. They are not numbers, they are not toys, they are not pets. They are God's gift and we are throwing them away. Thank you.
MR. WILLIAMS: Many of our members who struggle with the pain of mental illness, want to make a number of points, centred, to some extent, around the fact that there needs to be a program for long-term disability. The programs, as designed, begin with a deficit and that deficit compounds year after year. Your life doesn't get better, it gets worse. Maybe that could be excused in a program that dealt with people who were passing through but for people who are going to be dependent for a long time, life gets worse.
Pharmacy benefits are crucial. People stay out of hospital, remain married, are able to work on the basis of drugs that provide mental stability and the present system fails in providing surety as to whether or not people get drugs. People need sheltered employment. There needs to be employment and psycho-socially sensitive ways, provides a job to go to and that wage earned ought to improve a person's standard of living.
Some parts of the HRDA model may offer some examples in which could be applied to rural areas to create jobs. Family support centres are vital and must be supported and built upon. Peer support groups and poor people's groups are a clear means by which people build strength and independence. They need to be supported. There needs to be money to support organizations of the poor, organizations of people who suffer.
Administrative efficiency in this system is biased and I can show you quite clearly how it is biased in anti-client direction. If you are overpaid, the error is corrected in the next pay cheque. If you are underpaid, the error isn't corrected and is almost never corrected within 60 days. Frequently, not after 90 days, during which time the person has suffered with an inadequate income to begin with and an inadequate income that may be half the amount allotted. There is no clear system for correcting overpayments. In fact, the local social worker cannot change the screen upon which an underpayment shows. So it cannot be immediately corrected. It is built into the system. It is intentional.
Welfare provides too small an income. Nova Scotia, unlike other provinces, chose to subtract from recipient income by failing to pass on to the client the full amount of the federal family benefit. I really hope that your committee will watch the three card monty that is going on about this. It is very clear that people with inadequate incomes are having their income subtracted from as a result of the federal action, as a result of the provincial means of treating the federal action.
Do you know the story from Silver Donald Cameron about the woman on welfare who was brought up on fraud charges? They tried to prove she was living with a man. She was able to show that was not true. They tried to prove that she was getting income under the table. She was able to show that was not true. Finally, she was convicted on the grounds that she had been on welfare for three years and everyone knows you cannot live on welfare and she was still alive.
MADAM CHAIR: Who would like to start?
MS. ATWELL: I don't have very many questions but I would like to say to Ms. Young, thank you very much for sharing that with us. I can appreciate how difficult it is to come out and open up yourself to a group of strangers and to talk about your situation. I thank you for that and I appreciate that.
The question I have, Ms. Young, is have you used any of the services in the community, such as the Second Story Women's Centre, for example, in terms of any support for you and your children?
MS. YOUNG: We do not have that in our community.
MS. ATWELL: You don't have a women's centre here in your community?
MR. WILLIAMS: Shelburne is very much underserviced.
MS. ATWELL: So you don't have one that is close by enough so you could attend. There is really no supports here in terms of . . .
MS. YOUNG: We have to make our own.
MR. WILLIAMS: Yarmouth and Bridgewater.
MS. ATWELL: That is the closest. Okay.
The other question I have is for David Williams. You mentioned that in some of the reports and recommendations that you have seen that the issue of money never shows up on a report. Why do you think it happens that way?
MR. WILLIAMS: Because I think that we can say that we are reforming the system by shifting various parts of it around when we all know that the real reform that is needed the most, the most important reform, is to increase the size of the welfare benefit. That costs money. You can make pretences that things are getting better by shifting things around internally and hoping that it will not cost money. Of course, we all know it really does cost money because people go in the hospital, they go in prisons. Everybody knows that the long-term costs would be lower if we paid a decent welfare benefit, but that is longer than between elections.
MS. ATWELL: Just one more question. You also talked about focus groups and how they are limited. People use focus groups quite often within their research to come up with recommendations or facts and solutions. What do you think are some of the drawbacks to focus groups and why are they used so often when the results may not necessarily be sufficient?
MR. WILLIAMS: They are predictable. If you are careful to control what the questions are, you are controlling what the answers are.
MS. ATWELL: So oftentimes they are worth . . .
MR. WILLIAMS: There are many other means of learning about people, collecting information, and the most crucial thing is that things should be built into the system. Again, going back to underpayments and overpayments. I was talking with a fellow a long time ago when they were designing the management information system in Community Services. He was showing me the wonderful ability to report overpayments and no ability to report underpayments. System design is the issue.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you.
MR. MONTGOMERY: I have no questions but I would like to thank both David Williams and Peggy Young for coming before the committee tonight. Thank you very much.
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. Balser.
MR. BALSER: Thank you to both the presenters. My question to Mr. Williams would be, I detect a note of cynicism, I think, in your presentation. What would you expect to come out of our recommendations or what would you like to see?
MR. WILLIAMS: I am not cynical, I am skeptical.
MR. BALSER: Okay, there is a fine line there, but I am cynical, we have cleared that up. What would you like to see as one of the cornerstone recommendations that this committee would make in their document and what would you expect to see?
MR. WILLIAMS: That we not simply harp on the question of whether or not people get off welfare. I understand that that could be a politically useful phrase. I understand that if you are talking to the local chamber of commerce it might be hard to speak straight, but the truth is the crucial issue is a decent level of benefits and benefits that must in many cases be long term. The whole system cannot be designed as though people are going to be there short-term, not in Nova Scotia. We do not have enough jobs for these folks. In good times we had, in Nova Scotia, 13 applicants for one job, per job, which included all the well-qualified people who were not on welfare. In bad times it is worse than that. I mean, okay, do what you must, politically, to sell things, but make sure the system itself can support people in the long run.
Most of the jobs, let's talk here about social workers. You do understand that few of the people who are in the social assistance arena are trained social workers, almost none. That is not by surprise. That is who they want to hire. Some of those people do wonderful work and many of them have been grandfathered into our process as a social worker. One of the things that people who are not trained lack is the ability to call them to account and kick them out of the profession, which needs to happen because there are bad social workers. There are bad people using the label of social work to get a job.
MR. BAKER: Thank you very much. Again I would like to thank both the presenters but in particular Ms. Young for sharing with us. How long is it that you have been on family benefits or social assistance the last spell?
MS. YOUNG: Around five years.
MR. BAKER: And have you perceived any change in the system as it relates to you and your family in the last five years? Has it always been bad and stayed bad? Has it gotten worse? Has it gotten marginally better? Have you perceived any change at all in the system over the last five years?
MS. YOUNG: Six months ago when I got Mr. Don Archer as my social worker things started to change. He actually cares about what happens to my family. When I called him to tell him I had a job, it was the first time I ever heard anyone outside my family say I am proud of you.
MR. BAKER: So the biggest change in your situation has been good fortune in having a sensitive social worker and caseworker assisting you on your file?
MS. YOUNG: And someone who has a good sense of humour. When I got the job. I was dressed in the rattiest clothes I could find, just doing some housework, painting, and the lady was looking for a sales clerk. I was just joking around and told her, since I was in there all the time, she should hire me. She said, you have five minutes to hire a babysitter, you start tomorrow. It is not just who you know.
MR. BAKER: I think that is commendable. I think given your personal circumstances, it is very commendable that you sought employment. Clearly your situation, particularly with your daughter, is very challenging. I certainly appreciate sharing . . .
MS. YOUNG: It is not challenging, it is rewarding, because I can see a difference. I know what the difference would be if I wasn't there for her.
MR. BAKER: My question for Mr. Williams is about the professional side, you alluded to that. I think I am going to get the predictable answer, but I am going to ask it anyway because I am interested. I assume you favour having professional social workers act as caseworkers for people receiving benefits as opposed to people who may have been doing bank collections or whatever else they did in their previous job?
MR. WILLIAMS: Yes. In a 40 year career in social work, I have observed organizations of all kinds doing social work. I have seen public welfare agencies, in which everyone had a master's degree, that was a little bizarre, but that was a county that believed that people needed help. It makes a big difference. The trained person is effective, and on that account, is less likely to suffer from fatigue, in a sense, of the feelings.
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. Muir.
MR. MUIR: Ms. Young, in part of your story, you said that you have gone to work, and you were drawing, I thought you said $120.
MS. YOUNG: That was for one paycheque.
MR. MUIR: Are you being propped up by the social service system as a transition.
MS. YOUNG: At the time, I wasn't.
MR. MUIR: So when you went to work, there was no transition provided for you.
MS. YOUNG: I was told that if I wanted to work, I could give up social assistance which I wish I could do. I would rather be working. Then Mr. Archer has the job program, a program where they help place you with a job for six months, they pay half of your salary so that your employer can afford to keep you full time. In this case, after the six months is up, she is thinking of keeping me full time anyway, and just her and I running the store, which would be fine for me.
MR. MUIR: Can I just ask, you had indicated that you were making $630, I believe, on your family benefits or social assistance . . .
MS. YOUNG: That doesn't even cover my rent or my power bill. My rent is $400 a month for a house that should be burned to the ground.
MR. MUIR: Are you receiving some assistance from your husband as child support.
MS. YOUNG: No. Our divorce isn't final; until it is, I don't get any help from him at all.
MR. MUIR: My question was, what is your gain from working, if we are looking at dollar amounts, from the assistance that you were getting?
MS. YOUNG: I make $40 over the amount of the assistance cheque I was making for one month, plus I get my own self-respect back. That is something I have needed for 14 years.
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. MacEwan.
MR. MACEWAN: I don't have any questions, thanks.
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. Pye.
MR. PYE: Thank you, Peggy and David, for the presentation. Peggy, I guess we don't fully understand what it is like to raise a child with severe disabilities. I want to tell you that I don't believe the media brings the issue home very often as well, and it has an important role to play. I want to reflect back to the Joshua story. I don't know if you have seen that on CBC or not, where in fact it demonstrated a day in the life of a single parent with a child with severe disabilities. You certainly brought that back home to me. There is absolutely no question about that.
I want to say to David as well that I do see the need for a long-term program for persons with disabilities. As a matter of fact, I think that we have to commit ourselves to recognizing that there needs to be tremendous infusion of dollars put into the social services
program for the short term. We have to recognize that if we are really going to address the issue, that it has to be recognized that there should be a short-term addressing of a tremendous infusion of dollars.
I don't know if we as government have the will to do that, and I hear you loud and clear with respect to that particular issue. We have to recognize that if we don't do it, and you did bring it home very clearly, that the health costs of putting a person in the hospital for $400 a day, and this one lady I believe, Cathy Mosher alluded to earlier in her presentation, of putting someone up in a hotel for $65 a day. Those things cannot continue, they cannot. We have to come to grips with those very issues.
I also believe, from what you are saying to me, and you have made approximately seven recommendations, all of which were very good recommendations in your final summation. I guess what is very important too is what I have been hearing, and I don't know if you are receptive to it all, that there ought to be one-stop shopping whereby health, education and social benefits can all be addressed under the one room, so that individuals don't have to find themselves crossing bureaucracies and governments to do that.
MR. WILLIAMS: There are many models for that. We don't have to go any further than P.E.I. for example to see, and actually experiments which where carried out in Nova Scotia of one-stop shopping places in which there was greatly improved coordination between programs. It is not impossible to do, not hard to do, doesn't cost a lot.
MADAM CHAIR: I want to thank you both. Our next presenter is John Pritchard. Is Mr. Pritchard here? We have an additional presenter, Berit Pittman from the Brain Injury Association, Halifax Chapter.
MS. BERIT PITTMAN: I thank you very much. The first thing I will tell you, I am brain injured, and what you will hear is brain injury. I don't look any different from you, but 20 years ago, I lost 30 years of my life, seven of my languages. I was the top-notch multilingual translator in Canada at the time. Now I am lucky - there wasn't any help here in those days, 18 years ago but - because I come from a family of doctors in Norway. So when I could fly, I could get back. I could not talk, I mixed the languages. I could not read. I could not write. I could not think, and I could not understand.
I would like you folks to think about it. If you looked at a piece of paper and you read the same sentence over again and over again, but you would not understand what you were reading - not a word of it. Once you started learning to understand what you were reading, then you can't remember what you read, and you read it over again and over again, and you will not remember it. You may look just like I do now.
You cannot work because you cannot take direction, because you don't remember what the guy told you. You had a good trade before. I will give you one example, a banker, top-notch banker, suffered brain injury. When he got better four years after, he thought he could do something. He was going to help in the house and use his hands a little bit. He was going to fix something, he didn't know exactly how, and somebody passed him a hammer. He looked at it and said, what is that for? Took the head of the hammer and didn't know what to do with it. That is brain injury.
He looks like you, every one of you, but he is unemployable. Now you try to convince a social worker that you are unemployable. It is virtually impossible.
In the social programs that you have been rebuilding this year not one word is mentioned about brain injury. There is no mention of it in the health system, in the disability system, federal, anywhere. Nowhere is it being thought about, they think about mental health and mental disability. This is cognitive disability, it has nothing to do with mental disability. Sure, we end up being mental cases of any kind, mentally ill, suicide, you name it, we do it but we do not have the mental deficiencies that are assumed under mental disability or mental problems. We are cognitively disabled.
Today, I am still cognitively disabled because unless I had this in front of me I would not quite remember or follow the sequence of what I want to talk about. I can again translate because of the repetitiousness of the job. Up until I retired I was a contract translator for the federal government for the last almost 30 years, a scientific translator.
MR. MACEWAN: Which languages?
MS. PITTMAN: It was in Swedish, Danish, I helped in Russian, I helped in Czech and I have helped in German. I was the only translator in Russian for the people here. One day I discovered all of a sudden I had lost the language, I had no thought of it at the moment. The problem was to get well first.
There was a program on television about the Bata shoes. I had seen the program before my injury, my husband had been away, it was a repeat. So I said come on, I will translate for you. The program came on and I could not translate it. Now that was almost enough for me to fall through the floor, all of a sudden I did not understand a word. Now today I can recognize the languages and I know because I had a long discussion with a psychologist about that and she was right. You do not really lose them. If you hear them again you get them back, if you use them again eventually they will come back but I have not had a need for it, I could not use them. I spent three years in the Soviet Union at the Canadian Embassy, I spent three years in the Norwegian Embassy in Prague, so I spoke the languages fluently. I was trained by the Norwegian Government in Russian, in Czech and in Polish, so I knew them.
MR. MACEWAN: In Polish too?
MS. PITTMAN: Yes sir. So I know and I knew what I could do. I was lucky because I was old enough for that.
We have in this province an enormous amount of brain injured and an enormous amount of social workers who would be willing to help if they knew how to help but they do not understand it. They have no idea what to do. Among the brain injured we have people who go for the same things as I have been mentioning here today. With social services there is the same problem. The lady with a disabled child goes through the same thing. There is no money for respite care. The illusion among a lot of workers and people are that brain injuries happen in car accidents so if you are in a car accident you get insurance. A funny thing is that drunk drivers do not get insurance, you do not get paid. If the others are hit by a drunk driver when are they going to get paid? They will not get it from their case because it takes years, as a lawyer you ought to know 3 to 10 years.
I have a friend who jumped off Scotia Square a year and one-half ago. Thank you very much, thank you to the social workers, the legal system, the medical system and believe you me, it wasn't that they weren't forewarned. This particular case I am very furious about because in September we knew, a friend of mine and I work a lot with the brain injured, he is brain injured too but we are what are considered high-functioning. We went to doctors and told them he needed help. We found him in the street. He was one of those who was hit with a baseball bat and a few other things and left lying on Gottingen Street one day. He was put in a paddy wagon and taken to the police station. They found he was bleeding and put him in the hospital. He woke up three months later and was passed over to his divorced wife with three kids and that didn't work out very well. He ended up on the street. As far as I am concerned, there should have been help right at the hospital. There should have been a brain injury social worker around. I have been fighting for that since I was one of the founders of the Brain Injury Association of Nova Scotia.
What I would like to see and I have asked it of Community Services is that at least every region where there is Community Services, I believe there are four, have at least two social workers who are sensitized - and I use that word deliberately - to brain injury, who at least can listen and help them. Among the things they need are the same as other disabled people, they need special diets and they need accessible housing. In many cases they look perfectly normal but they cannot see the steps when they walk up so they fall flat on their face. They need telephones because they have to be in a secure building and to answer the buzzer downstairs you have to have a telephone. You also need it to get the Help Line or if you have an appointment with the doctor. A telephone is an essential thing and it is not included. There is something drastically wrong in that for disabled people.
The Pharmacare medications; I know someone who gets $700 in CPP disability but has $715 in medication. It doesn't quite work, does it? She is still not supposed to get any provincial help. Many of the brain injured need home care. When the young men or women who live alone and are brain injured and have not gotten much of a settlement or no settlement, they are given an apartment and there they are, on their own. The kid would not know and may not be able to carry any groceries to and from the store because that arm may be dead, see there is only one hand. He may have trouble walking, the physical disabilities may not be visible but there are still possibly pins in hips and legs. They do not get transportation - $18 a month for transportation. They cannot even get to our self-help groups.
We have peer self-help groups. We have branches or chapters of the Nova Scotia Brain Injury Association in Halifax, Truro, Kentville, Bridgewater, Liverpool and Sydney. There will be one soon in Musquodoboit Harbour. There are more than 300 every year that need help. There are far more every time there is a car accident. If there are head injuries you can almost surely equate it to brain injury. Some of them are "minor". Mine was minor, I was not even kept in the hospital, I was just knocked out at the accident. I have 19 stitches here and the doctor sent me home. For the next three months I had such pressure on the brain I could not hardly breathe but then my brain swelled, it was too late to do anything. That still happens and it happens because of the medical problem.
Community Services must learn to understand that the brain injured need a different diet, the same thing again, I can repeat everything that goes on that the brain injured needs and those that are not visibly injured are ignored. It is said that they are malingerers and the doctors sometimes say it too because they do not understand brain injury. The social workers cannot help it, they do not know it. I would say that in the City of Halifax, my friend and I are on a team for the last five years to pick them up. We accompany a lot of brain injured to the doctors, to the social workers, to the social work office or whatever because the brain injured cannot talk for himself, he cannot. He looks like me and they say, here read this and he says, oh yes, fine, great. I wonder what that was? He comes home and you say what did they say? He says, I do not know. They have a total misunderstanding about what happened, total misunderstanding about what is going on. What do you do? You know some cases. You need a tooth pulled. I cannot do that, you know, or you need a tooth filled because you go through the rigamarole of trying to get some money on that. There is always this creeping and crawling. I am sick and tired of the misuse and the misunderstanding of the disabled. I agree with somebody who said here we do not want handouts. We want a fair treatment to try to live our own life.
I have seen the hovels that are used as living quarters for single men. Inexcusable. One I moved somebody out of last year was a room the size of those two windows. There was a mattress on the floor. There was a small window. To get to it you went up a staircase which is illegal. It was only two and one-half feet wide, straight up. It came into a kitchen and then his room was off there and another person's room was off to the other side. That was it. A fire trap, inexcusable, certainly not inducing to health. The kid was not good so we took him
out of there and had a lot of problems. But you have to. I would like to see this group try to get it across. I understand and I know that you don't necessarily have to wait on the minister. I am aware of that, unfortunately, because I think focus groups are fine but they are only as good as the summary that comes out of it. I would appreciate very much one thing. I hear the question all the time, what can you do, what can the social system do?
Ten years ago already I wrote at that time to Mr. Mulroney or whoever was Prime Minister, suggesting a guaranteed annual income. Now a guaranteed annual income at present based on the 1,960 hours that a civil servant works, multiplied by the minimum average hourly income gives you a base and that will work out to now about $6.00 an hour average across the country and comes out a little bit over $1,000 a month. If the federal government, and I have discussed that with the present Finance Minister, too, and he said it could not be done because of cost. If you look at that, it is more than a single senior gets for supplementary income. It is more than the disabled get at any time. It is more than student loan gets. All these things can be omitted. It costs $14.80 to write a cheque for the federal government. Now if they are sending six cheques to a home, they are wasting $50. It is simpler and more straightforward. Single mothers could stay not necessarily home but they could pay for babysitter for pleasure and go out to work. Students would not have to go in debt. Those that wanted to go to university could then afford to go to university. Self-respect.
A lot of the disabled could then pay for part of an attendant's care. Other disabled would be allowed to share an apartment. You know they cannot now. You cannot share an attendant's care between two people, so there the Community Services pay is cut. This way they could live as quite normal, like ordinary people. There would be no stigma attached. Social workers get more time to do what they are supposed to do instead of looking for money all the time.
I have looked it over and over and there was an article in Macleans about a month ago which almost had exactly the same thought I had. It was almost virtual word as if he had read it. They actually did a trial in Winnipeg years back but all he gave was $250 a month. That is a supplement, that is not an income. I do believe it is worthwhile for people to start looking at it. At the moment no one-stop system trying to help people in Nova Scotia, but yes I really think it would be worthwhile doing a study and taking a look. The present Leaders of the various Parties are also now presumably, I hope, got my same one I do regularly and regularly and regularly waiting to see if they will do a research on it. The Financial Post did one five years ago and felt it was feasible. I hope that you will remember the brain injured are part of the society, too. Thank you.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you. Can I ask you if you'll leave us a copy of your written notes?
MS. PITTMAN: That was not my written notes because I summarized, except a small part of it, but you will get this part, this here, . . .
MADAM CHAIR: Excellent.
MS. PITTMAN: . . . and a copy of it afterwards, if you can read it because I was scribbling, summarizing what was going on here.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you. Who would like to start? Mr. Pye.
MR. PYE: I just want to say thank you, Berit. You and I have had the opportunity to have a good 45 minute discussion on this very issue. We were also very fortunate in making sure that certain individuals were able to receive some of the benefits that they had requested.
MS. PITTMAN: That's right.
MR. PYE: And for that I want to thank you very much, it was a pleasure having you onside. I also want you to know that persons with brain injuries actually worked in the front office of my campaign. Thank you.
MS. PITTMAN: Yes, I know and I appreciate that one.
MR. MACEWAN: Good job.
MS. PITTMAN: I agree.
MR. MACEWAN: [Polish spoken here.]
Did that make sense?
MS. PITTMAN: Yes, that made sense.
MR. MACEWAN: Tell them what it means.
MS. PITTMAN: He has no more questions to ask.
MR. MACEWAN: No, you tell them what it means. You translate.
MS. PITTMAN: No, I can't anymore.
MR. MACEWAN: [Polish spoken here] means I would like [Polish spoken here] to congratulate you.
MS. PITTMAN: I know, but that's the brain injury. I can respond, but I can't translate and it is, again, a good example actually of the difficulty because I said thank you, I knew, but to find the word, all of a sudden I have five slots in the head, or more, trying to draw at the right drawer, to find the right language and it is exactly the same thing again.
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. Muir.
MR. MUIR: Is the Brain Injury Association of Nova Scotia, Peter's Place? You are associated or support that or have some relationship with it?
MS. PITTMAN: No. Unfortunately, our brain organization has no funds to support it. Peter's Place was started by Tom Dowland. His son, Peter, suffered a severe brain injury. He was - lucky, if you want - got some compensation, but Tom Dowland wanted to start a home and at the time, the government of the day, was somebody looking for one and he got himself started. He got some support. Tom is an angry man and has a right to be angry. They bring in the association in the beginning - and by that I am mentioning the present board - they were asked to approve and accredit him and, as we said, and I agree with that, I spoke to Tom, you cannot accredit a place until you see the results. There has to be a period of time. Mr. Dowland, I wish there were more like Tom Dowland, and I mean that. I don't mean that he has shown any results yet, because he hasn't, but at least there's a hope.
MR. MUIR: A number of the concerns that you've expressed for brain-injured people, as being an invisible, or brain-injured people having an invisible disability which means that sometimes because you look one way, you can't see a person being another is a great problem and I thank you for pointing that out to us.
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. Baker.
MR. BAKER: Thank you. I guess I would echo my appreciation for your presentation on behalf of the brain injured. I have a constituent of mine who suffered a brain injury in his twenties.
MS. PITTMAN: Where do you come from?
MR. BAKER: Lunenburg. In fact, this gentleman would have gone to high school with Pastor Slack and myself, a couple years younger. In any event, this individual suffered a brain injury and, frankly, fell through the cracks for many years.
MS. PITTMAN: That's right.
MR. BAKER: And no one, frankly, would help him or give him treatment that was appropriate to his injury.
MS. PITTMAN: I had a meeting with his parents many a day.
MR. BAKER: Yes, I am sure you do. Frankly, it was his good fortune - and I say that somewhat sarcastically - that when he committed crimes, he committed non-violent crimes, impulse crimes, and he was becoming a greater burden on the taxpayer serving in provincial institutions than he was the cost of care.
MS. PITTMAN: Yes.
MR. BAKER: So, fortunately, he has been placed at Peter's Place and, hopefully, that will be a positive step for him.
MS. PITTMAN: It was extremely difficult to get the help with the parents at the meeting when we finally said, look, he's got to have the help, either Peter's Place or another place.
MR. BAKER: That's right, but I guess I am cynical enough, to use my friend Mr. Balser's phrase, to believe that the underlying consideration there was that the cost of care in a provincial institution, a jail, was greater than the cost of the care, you know, and so it became an easy decision to make, but I think the difficulty, of course, is that, as with this individual, it is not apparent. If you look at this fellow, he doesn't look any different than when I knew him before the brain injury.
MS. PITTMAN: That's right.
MR. BAKER: And that's the difficulty with his situation, and I am sure with many of the people you deal with, and I guess I have become aware, particularly because of his situation, of the importance of devising programs targetted to brain-injured people particularly.
MS. PITTMAN: Yes, and that is something that I appreciate you bringing up again because, dear God, please do. We have costs now - and we, I mean Nova Scotia - some patients, it will cost $4 million in their lifetime because we don't have the training to get them back to anything. We have patients, as I said, who will never do, never walk, I heard that too, but I have seen parents without respite care, without any insurance, get those kids through. There's one down in Salmon Arm and eight years ago he was hit by a bus; he was coming home for Christmas. He is walking, he is talking, and he can write again. He will not just look quite straight. He still has some memory problems, but now he needs to get out somewhere to socialize more but there is no place for him.
We have started, in the brain injury, just opened up three places. We asked permission for more; they wouldn't give us, Community Services, no way. Three, a measly three. When you look around this province, we have thousands of brain injured at least. It is accumulating
every year. I guarantee you day by day, accident by accident, we just increase and we don't heal. Keep that in mind, because it keeps on building up. We have more brain injured in Canada than we have AIDS patients. That might give you some idea. And we don't die; it is gruesome to say, but it is a fact.
MR. BAKER: I take it you would agree with me that there's a hidden social cost of brain injury that is not apparent?
MS. PITTMAN: That's right.
MR. BAKER: Thank you very much.
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. Balser.
MR. BALSER: Thank you, Madam Chair. The first presenter asked what was motivating the government and the committee and I think the message is the opportunity to hear the issues that go unnoticed. You very articulately talk about the brain injured and the fact that, by and large, they were a forgotten group. So that's a wonderful experience and I know that the committee now has been able to do that, they see first-hand, and hear first-hand, the issues and that's a good thing and certainly will become part of the recommendations this committee makes.
You spoke of brain injured and I am curious as to how many are there actually, brain-injured people, in the Province of Nova Scotia right now?
MS. PITTMAN: We have asked for the statistics every year and Statistics Canada have said no, there is no record. Now we have asked the MPs, everyone we can think of, please, ask Statistics Canada, if you ever have a census again, get it done. In Nova Scotia, one year, right now we know that there is a minimum of 300 to 500 brain injuries every year, one a day at least. Out of those, I would say about 30 per cent will never work again and it is cumulative. We have no rehabilitation, that is why they will certainly not get anything. The cost is staggering and frightening. Unless we come to grips with prevention, and this is drunk driving or careless driving or accidents or helmets and all that.
That is one thing, but we now have children, an enormous amount of children that go through the IWK, several accidents, not wearing a helmet, or being in a car. What is going to happen to them? They have a brain injury. All of a sudden they have to be treated differently than the others and, hopefully, get some of their cognitive abilities back, which we didn't know what they had because they are young.
MR. BALSER: Would automobile accidents be the leading cause of brain injury?
MS. PITTMAN: I would say right now, yes. Automobile accidents and, according to the IWK, bikes is the next one, bicycles, especially not wearing helmets. I am frightened by the skateboards and those things. That young fellow that died. Thank God he died, and we said that. Is that cruel? No. Most of us have wanted to die, commit suicide, because it is cruel, we are looked at as pariahs. For 10 years, my daughter didn't wanted to talk to me because mama changed, and I did change. Now, I can understand her. Now, we are back to normal, but it was the reaction. Families break up, too.
MR. BALSER: Because of the nature of a brain injury, do families wind up bearing the brunt of the care for these people? You did speak of accessing the social system for supports but, it seems to me, just by the nature of the injury, families wind up looking after these . . .
MS. PITTMAN: For those that don't get insurance, yes. Insurance is only basic for car accidents and like a boating accident that happened in Chester 7, 8 or 9 years ago, but it doesn't make any difference if the settlement is $5 million or $3 million, when there is no money to get; you can't get blood out of a stone. The settlement is there, yes, you want so many millions, but then you have to fight for the millions. The major burden is on the taxpayer. That is what is frightening. That is why we need to put money into prevention.
Right now there is a new coma stimulation program. They are starting to learn what happens in a coma, and that is good. I dealt with one in 1983 while I was still brain injured myself, here. We spent nine hours a day with him and the doctors told us we were crazy. We talked to that boy for seven weeks for nine hours a day, with 50 minute breaks. When he came out of it, he was talking. There is no doubt in my mind, and I said it earlier, constant talking by family by the bedside does help the person when they come out of they coma. Reading, talking, but we don't have the resources, do we?
When the patient in the hospital here, and their mother lives in Sydney, how can they afford to come down? We don't have the centres. We don't have people, the volunteers.
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. Montgomery.
MR. MONTGOMERY: Thank you very much for coming before the committee . . .
MS. PITTMAN: I am very happy to be here.
MR. MONTGOMERY: . . . and indicating to us the need to recognize brain injured for social assistance. It is good that we got this from you at this time.
MS. ATWELL: I also want to say thank you. I haven't seen you for awhile. I don't know if you remember, but a good friend of mine's son was hit by a bicycle in Halifax, and he is a brain injury survivor. The hardest, the most difficult part for him and the family is
seeing him without a mark on him after that accident and yet he was a different person for such a long period of time, and they had a horrendous time trying to get help and resources, but I thank you, because the Brain Injury Association did help that family find some resources to assist that young man.
MS. PITTMAN: Yes, a little bit. The thing is, it is difficult.
MS. ATWELL: Yes, it is very difficult.
MS. PITTMAN: Particularly since the Brain Injury Association itself does not have much money.
MS. ATWELL: I thank you for that.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you very much.
MS. PITTMAN: As I said, I was on a needs study some few years ago, and they got used to me. The first thing I will say is brain injury, brain injury, brain injury and, after awhile, it sinks in. Thank you.
MADAM CHAIR: That concludes the list of people that we have had identify themselves. Are there any further people, are you Mr. Pritchard? No. Would you like to come forward?
MR. BAKER: This is Mr. Snyder, William Snyder.
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. Snyder.
MR. WILLIAM SNYDER: I have been hearing a recurring thing the whole evening, and this is flexibility and unity. The two come together. What the situation is, I am going to go right to the federal government, and I have heard the issue of the fact that Health is involved, or should it be involved? How come Community Services and Health, and the issue may be the different programs, don't communicate with each other.
The same thing happens within the programs of Community Services. Over quite a period of time of having worked with disabilities and being on the community health board and through other action groups that I have been involved in, one recurring thing keeps coming up, and that is a definition. The Canada Health Act does not have a definition for health; it also doesn't have a definition for disabilities, which would include impairment and handicap. If in the Canada Health Act, which would include the Canada Health and Social Transfer, it would help to create a unity where collaboration, cooperation, cost-sharing and reduction of duplication could contribute to cost-savings instead of budget-cutting.
I am not saying it is the be-all and end-all, but I think it needs to be considered, that lobbying has to be done from the provinces across Canada to help strengthen the Canada Health Act and, by doing so, it is also going to strengthen and help the social aspect also. I just had to make that point now, near the end of the evening, but I just want to make it quick, and if there are any questions that want to be asked, I can . . .
MADAM CHAIR: Would you mind saying your name into the record, because this is all recorded and I think our Hansard people need to know your full name.
MR. SNYDER: It is Bill Snyder.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you. Are there any members who would like to make a comment or ask a question?
MR. BAKER: Perhaps, Madam Chair, I would. Good evening, Bill. I think it might be useful for the committee, if you wouldn't mind, just to share with the committee your difficulties in, as a person with a disability, accessing retraining, and the difficulties that you have had over the years in that. Very briefly, if you might just share that?
MR. SNYDER: I had an accident in the 1975. I did get back into the workplace. I am an amputee, but I have other hidden disabilities, physical disabilities, which create the aspect of wearing a prosthetic limb very difficult. Technically, I am not even supposed to be walking without canes, crutches, at the same time as wearing as a prosthetic limb. The jobs that I have had, I couldn't continue doing, because it was too much effort to be able to do that kind of work, especially the kind of work that I was trained to do. I am now trying to get - now this is since 1975 - and I am still trying to get into a training program that is going to benefit my past experience and knowledge, and so that I can get into something or other that is going to benefit me and is not going to be detrimental to my health. It is also going to create an aspect of social, environmental well-being for myself personally, and take a load off society itself, the taxpayers.
This is one of the reasons why I mention again the fact, the issue of definition is that I have to take, all the time when applying for different programs and services, proof to each different one that I am disabled. One document should do it all at any time. Yes, there is a difference between temporary and permanent, but by Canada Pension if I am capable of walking 400 metres, I think it is, without a walking aid, then I am not considered disabled. Well, my goodness, if I take off my prosthetic limb. (Laughter)
They do not consider a prosthetic limb a walking aid, you know, to be able to get around. That is one of the things, but it still boils right back to the very beginning. What is the definition of health and what is the definition of disability? This evening has been jam-packed
about disabilities, and that social impact. I hope I have explained this. I am also involved in the issue of transportation. I guess what I could say is that as a volunteer, by doing everything for nothing, I have never been so busy. It seems to be that that is expected. If you cannot get work, then you must be a volunteer. Yet that does not put food in my stomach and it costs money to be a volunteer, especially out here in the rural area, much more so than where everything is much more accessible, in metro.
There is a huge difference between what is here in Bridgewater and what is outside of Bridgewater, as to what is accessible. Information was mentioned earlier today or this evening, the access to information. We are told, just go to the library or use a 1-800 number. If you don't have a telephone, how can you use a 1-800 number? Well, there must be somebody in your community. That is not accessible, right? The issue of transportation, go to your neighbour. No, you cannot go to your neighbour, because they are at work and that is when the appointments are supposed to be that you are supposed to go to.
There is this issue of developing something or other which is stable, where the different departments have a different definition - and they say they use the World Health Organization's definition - they amend it for their mandate instead of just using one main definition. Their mandate can be whatever it wants to be, but let's have this unity of being able to say this is that definition. I think most disabled organizations accept the World Health Organization's definition.
MR. BAKER: Thank you, Bill. I guess what you pointed out there in your last comment, the difficulty with transportation and you would live in a community where there is certainly no public library with an Internet site, for example, and if you wanted to do research, it is a long walk to Lunenburg from Mahone Bay.
MR. SNYDER: It is not just the fact of walking or hitch-hiking, which I use mostly, it is the issue of even getting to the library when it is open. I think I will bring up another quick question there; I think it was brought up a little bit earlier also. There needs to be - government programs and services, especially out in the rural areas - satellite offices that are personally staffed at off-hours so that people, who are looking for jobs or looking for whatever, have access to something or other on Saturdays and a little bit in the evenings, but personally staffed not this get an answering machine or voice mail or whatever, but be personally staffed. It has to be on the off-hours, not 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Many people are sitting at home waiting for whomever to come home to pick them up to be able to go and do things. Nine times out of ten the only time they can do that is on Saturday or in the evening. So there is the difference between the rural and metro areas.
Too many times the policies and procedures that regulate how programs are delivered have very little relevance because they have been developed basically out of metro. Where the flexibility comes in, if you have the stability and the definition, you can be as flexible as you want to be, even though you have the same definition. Now what is happening is the
individual workers are interpreting what they think the interpretation was because it is not clear enough.
MADAM CHAIR: Are there any comments? Mr. Pye.
MR. PYE: Thank you, Mr. Snyder, I guess you have a bus service down here called MacKenzie Bus Lines, I believe it is?
MR. SNYDER: As of the end of the month.
MR. PYE: That is what I was going to ask you. As of the end of the month you are without that service, are you?
MR. SNYDER: It was not accessible to start with, and the present one that is coming up we do not know whether it is going to be accessible either.
MR. PYE: Do you have a shuttle bus service?
MR. SNYDER: There isn't anything accessible at all in Lunenburg County that I know of, other than maybe nursing home vans, which are not available to the public.
MR. PYE: You do not drive an automobile?
MR. SNYDER: I can't afford one.
MR. PYE: That is my next question. Are you on CPP now or are you on provincial disability benefits?
MR. SNYDER: I am on provincial family benefits for disability, because I was trying to get a course through the Vocational Rehabilitation Program through CPP and the evaluator determined that I was capable of going to work. There was no consideration for retraining, but that was what I had applied for, to see if I could get funding to be retrained. What ended up happening is that this private contract company hires an evaluator and they have a statistical quota to meet because CPP wants to be able to justify the money they are getting, and the main criteria that CPP had was to get people in the workforce instead of providing the appropriate tools, which were education and training.
MR. PYE: Madam Chair, I just want Mr. Snyder to know that this is also a common theme that has come through our standing committee meetings across the province, the lack of public transportation for people with disabilities, particularly in rural and small-town areas, not to say that it is that sufficient in the metropolitan area of Halifax-Dartmouth either.
MADAM CHAIR: Are there any other comments or questions from any members of the committee? Thank you very much.
MR. SNYDER: Thank you.
MADAM CHAIR: Are there any other persons who would like to come forward?
MS. SHIRLEY OICKLE: My name is Shirley Oickle, I am the Executive Director at Harbour House in Bridgewater. We are a shelter for abused women and their children. I did not bring a formal presentation tonight, but what I was doing during the presentations was just making all kinds of notes. What I want to do is just basically echo what everybody else is saying tonight, but I also want to do it from the theme of abused women.
There are a lot of commonalities. You look at health care, community services, you look at it all, it affects a lot of different people. The points that I am going to make are just in point form. A woman who is living in an abusive family quite frequently, and more often than we would ever care to know, doesn't leave the abusive relationship because she simply cannot afford to do so. Primarily, a lot of women who are leaving abusive relationships know that when they leave they are going to live in poverty and not only them but, of course, their children.
The points that I want to get across just in outline form are:
We need to have safe, accessible housing. Even though I am speaking on behalf of the abused women, it is not just for abused women that we need this kind of housing.
The reliance on food banks is totally, absolutely unacceptable. It has become a common occurrence that, as stated before, women and men, as well children, are expected to supplement their food allowance by going to the food bank, and that's assuming you have a vehicle that can get you to the food bank, that is assuming they are open on the day that you are able to go, and that is assuming you haven't already used your monthly allotment of times that you can visit the food bank. I know too many women who have come to the shelter, who call the shelter about the third week of the month, because they absolutely have no food. They can't go to the food bank because they have already been there as many times as they are allowed to be that month, so we give them food from our budgeted amount from Community Services to help supplement, to feed their family.
A telephone is absolutely a necessity. There is no debate about that. I would like to see any member of the panel, any member of government, live in a house for a day without a telephone. Not only for the issue of abused women because it is absolutely a major safety concern, she cannot even call 911 if she's about to be murdered, or threatened, or if her child is sick. She cannot call her neighbour who might live half a mile down the road, or further,
to even come and do childcare if one of her children are sick. She needs to have a phone; no debate about that. It needs to be a necessity; it is a necessity.
There needs to be absolutely affordable subsidized day care spaces, however we want to word it. My optimum best solution to the committee is that we have universal day care. There are countries that have universal day care - Sweden - and there are other ones, but anyway we need to have some kind of day care and if it cannot be fully subsidized, it needs to be at least extremely affordable and, again, if you can get to the day care centre, you know, 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., you're doing okay but, if you get off work at 5:30 p.m., they charge you more if you're 15 minutes late. That's unacceptable.
There is a lot of discretionary powers with staff at Community Services. It depends on who your advocate is. They can sometimes get you some additional services, but it doesn't always work. So everybody prays they get a good worker, and that shouldn't be part of the equation to getting any kind of assistance.
One of the other points that I wanted to mention as well with regard to the staff. There are a lot of really good staff and I am not going to bad-mouth the staff at all because they work hard. I know that there's always a lot of different problems, but there shouldn't be a difference that when you take one of the shelter workers with you, you are treated with respect, but if you go by yourself or you take your children with you, or whatever the case might happen to be, you're treated like a second-class citizen. To me, that's just not appropriate. So in addition to that, you need to have sensitivity training for staff, not only with regard to issues of poverty and what it is like to be living on assistance, you also need to have sensitivity training and training on the awareness and the issues that are centred around abused women.
There also needs to be accountability, that if you have the training and you still treat people like dirt, then you are no longer with a job, maybe you'll be on social assistance, and maybe you will get some sensitivity and then maybe you'll get a job. Who knows? There needs to be some kind of meaningful sensitivity training so that everybody is really aware that if they don't toe the line, they don't keep a job. That really sounds kind of harsh, but that could be the reality.
Many women at the shelter - and I am not going to say the majority because I really don't have statistics to back anything up - there are an awful lot of women that go back to abusive relationships simply because they have no other options available to them. They cannot afford to live on their own. They perhaps don't have some family support. They don't want to be going back to the abusive relationship, but how else can they provide for their family? If they're a woman without children, things are compounded again because with family benefits or with assistance programs you don't get enough to live. You get enough to board somewhere, and if anybody in Bridgewater wants to give me a list of 10 good places to board, I would take them in a minute.
There are houses that are very unsafe and if you're looking at abuse issues, they need to be places where people can live and they can be safe. We know of places where they turn the power off for three days at a time to cut the cost on heating, and that's not a very nice way to have to live. They also don't have a phone, so they can't even call to find out what is the problem and, of course, as everybody has stated, when children are living in poverty, gosh, they're not living on their own, you know, their moms and their dads are there - or just their moms, or whatever - so it is families living in poverty.
Public transportation. I know that Bill has been a very strong advocate for trying to get some public transportation happening. Public transportation in Bridgewater is non-existent basically and if you look at the surrounding areas that Harbour House covers, Lunenburg and Queens Counties, there is no service, basically you're on your own. You hitch-hike, you walk, you try to find some kind of way to get to where you need to be. If you're lucky, you have a vehicle, but chances are good you won't have enough money to run the vehicle.
One of the other issues that perhaps hasn't been brought up is when we look at the amount of money that a woman is receiving from Community Services. A lot of women are leaving the shelter and they have absolutely nothing, so they rely on us very heavily for donations of clothing, for donations of furniture, for a can opener, you name it. You look at people starting out with absolutely nothing and there's nothing provided from Community Services for start-up costs that can help them to establish themselves in a new home, apartment, whatever it might happen to be.
There are too many families out there who don't have beds for their children. They are sleeping on mattresses. They don't have enough bedding. They don't have anything, and so we have this ongoing list at our shelter, all the time, of people who are looking for household items just so that they can go home to something besides an empty apartment. So a lot of the things that people take for granted, a lot of people don't have. A phone is an extreme luxury if you don't have a can opener, you don't have a toaster, and you don't have the normal things just to make a decent meal.
I have a couple of recommendations that are just kind of global. I know it is late, so I really don't want to talk too long, but I know that Community Services needs to give - again this is being echoed - enough money to pay for the things that are basic necessities. Right now we all know that you don't get enough money for the real expenses and that has to include the special needs of the individuals that we're talking about. I have already mentioned about universal free day care. There needs to be an establishment of different varieties of housing. We don't have a second-stage housing option here in this area and we certainly have a high need for that. We don't have any affordable boarding situations, and the ones that are affordable, we never recommend them but women are forced to go there because there's no other place to go. So there needs to be different types of housing options.
When you look at the barriers that a woman who is leaving an abusive relationship has to put up with, with regard to just getting out of the relationship, then you add to that all of the issues regarding finances and Community Services and the hassles that everybody gets because they don't have enough money, then you look at all the issues regarding Department of Justice issues, which is a whole other focus group, it is just almost insurmountable. It makes you wonder, how in the world does a woman ever leave because it is almost impossible to leave and feel that you can raise your children in a safe environment and give them all the things that they need?
Thank you very much for your time. I apologize for not having a written report, but I really wanted to be able to say a few words to the committee tonight because the issues that I bring forward are, again, just echos of what everybody else has so eloquently said already tonight.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you very much. Questions or comments? Ms. Atwell.
MS. ATWELL: Yes, just one or two questions. How is Harbour House, is it Harbour House?
MS. OICKLE: Yes.
MS. ATWELL: How is it funded?
MS. OICKLE: From Community Services.
MS. ATWELL: Community Services, and do you have much of a staff complement? How many people work at the house?
MS. OICKLE: We have eight funded positions, and we have several part-time staff. So the total number is more that eight, but it includes some job-sharing and part-time.
MS. ATWELL: So do your staff act as an advocate for many of the women through Community Services, around issues like not getting enough money, or getting on social assistance once they leave an abusive situation and that sort of thing?
MS. OICKLE: Legal aid in Halifax has been - Dal Legal Aid to be specific - very helpful in going through some of the appeals with us and helping women to basically win back some of the things that have been taken away from them. Some women have been living with even less because it has been deemed that they have been overpaid to the point that they are now living in what is considered to be undue hardship.
MS. ATWELL: What about safe housing? Do you have to find safe houses sometimes outside of Bridgewater? Do your staff do that?
MS. OICKLE: When you say a safe house, do you mean a person's private home, where it is a safe house?
MS. ATWELL: Well, where they come from, let's say an abusive relationship to Harbour House and then they have to move out and find a place of their own, oftentimes if it is not safe within your own community in terms of stalking and that sort of thing, do you assist people outside of the community?
MS. OICKLE: Yes, we are the equivalent of Bryony House in Halifax. We would do all the same services that they do, just to give you a reference point.
MR. BAKER: One of the things that I have noticed is that sometimes mental health services, in Bridgewater in particular, are stressed, overburdened. Do you run into a number of your client base who have a difficulty accessing mental health services and counselling and that kind of thing?
MS. OICKLE: I want to start by saying that I will answer the question as long as it is not an implication that abuse is a mental health issue. Some people think that . . .
MR. BAKER: No, I was not making that suggestion. I was just saying that occasionally, particularly as a result of abusive relationships, women need counselling and those kinds of things. That is what I was addressing. I was not . . .
MS. OICKLE: That is okay. You don't have to apologize. I just wanted to be clear we were on the same wavelength.
MR. BAKER: I was not making any implications.
MS. OICKLE: We offer shelter as well as counselling for women, so we have an ongoing outreach program so that women can actually access counselling from the staff at Harbour House. If their needs are beyond the capability of our staff to counsel, in particular mental health issues, then certainly they are referred to Mental Health Services. The fact that Mental Health Services is overburdened, again high caseloads, the same as a lot of different places, that presents a little bit of a problem in getting people appointments as readily as what we would like them to have. I think that answers your question.
MR. BAKER: I think it does. I guess the other - and I guess it is an occupational bias because of my training as a lawyer - particularly with the Department of Justice and the program for victims of crime and, in particular, assault, I was wondering if you had any observations about the effectiveness of that program as it relates to the kinds of client that you see at your centre, and particularly whether or not that service is effective and coordinated with all the other things you do?
MS. OICKLE: I am not exactly clear on which part of the Department of Justice you are referring to.
MR. BAKER: I am particularly thinking of the counselling program that . . .
MS. OICKLE: The Family Violence Intervention Coordinator?
MR. BAKER: Yes.
MS. OICKLE: That is a very effective program. We have been working very closely with Susan Ivany who is the coordinator for that project for Lunenburg-Queens and the project is running very smoothly. We have a close relationship with Susan.
MR. PYE: Shirley, I guess because of the low vacancy rate in the area, landlords are able to charge a premium for their shelter. Is that correct?
MS. OICKLE: For apartments, you mean?
MR. PYE: Yes, for the apartment units.
MS. OICKLE: I don't know if they charge more because of that or not, or if they just charge a lot because they can get away with it.
MR. PYE: The other concern I have is, once again back to the food banks, the landlords are very much aware that in fact there are food banks in the community, so therefore the recipient is going to use their food allotment toward paying their shelter. What is most striking is that during the summer months, everyone thinks that no one needs food banks and so on and they give very little to food banks as a result of that and people find themselves without food. How do you address that issue in a small town like Bridgewater where, in fact, there would be very few donors or people donating to the food banks simply because of the population base, so therefore there would be many people relying upon the service and in the summer months there would be less?
MS. OICKLE: Maybe we are all looking at it wrong. Maybe poverty is just a seasonal thing and we are just not aware of it yet, I don't know. We give a lot of food away at the shelter. We also receive donations from the community in food stuffs and things like that. We are very quick to give a lot of the food away, as opposed to keeping it for the shelter, because we do have a budgeted amount for food. Although we are close to the budget on that, we are very generous with our donations because we know there are a lot of women that really need them.
MR. PYE: Finally, I have a concern where you mentioned that there were families sleeping on mattresses rather than having beds. I am sure that the social worker behind you knows that it is a policy requirement that everyone must have a bed and table and chairs. I am surprised at how they are able to get away with that here. Have you not called health inspectors or brought the Department of Health into homes, where people are living in those conditions, to alert Community Services to their policy requirement?
MS. OICKLE: We have not, to my knowledge, actually done that. I know that we have an ongoing list for people who are looking for different types of furniture and belongings and things like that. I don't want to sound naive, but I didn't realize that there could be funding as a matter of course, without having to ask the right questions to the right person, that they can fund you for a bed and a table and chairs.
MR. PYE: I just want to tell you that there is a requirement, in policy, that they must provide you with at least a bed for sleeping and a table and chairs. No sofa or no other furniture, but Community Services must be . . .
MS. OICKLE: I will pass that along to all staff.
MR. PYE: And you should search that out.
MS. OICKLE: Okay, thank you.
MS. PITTMAN: Mr. Pye, could I ask you a question?
MR. PYE: Yes.
MS. PITTMAN: How long does it have to be after a person gets into their apartment that they get a bed?
MR. PYE: I don't know if there is a time restriction here or not, but I would assume within a reasonable time. I don't know the answer to that question. All I do know is that it is a requirement.
MS. OICKLE: I can relate to that one. We have a lot of humour around that, but that is also another case in point, the secrecy to what you can and what you cannot get. If you know, knowledge is power, there is no question about it, but if you don't know . . .
MR. PYE: I think that quite often you have to bring the issue to light and I want you to be aware of that. If you have to use external forces outside of Community Services to bring that to light, then you should take advantage of those services.
MS. OICKLE: You can be certain I will be passing that around.
MADAM CHAIR: Before you run off, I would just like to add my voice to the mix and say it is good to hear from people in the transition houses. You know, I was thinking, earlier as people have been presenting, I don't know of any study that has examined women who are on social assistance and whether or not they have been abused and what their relationship might be. My own suspicions are that it is probably quite high and it would be an interesting thing, actually, to do some research on.
There is one thing from your presentation though that is a challenge, I think, in some ways and it is not just your presentation that has made me think this, but it is something that occurs over and over in presentations. We are hearing a lot about the lack of flexibility in the system to respond to the real needs that people have but, at the same time, we hear a lot about the use of discretionary power and the problem that that presents. It is a real contradiction, I think because, on the one hand, you can't have a flexible system, if you don't have discretionary power. To try to figure out what the relationship is there, between having a system that will respond to the unique situations that are presented but, at the same time, is fair, is going to be a real challenge to try to figure that out, because it is quite contradictory.
MS. OICKLE: It is. I think the difficulty that I see is the fact that there needs to be the discretionary powers of a staff member. When those are used for the benefit of a client, I am all for that; when it is used to the detriment of a client, I am absolutely firmly opposed to that.
There are two other things that I wanted to mention. When people were talking about different numbers, and I didn't have numbers in my head as to how much a person gets from Community Services, but I also wanted to point out that when you are receiving a child support payment, those are also deducted from your cheques.
I know one woman in particular who comes to mind, who receives $50 from her ex-partner for child support every month. Fifty dollars is not very much, and that is deducted from her family benefits. It is not even extra money for her that she can use to pay for diapers and things like that. Also, it is not common that damage deposits are able to be funded through Community Services; sometimes it is, sometimes it isn't. A lot of times when a woman is leaving the shelter and is going to be renting an apartment, it's half a month's rent right up front for a damage deposit. Some landlords, I have to say - and landladies - are excellent. If we advocate on the woman's behalf, they will actually waive that, or they will let it be paid over a series of months. But again, it is bias sometimes.
MADAM CHAIR: David, did you have a point you wanted to make?
MR. WILLIAMS: Well, simply that I have recently been talking with social workers in assistance, who do not themselves have a full manual. They don't know the rules. It is kept so secret, they will not allow the people administering the program to know the rules. There really needs to be access by the public to those rules.
MR. PYE: I just want to make one other comment as well to you, Shirley. Women who find themselves in abusive situations, I do believe - and don't quote me, and we have always had success with this - automatically get a damage deposit. It is an extremely difficult battle on those issues, but those who are in abusive situations and they are getting their first apartment unit, they do get a damage deposit. We have been fortunate in that case.
MS. OICKLE: And I am well aware of that, because we have been able to acquire that for many of our residents who are leaving the shelter. That was not common knowledge until probably, I am going to say within a year ago that we were aware of that, we just happened to come across it because we had a worker who thought that we must know that. Of course, again, if you don't know, then you can't ask for it.
Part of that as well is that it is wonderful to provide a damage deposit because a woman is leaving a shelter, and I would never want that to stop, but what about the woman who is not leaving a shelter, why is she not afforded the same benefit of that? To me, it is a discrepancy, and it is one of those times where it is a plus to be an abused woman, and it shouldn't be that way. It takes a lot of courage to leave a relationship, whether it is abusive or not. I think that all these barriers that are always put in front of all these people really isn't fair. Fair isn't even the right word, but I don't know what word I want to use right now. It is almost to the point, you wonder, how does anybody ever leave? Sometimes you have to wonder, is it really worth all the aggravation, the frustration and everything?
MADAM CHAIR: We are still really seeped in the old Elizabethan poor laws, aren't we?
MS. OICKLE: You are absolutely right.
MADAM CHAIR: They followed us for a long time. Anyway, are there any other comments or questions? Thank you very much. I think that, unless there is somebody else . . .
MS. RUTH FREDERICKS: I just have a couple of issues.
MADAM CHAIR: Yes.
MS. FREDERICKS: I didn't come prepared to speak but . . .
MADAM CHAIR: That is okay. Can you identify yourself, please?
MS. FREDERICKS: Sure. My name is Ruth Fredericks and I have been in the system because of disability, not because I choose to but because I have no alternative. I have various medical problems: asthma, irritable bowel syndrome, low sugar. I could go on all night. In January my parents came to live with me. My mom was diagnosed with cancer and she came to Bridgewater. I moved mom and dad here from down near Shelburne. I took them in and saved the government $43,000 by not putting them in a nursing home. I get a disability cheque of $713 per month and I was deducted $134 per month because my parents were living with me. Now is that justice?
Here I am saving the government $43,000 in seven months, brought my parents into my home, my whole life was disrupted, I had no life for seven months. I gave everything to my parents that I possibly could. I could have shoved them into the system, but my mom was dying of cancer and I had promised her I wouldn't and I didn't.
I only got respite care for my parents two months before my mom died and that was only because, emotionally and physically, I was going downhill and I was going to be in the hospital. In order to keep me out of the hospital, so that I could look after my parents, they provided me with respite care. I got three hours a week for one month and, at the end of one month, I got six hours a week for the following month. I don't call that a just system. How could you take $134 from somebody who is just existing and getting by on $713? Then, last month, I was notified that I have to pay $134 back to them because they didn't get it off in time and they didn't get the report into Halifax in time. So, here I am now for the next x amount of months, with every cheque, $15 is coming off. Well to you people $15 may not seem like a whole lot, but to me it does.
I have various medical problems and tonight is the first time I have heard about this specialized program for special diets. I have irritable bowel syndrome, which is a problem with the bowel, the food passes through the system so fast that you don't absorb anything, so here I am out buying vitamins and minerals at the health store to keep my body intact because I am not developing and not taking enough from it. I have never heard tell of this specialized diet thing until tonight. Where is the information coming from? Why is it a secret? If they are there to help the people, why are they not letting the people know about these programs?
I do not understand how the government can tell me that I cannot have a medication. I have gone through umpteen doctors and specialists. Monthly, I have to go to a specialist to get a letter from him saying that I need to be on that medication, I then have to send the letter to Halifax with a written report from my doctor and the specialist and fight with them to try to get a prescription that the doctor says is necessary for me to get better or to stay better. To me it makes no sense. Who are the big guys in the government who are sitting there saying that you can't have these prescriptions?
I know that I am just one little spoke in the wheel but, if this is happening to me, how many others are out there that it is happening to? How many others are falling through the cracks? I strongly believe that there should be a 1-800 number for people like myself when emergencies come up on weekends. You do not always have an emergency between the hours of 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., there are after-hours, there are weekends and there are holidays. If they can have a 1-800 number to phone and find out about the leaves and where they are changing, then I think they can have a 1-800 number with the social assistance thing. I have never heard of such a waste in all of my life as to hear of a 1-800 number to tell you where you can go and look at the best-coloured leaves. I don't know, it blows my mind.
Basically, that is all I have to say. I just have those concerns and those are concerns that weigh heavy on my heart because of my own situation, but I also know of others out there who do not have and will not have because they feel they have no right to speak up and say anything; tonight I didn't have any intention of saying anything either, but I have kept quiet long enough.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you very much, Ruth. Good for you. I wonder if members of the committee have any comments or questions for Ruth? Are your parents with you now?
MS. FREDERICKS: No, my mom passed away on July 30th and my dad went back to live with my brother.
MADAM CHAIR: I am sorry to hear that about your mom.
MR. MUIR: Madam Chair, I am just a little curious about this. Your parents brought income with them, were they on social assistance as well?
MS. FREDERICKS: No, they were just on Old Age Security.
MADAM CHAIR: And you're on family benefits or CPP?
MS. FREDERICKS: Family benefits.
MADAM CHAIR: And you don't have a drug card?
MS. FREDERICKS: My drugs are covered, but certain ones they won't cover.
MADAM CHAIR: Okay, that is the point you were making.
MS. FREDERICKS: I just had one that I was supposed to get just three weeks ago when I came out of the hospital and I wasn't allowed to have it because it wasn't covered. They put me on something else and it didn't work and I have been sick for three weeks because I can't get the proper medication.
MADAM CHAIR: Are there any questions, comments? Thank you very much.
MS. FREDERICKS: Thank you.
MADAM CHAIR: Are there any other people who would like to have a word?
MR. SNYDER: I would just like to make a quick point. There has been a lot of talk about grocery shopping and everything else like that. There is a study that has been done throughout Nova Scotia; it was published in the late part of 1997 by the dietician's association. Barb Anderson was one of the main persons on that and it was also published in the Canadian Diabetes Association's Report. It states that a male, 19 years and older, needs $207 a month to live on - this is just in Nova Scotia - the amount is $197 for a female over 19 years of age and it costs more as you get older. Now if people are only getting $18 a week or whatever it was - maybe it is $40 - it still doesn't add up if it costs $207 a month to meet the Canada Food Guide.
It doesn't make sense, and the other interesting thing about the report - and this really relates to the rural areas - is that the smaller the store the more it costs. So it is the square footage and that relates really much more so because here we have a number of grocery stores in Bridgewater, but what about in New Germany or New Ross where the stores are much smaller? Then you get down to the little convenience stores that are around. That was one of the points and it was something we have been batting around here which was food, groceries and I just thought I would bring that up. If you would like that information, you can get it from Barb Anderson.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you very much. Okay, that brings the evening to a close. Thank you all for coming out and sharing with us your views and your recommendations and making us feel welcome.
[The committee adjourned at 10:45 p.m.]