MADAM CHAIR: I would like to call the meeting to order, please. Good evening, I would like to welcome people who have come tonight to participate in the public hearings of the Standing Committee on Community Services, as we go around Nova Scotia talking to people about social assistance reform. My name is Maureen MacDonald and I am the MLA for Halifax Needham and the Chair of this committee.
The process that we have been using, as we go across the province, is one where we have an agenda with people who have called in indicating a desire to come and talk to us about their analysis of the social assistance system in Nova Scotia and what recommendations they would have to improve the system. Some people have written submissions which they feel comfortable reading from and that is fine; some people have written submission that they don't necessarily read from but they might summarize and sort of focus on some of the highlighted areas and that is fine; and other people feel comfortable just speaking off the cuff and that is fine as well.
At the end of the people we have on our list, if there are other people who are interested in presenting, and you haven't gotten on the list, it is not too late to do that. You can speak to Darlene Henry, the coordinator of the committee, or Kim over here and you can present, you can still get on. I think the next thing that we will do is have members of the committee introduce themselves before we start.
[The committee members introduced themselves.]
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you. Okay, the first speaker we have this evening is Carol Charlebois from the Metro Non-Profit Housing Association.
MS. CAROL CHARLEBOIS: I just wanted to say a short bit about our organization and the documents that I brought with me. The first one is a general brochure and on the back of it is a list of our projects. We are involved in housing, low income, single people. We have four buildings purchased at various times since 1990, two in Dartmouth and two in Halifax. We operate a housing support office in Halifax, on Gerrish Street, and we have listed several other of our special projects.
This sheet just gives you an idea of some of the supportive aspects of our housing, or just what supportive housing means to us. It gives you an idea of some of the things we do. On the back of that sheet there is a table, some statistics that we have gathered between 1990 and 1997. The first one gives you an idea of the housing circumstances of our tenants as they came to us: you will see that the largest number came from shelters and transition houses; and the next largest from housing that was no longer sustainable, that usually means the break-up of the family, break-up of a shared tenancy or loss of income that would mean they couldn't sustain their apartment or their housing anymore.
The other table we are very proud of, you can see the percentage of people who are in receipt of income assistance or family benefits, disability, incoming tenants; when people first came to us, 67 per cent of them were in receipt of that kind of income. I looked up the records of people who had moved out, just 28 per cent were still on income assistance or family benefits as they left, and of our current tenants, just 25 per cent. We have had people start businesses and go to university and so on, although there certainly are people who remain on disability because they have a permanent disability.
This pamphlet gives you some information about a new project we are involved in. We are hoping to open a new building, new construction on the corner of Gottingen and Gerrish Streets. I wanted to talk about the situation of single people, that is my experience, it is the focus of our organization. I don't want to draw a dichotomy between single people living in poverty, and child poverty. Child poverty is a very pressing issue. I know that, and it is not a solution to take from one group to give to another. When that did happen, I think two years ago, when there were changes to the shelter rate for single people, some of the people, who were attending our housing support centre in a discussion about it, termed themselves disposable people. They were the ones the government felt it could just forget about and they called themselves the disposable people.
The first aspect of Community Services policy that I wanted to talk about was the change in the shelter rate. I think that is the single most disturbing regulation that we have met as an agency. It has just caused tremendous misery among the population that we are focusing on. Before the provincial takeover, when the shelter allowance for single able-bodied people was a municipal responsibility, people received $350, and we thought that was bad. It was difficult to find anything at $350, but $225 is impossible.
One of the sheets is the Rooms for Rent column from today's paper, The Chronicle-Herald and Mail Star. Thursday and Saturday are the days to advertise rooms. There was one room for $225 - I put it in the margin, the 'x's mean they didn't mention their rate in their ad - and all the others were well above $225. Those are rooms, not bachelor apartments, not one-bedroom apartments, but just rooms.
We receive calls daily from people who are in a state of shock, a state of panic, when they first find that they have $225 to find a place to live. We would really strong recommend that the shelter allowance be returned at least to the $350, and we really strongly recommend that the shelter allowance for people with disabilities not be touched at all.
Another concern we have is for the process or perhaps lack of process in granting to agencies like ours. In 1989 when we began providing support of housing or began working on it, there were meetings between the Department of Housing and the Department of Community Services, and it was agreed that we were going to provide more than just housing, that we therefore needed more staffing and more funding than an average housing project. At that time, the Department of Community Services thought it was reasonable to contribute $26,000, which would essentially be a support staff position.
That never came about. We got tied up in disagreements between the three municipalities at that time and the Department of Community Services, and we have never received any funding at all from the Department of Community Services. That is not typical of housing projects like ours across the country. Most of them receive funding either through community services or the Department of Health, sometimes, to help to provide support.
I guess more than that disappointment and that difficulty that we have had, we are concerned that the process has been hidden and seemingly irrational. When we first knew that we weren't going to receive that $26,000, we met yearly with the Department of Community Services to talk about it, every time budget came up. We couldn't get any information about the process at all, there wasn't even an application form. Last year, we did receive an application form, but we have been told that the money for grants has been given out to all agencies that received money the previous year, and not meaning to attack other agencies at all, but a process that just relies on old decisions that were made years ago with very ill-defined criteria, doesn't seem to me to be a good process.
The United Way has just revised what was probably a similar process, but they have decided to do better than that, and the former Cities of Halifax and Dartmouth and the municipality now all have much more clear processes for deciding on grants and tax concessions. So we would recommend that the department come up with a more transparent and fair granting process.
We have concerns about not just the coordination between policies and across departments, as in our case with the Department of Housing and the Department of Community Services, but we have concerns about coordination of policies within the Department of Community Services and the way they relate to the mission. I just have a statement of the mission from the manual that has been used in years past, but it refers to helping individuals reach their full potential for self-reliance by access to upgrading, training programs and job opportunities.
I just wanted to mention in case of the tenants in our Dartmouth building, both of them came to Stewart Place after taking part in long-term residential treatment programs for substance abuse, months and months - in one case 16 months - working on it; the system putting a lot into it, of course, the Department of Health and the other funding that goes to long-term residential programs, and the two men themselves putting a lot of effort into their recovery. One suffers from severe depression, anxiety and a mild schizophrenia. Both were determined to get their lives back on track. One likes to work when he can, and so he remained on income assistance, rather than going on to family benefits. The other two remained on income assistance. They decided to go back to school to get their Grade 12. They were not going on to university. They just wanted their Grade 12. They applied to Voc Rehab for funding and they were deemed to be disabled for that purpose and they were given funding. They both enrolled at the Dartmouth Vocational School upgrading class and then they found that their schooling allowance from Voc Rehab was taken dollar for dollar from their income assistance. They were not given any special allowance for transportation, clothes, the extra expenses that you have when you spend the whole day away from your home.
We assisted them in contacting their workers' supervisors, and then in going through the appeal process. We lost. It is difficult to see how the coordination between those programs and it is also difficult to see how that kind of thing works out in assisting people in getting access to education and to become self-reliant again.
More generally, the population that is our focus, we have a concern that the Department of Community Services has almost completely abrogated its responsibilities, with the exception of the grants that it gives for temporary shelter. Many of the people we work with are not well enough nor are they compliant enough to enter into the community care programs. We have had instances of community care caseworkers coming to our housing support office to do an interview with one of the participants there so he could get into some sort of supervised apartment or small options, something like that. The interview lasts for an hour and a half or so of fairly intense questions. He was not well enough to make it through that interview and many of the other people do not even try to make it into that system. These are people who are not benefiting at all from those kinds of programs.
Some of the people are still very active in their addictions. They are very ill. They are not wanted at the traditional shelters or at the Salvation Army. People have to be relatively sober anyway and relatively compliant to go into those shelters. I was recently viewing some
projects in Edmonton and I had heard of these in other cities, too. They have what is called an inebriated shelter. They also have a special kind of rooming houses that are run by a non-profit group for people who are in this situation, built very sturdily. The building itself takes a lot of abuse but the people have a secure, safe place to live. They have staff that helps them to have access to the health care system. They have meals. The director there told me that they had been contracted by their Department of Community Services to provide that kind of assistance to people in that situation. I could not help thinking that it seems in Nova Scotia that we contract slum landlords to do that because the slum landlords are the only place that these people have to go. There is no access to any other kinds of housing and the traditional shelters are not appropriate either.
The department offers no friendly kind of accessible access point for people in this situation. We have had some caseworkers, who are doing the best with what they have, come to our housing support centre to interview clients. We have had to assist one of our tenants in going to court and getting legal aid assistance because he was charged with trespassing in one of the Community Services offices. I think that he has a mental illness. He was receiving what I thought was totally inappropriate treatment from his worker and from the office staff there. Their answer was to charge him with trespassing.
I guess just generally we would recommend that the department institute more policies and procedures that would be focused on people in these situations.
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. James Muir.
MR. JAMES MUIR: You operate four buildings. Do you own any of those four?
MS. CHARLEBOIS: The two in Dartmouth we own. I guess we own them all, in a sense.
MR. MUIR: You own them. Where did you get the financing for them?
MS. CHARLEBOIS: The two in Dartmouth, the first two, are financed through the private Non-Profit Housing Program that was a CMHC and Department of Housing program. The third one, on Cunard Street, we had a relatively large grant from the City of Halifax just before amalgamation and the fourth one we just bought as a private landowner. With our proposed one, again, we are going to be buying it as a private landowner, with a loan guarantee, we hope, from the Department of Housing.
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. Jerry Pye.
MR. JERRY PYE: Hello, Carol. You do have two residential facilities in Dartmouth North, one is Stewart Place which is a residential facility for men, and the other is Amethyst Place, a residential facility for women. First of all, I am going to ask you, how do you get your referrals?
MS. CHARLEBOIS: We get referrals from the Department of Community Services, caseworkers, from recovery homes like Al-Care Place and Freedom Foundation, from other housing groups such as Alice Housing, from Adsum House and many self-referral too, from Drug Dependency and mental health departments, well, the Nova Scotia Hospital and the Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre.
MR. PYE: Freedom Foundation is located in Dartmouth North as well, and in very close proximity to your facilities. I guess there is a very close relationship between you and Freedom Foundation because there is a transition period in which they stay there and they leave. I understand that no one is required to leave, despite the employment they receive and so on, as long as they continue to need the facilities. Is that correct?
MS. CHARLEBOIS: Yes.
MR. PYE: The other question I have, and my final question is with respect to waiting lists, can you tell me if you do have a waiting list for each of these facilities and can you tell me how long that waiting list is?
MS. CHARLEBOIS: Well, for the proposed new building, CMHC requires a list of people who would be prospective tenants, and within just a couple of days we had 50 names. We could fill that building tomorrow, just like that.
MR. PYE: Okay, thank you.
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. Gordon Balser.
MR. GORDON BALSER: Earlier in your presentation you spoke of the change as far as the move to single-tier provision of service. How would you characterize them generally? Would you say that the move from municipal level assistance to having one tier that is provincially mandated, has been a positive step, in your view, or is it less successful than . . .
MS. CHARLEBOIS: Well, a one-tier system kind of makes sense. I think the problem is that in the practical sense there are still two tiers. People on family benefits have to apply to income assistance for emergency needs and that kind of two-tier stuff. The change, I think one of the things we have noticed is that when the city was responsible for some aspects of social assistance we had relatively good working relations with the municipal social service departments; and we had municipal social service workers on our boards at various times.
There seems to have been, I don't know, they have built a fortress around the Department of Community Services. It is very difficult to have contact. We do finally have one family benefits worker on our board, after quite a bit of effort to have that happen, but there doesn't seem to be that good kind of working relationship anymore.
MADAM CHAIR: Ms. Yvonne Atwell.
MS. YVONNE ATWELL: Carol, you spoke a little bit about the Creighton-Gerrish initiative you are involved with. I know there has been quite a bit of work done around trying to move that project forward for a number of years actually. I used to sit on a committee when it first started. Can you tell us a little bit about where that is? It is for low-income families? That was the original idea, is that still the original idea? How many units are you looking at?
MS. CHARLEBOIS: The full proposal calls for 52 units, some condominiums and some starter homes. They are for people with moderate incomes. I don't have the income scale with me, but I think the least expensive condominiums would be affordable to somebody with an income of about $25,000, and the starter homes, I think it is about $32,000. So there are 52 units of condominiums along Gottingen Street, starter homes up in the part of the Sobeys land that goes out to Creighton Street and starter homes in the area of Harbour City, the big blue building on the corner of Gerrish and Creighton Streets, starter homes in there, and our 19 unit building we are hoping will go where Club 55 is and then the multi-purpose centre for the Black community workgroup over at the end closer to Cunard Street, the end of that Sobeys land that is close to Cunard Street. I guess this pamphlet just deals with our part of the proposal. It doesn't have the plan of the block. Thank you.
MADAM CHAIR: Carol, what is the male/female ratio of the people you work with?
MS. CHARLEBOIS: Our tenants?
MADAM CHAIR: Yes.
MS. CHARLEBOIS: There are 16 men at Stewart Place and 12 women at Amethyst Apartments and in our Halifax buildings, we have decided not to have that kind of - I think of the eight at Cunard Street, there are six men and two women and, at Belle Aire Terrace, there are four men and four women, I think.
MADAM CHAIR: From your tables, housing no longer sustainable, what does that mean?
MS. CHARLEBOIS: That often means that was one of the alternatives that people have said a possibility on the $225 shelter allowance, sharing. We just had a call from somebody the other day who was in a sharing arrangement and his apartment mate just pulled
a knife on him. So it is moving out of that kind of thing, or people who are trying to continue their recovery and their apartment mate is active in their addiction again. Of course, some of them were also abusive relationships that women were in, women who moved into Amethyst Apartments.
MADAM CHAIR: Back when we started these meetings, we had the deputy minister come at the outset and give us a really excellent presentation on the department and the stats and where things had been going and stuff like that. Part of that presentation, though, was a discussion about the shelter rates and the decrease in shelter rates. The deputy minister made the statement that decrease in shelter rates to $225 was of more concern to advocates than those affected. I am wondering if you could comment on that?
MS. CHARLEBOIS: I guess, first of all, when you are applying for social assistance, you are not likely to complain to your worker about the rates. It is not the place where you would do that. The other thing is the people we talk to - and I really do get one, two or three calls a day from people in this situation - they are in a panic. They are not going to think to write a letter to their MLA or do that kind of thing. They are in a panic. Some of them are talking about suicide.
MADAM CHAIR: Are there any other comments or questions for Ms. Charlebois? Thank you.
Our next presentation is from the Nova Scotia League for Equal Opportunities, Elsie Cholette.
MS. ELSIE CHOLETTE: Members of the Standing Committee on Community Services, thank you for giving the Nova Scotia League for Equal Opportunities this time to present their presentation on rebuilding the system, a discussion paper.
The Nova Scotia League for Equal Opportunities, NSLEO, is a cross-disability consumer-controlled advocacy organization comprised of eight affiliate groups throughout Nova Scotia. We are an affiliate of a national organization, Council of Canadians with Disabilities and through them, a member of Disabled Persons International. The NSLEO organization is here not only for themselves but also in support of the Community Advocates Network. We believe in the issues that they are fighting because the disabled have been falling through the cracks for a long time. Some changes have taken place but more is required in order to live a productive and substantial life.
Those on the poverty-stricken level do not get respect and are left out in the cold, literally. First and foremost, NSLEO believes that all recipients, disabled or not, should receive the same level of assistance as an able-bodied person for upgrading their skills and education, although there are some cases where the disabled consumer will need technical aids such as an interpreter, a tape recorder, braille and accessibility for wheelchairs. Who would
be accountable for this? The disabled consumer is on a fixed income. Once all of that is achieved and the individual is hired for a job, the employer can be sure that they are getting a reliable employee on their staff. Once in the workplace a sensitivity program needs to be enforced. Not only will this help the individual but also will be very beneficial to the employer and the co-workers. Look at the abilities not the disability.
The program that is now in place is called Employability Assistance for People With Disabilities, EAPD. NSLEO thinks that everyone should have the chance of getting this assistance, not only the university students - please, don't get us wrong, we believe that the young people should have their education as they are our future - but the middle aged class of people should have the knowledge of this program as well. A standard of policies and regulations needs to be put in place to allow the middle aged generation the same opportunities. Most disabled consumers are on a fixed income and participating in a program such as EAPD, will certainly give them a lift in knowing that they are helping themselves. Their self-esteem will skyrocket. In order to give the disabled consumer incentive, don't take away their pension or assistance while they are in this program.
The federal and provincial governments will each contribute $7.5 million to maintain the level of funding. The caseworkers should be thoroughly informed as to how the EAPD program works, where it can be obtained, through what channels and most importantly, how the funding is distributed. Speaking of caseworkers, lower their caseloads so that the negative attitude can become a positive attitude. People on assistance need to be treated with dignity and respect. They need to have the same access to social assistance regardless of their cause of need. Different groups have different needs which must be met. Simplify the rules and clarify information about the system and how it operates. Give them a clear and simple explanation on how their assistance is determined. Be sure those living in rural areas have the same advantages as those living in the metro area.
Students on social assistance need to have their bursaries increased and their student loans lowered in order to continue with their education and not pay until they are well established in their jobs. In the long run the government will benefit from this, more will be off the system and become independent.
Another issue is why should a recipient just take any job. Sometimes they have a lot to consider. Will they get a drug card, will their children get the proper care, dental and glasses, the cost of transportation, clothes for work and in some cases, day care which is very expensive. All in all, they would be bringing less home than what they are receiving on assistance so the job has to pay good wages. This is not in every case but most. The government needs to show practical support there.
Finally, the National Child Tax Benefit; NSLEO doesn't see how this is helping a child whose family is on assistance. It looks like it is going from one government to the next without benefit to that child. It looked good on paper but in the end the recipients are not
getting more. To justify this extra money, programs are being implemented to give children a better start in life. Hopefully, this will happen because in today's society there are many children out there that need support and understanding to let them know that they are as good as the next child. We, as Nova Scotians, deserve to be treated equally and with respect. Thank you.
MR. PYE: Elsie, I know that you made a presentation to every political caucus last week and I am sure your presentation was much more in-depth than this one is here this evening but there are two questions with respect to the National Child Tax Benefit program. I do agree with you, disabled families are severely penalized under the clawback of the National Child Tax Benefit simply because there is no opportunity for disabled families to go out and seek employment. So, therefore, when the clawback does take place, it comes back on a half through the Nova Scotia child tax benefit, a little less than half, mind you, by the way. So that is a severe penalty.
What I want to ask you is something that even I am not totally clear on. Before there was a voc rehab program. In June the provincial government announced an EAPD program and that program only has a five year life expectancy. Now, the $7.5 million that you quoted as share gives exactly the same number of dollars that were previously there under the voc rehab program of $15 million.
What are the enhancing features of the EAPD program over the voc rehab program with the same dollars?
MS. CHOLETTE: That other program was in effect before I even joined the organization. The EAPD, when I first heard of this program, was in March and I went to Belle Aire college, the community college, I was there and the way everything that I took in, it sounded like it was just strictly for university and college students. I felt somebody at my age bracket who was disabled, they would not hear of this program and they had to get out and work. They would not hear of this program other than by word of mouth or knowing of some disabled student in university. So I feel that we're entitled to hear and know about this program and get in this program to better ourselves and support ourselves.
I think that if they are on assistance and they go there, then the case worker should inform that person about this program and if they're eligible to get into it.
MR. PYE: You still didn't answer my question clearly, what are the enhanced features over the voc rehab program? I have, for example, two students from Saint Mary's University who are disabled students, who approached me last month and told me that there was no significant difference at all. As a matter of fact, they didn't say significant, they said there was no difference with respect to the EAPD program over the voc rehab program that they had already been a part of. I guess what I am asking you is, have you had calls from disabled
persons who have indicated to you that there are no differences and that they are not able to tap into any additional funding or programs as a result of that?
MS. CHOLETTE: No, they have not, I am sorry. The calls that I have received were all for employment and NSLEO does not do employment placements. They can refer and direct that individual to a certain organization, or group, which I do do, and as far as enhancement, like I said, I don't know the program prior to this one.
MR. PYE: Okay.
MS. CHOLETTE: This here one I only know it, that I thought it was geared up towards university students and I feel that everybody should have that chance, disabled should have that chance. Something could happen to me tomorrow and I would not know about this program and I would think, oh, my gosh, I have to live on what's going to be given to me on a monthly basis, right, and that's not what I really want. If I am capable of working, even though I am in a chair, and I am capable of working, well, I certainly want to have my skills and the training there so that I can get out and be independent.
MR. PYE: Finally, my last question is, what you're telling me is that there are no brochures to tell disabled persons about the programs at universities, community colleges?
MS. CHOLETTE: As of yet, no, I have not seen any.
MR. PYE: Thank you.
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. [Charles] MacDonald.
MR. CHARLES MACDONALD: Elsie, would you say overall that these programs are a step in the right direction? They may not be the final answer but are they moving in the right direction. We know that there is a shortage of funding and there's not enough in all instances, or in areas where we may want to go, but are we moving in the right direction?
MS. CHOLETTE: Hopefully, yes, especially start while they are young. That's where you need because they are our future. They're the ones that are going to live a lot longer than you and I. I think that's where you have to start and apparently these programs are going to be starting at the young generation and, hopefully, the kids will feel that they will be worthy of the programs that are going to be given to them. I think that it's the adults that have to help the young children because, you see, as they say, a poor child, they really feel, like they'll go into themselves, and they feel that they're not wanted and they can be made fun of, poor-bashing, that's the word. I think these programs, if you start young, it will help these children have a better attitude, a stronger frame of mind, you know, and then society will be better.
MR. CHARLES MACDONALD: Yes, thank you.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you, Elsie.
MS. CHOLETTE: Thank you.
MADAM CHAIR: Our next presenter is Mr. Frank Gibson from the Dartmouth Work Activity Society.
MR. FRANK GIBSON: What is being handed out is our annual report for the fiscal year ended March 31, 1998; a brochure; and a written presentation that would be too long if I read it. So I will try to speak to the highlights.
About three pages into the annual report there's an index, if you want to look to any of the aspects. In preparing the talk I tried to follow the outline in the one page that was distributed about this committee. I also attempted to address all of the goals that are listed in the White Paper on Social Assistance Restructuring. So in the caps I put the goals that were listed in the White Paper.
I would like to thank you for the opportunity to present to you. The social assistance restructuring is an opportunity, one way to look at it, to build on the strengths of the policy direction that the Department of Community Services has already chosen. It has chosen to decentralize. It has chosen to focus on both social assistance and employment support. It has chosen to focus on the elimination of child poverty and on the development of partnerships. The minister asked for consultation and then this committee was formed. The consultation itself raises expectations, especially among members in the community who have been involved, like our agency, in attempting to assist people on social assistance to enter employment.
Our society has been in operation since 1981 in the north end of Dartmouth, providing employment-readiness training, and now also employment support services for persons who are either on or likely to be on social assistance. Most of our people who are not on assistance have some form of disability. A lot of the persons with disabilities that we serve have what would best be referred to as hidden disabilities. They have difficulty accessing services for persons with disabilities because they haven't got a clear diagnosis with them. We offer employment services basically for the people who fall through the cracks, who can't access employment for whatever reasons.
The most common attribute of the people that we serve is that their social support circles are very limited. There is a term that I came across in university that not a lot of people know, solipsistic; it means that the world has really shrunk that you belong to. So what happens is that their networks for employment are extremely limited and that's why they can't access employment. Over a longer period of time their social skills related to employment also
become quite limited. So we have a combination of social skill development, academic upgrading, on-the-job training, and then we offer employment support services that help people to connect with employers. We try to build up their social support circles and help them connect to employment.
The most significant aspect of what we do as an agency is that we build an honest, respectful relationship with each person in training with us. For a lot of them, they just blossom and bloom because they have never been treated with respect before. This respectful relationship helps them get moving.
In regard to education and training, our statistics have demonstrated on an ongoing basis the connection between education level and employment. So the upgrading that we help them achieve just pays off directly in terms of being able to access employment. Our emphasis on social skills is supported by research by the Canadian Conference Board, indicating that what employers are looking for are people who have the basic generic social skills, like being able to communicate, to think, to take responsibility for themselves, and that that is more valuable even than technical skills.
Our experience has been that for our people, training is best delivered within the context of a well-developed individualized program plan. So we modify what we're doing for each individual and we deliver what they need in small group settings. We are not a very large organization. We have been pushed to become larger in order to survive but what's really important is that as a community agency with a flatter administrative structure we are able to provide a flexible, individualized approach.
We find that on-the-job training is best delivered when there's staff involvement on an ongoing basis in a supportive way. One of the questions about education and training that has haunted us since we started is, who takes responsibility for adult education? When we were first developing in 1981, I went and asked that question at the Department of Education. I still haven't gotten an answer. School boards, other than Community Learning Initiatives through the Department of Education, which is a program that we would praise, because it allows for adult literacy to be offered through community groups and volunteers, but in terms of the education of the poor adults, the local school board has really decimated continuing education programs.
The adult high school model was attempting to have somewhere in the vicinity of 20 sites. It has four this year. The adult high school model is only affordable for people under the age of 21. Above the age of 21, it is $500 a credit and it takes 18 credits to get your high school. So we are talking $7,000 or $8,000 to get a high school education.
Education is related to Health, it is related to Justice. People in the prisons, the most common characteristics are low levels of education and learning disabilities. Yet, Justice doesn't provide anything towards Education in this area. The federal Department of Justice does to some degree, federal Corrections, but, provincially, it doesn't. In terms of Health, education and training and moving towards independence is a Health issue. Where does money come from Health for that? Expecting the Department of Community Services to provide for all of this is kind of unrealistic it seems, yet we are primarily funded by Community Services and we are funded also by community learning initiatives, federal Corrections, Metro United Way and Human Resource Development Canada for our employment support unit.
Goal three in the White Paper states that a goal is to provide social assistance recipients with support to upgrade their skills and education. We feel that more flexibility needs to be incorporated into the Community Services policy and that employment services should focus even more on a work-with approach. There tends to be, throughout the policy that is being developed, this sense that employability measures that a person's needs will be determined and then, if they don't comply, they will be cut off assistance. That feels like an underlying theme. We feel that working with a person in a more positive way is more helpful to achieve results; as I mentioned before, it is more respectful and the respect pays off.
We listed alternate goals that we felt the department should look at for Goal 3. That the Department of Education and local school boards will partner with Community Services to address the needs of adults, such as through the community learning initiative. The Department of Justice will partner with Education and Community Services in respect to the many supports needed for persons with criminal involvement to reintegrate into society. We could put in another similar goal for the Department of Health to partner with persons with disabilities. That local flexibility would be maintained in the determination of the income support level for persons involved in education. So many mitigating factors, including local economy and a person's disability, determine what is needed to enter employment, so there needs to be a flexible system of support. That community partners will be encouraged and given the resources to fill the gaps in services.
Regarding the administration of services, we feel that small organizations can be less bureaucratized and can respond more flexibly to client needs. We feel that there seems to be a large/small balance point in terms of administrative efficiency. So there is some attempt to amalgamate services and thus reduce administrative costs, but in the case of the few recent examples, we know that cost may actually increase, like school boards in metro. So where is the right balance in terms of large and small?
We believe that employment, education and training services are best delivered in a decentralized, flexible continuum that is encouraged to be cooperative, communicative and self-coordinated. We are a shareholder in Teamwork Cooperative, which is an organization working together for the employment of persons with disabilities and when we were first
being set up, one of the thoughts was that there would be a one-stop shop, that everybody would just go through Teamwork. What we found is that that would tend to make one big agency that would start to look like an institution. What is really needed is the different groups that presently exist but they need to work together more cooperatively, in a more coordinated way, in order to have a continuum of service that helps a person move towards employment. This is where we are now.
So Goal 5 in the White Paper is to improve the administrative efficiency and effectiveness of the system. That goal could be misconstrued. We would prefer it to be worded this way: to improve the management of the income support system and then to improve partnership with the client, community agencies and other supports needed to bring full employment into our communities. So the employment side needs to be done in a more partnering way, using all the resources in the community, including partnering with the client.
With respect to gaps in services, one of them was already mentioned that we would like to point out this evening, significant recognition of the additional costs related to employment and participation in training. To have someone enter a training program and then to have their expense allowance taxed back at 100 per cent is not helpful. It costs more to work than it does to stay home; it costs more to participate in training.
The word being used so far is whether or not we should give people an incentive but that is the wrong word. You are not giving them an incentive, you are simply helping cover the additional costs.
Our expense allowance is $7.00 per half day attended in our Employment Readiness Training Program; it is taxed back at 100 per cent by the social assistance people. So not only are folks not getting the assistance they need to come to the program, they are being insulted because the money is given and then taken away.
One of the problems is that supportive community-based employment services are not available in all of the communities of the province. For example, there are five work activities in Nova Scotia but there is none in Cape Breton. Supportive adult education programs are virtually not available to the poor who are over the age of 20. Any exception to that tends to be brought forward as a rule but it is only an exception. The rule is that you can't get upgrading if you are an adult on assistance.
One of the aspects missing in working towards full employment for persons with disabilities is in the paper but there is some work being done by the Department of Community Services actually, connecting with economic development. The other aspect is the partnering that community services is doing with human resource development in an area that could blossom more, in terms of labour market analysis. So part of what needs to happen in terms of looking for the employment of persons on assistance is that there are jobs. Where
are the jobs and what can be done to help them get those jobs? How can we support them so they will want to take them?
Coordination of services between departments. One of the ideas that business uses is a project. Perhaps it would be best to look at the employment of persons with disabilities as a project because it involves several government departments. The way to do it would be to have the departments second staff to the project. That is usually how they do it in business. Then they could set up and arrange for the funding of the structures needed in our various communities, to help people move towards employment.
The relationship between government and non-government organizations. There seems to be a commitment by government that we talk about community capacity building; there is a lot of talk about partnering; there is a lot of emphasis on having community agencies be more accountable and that they would also partner more with one another and with government. This is all happening, but there is certainly room for improvement. The partnerships tend to be unequal and there tends not to be enough use of the community resources that we have, and they tend to be at times treated a bit shabbily. Our particular organization cannot complain that much in that regard, but we know other agencies can.
One of the aspects about what Community Services is attempting to do in terms of putting employment and social income support together is that employment services might become legislated; in other words, right now, such as when the budget crunch is on, Community Services will receive pressure to cut back on its costs. The first thing that Community Services looks at protecting are the legislated services, putting food et cetera on the table. The next thing that Community Services will look at is its own staffing, so the community agencies standing way over here are the last - even if they are doing employment services - piece at the table, we get whatever falls off the table after the legislated services and after the Community Services staff. What happens with that is the least expensive services are cut first; it is a little silly, but it goes on.
The restructuring of income and employment support. I am running out of time, so I will try to be brief. Goal 1 in the White Paper is to create a fair and equitable system. If one were a little cynical, you could interpret this as saying that we will treat everyone the same, that to be equitable everybody really should work, so we will demand that people work. One of the underlying themes could be that we will keep social assistance low enough - $225 per month for shelter - to push people out to work.
We would like to propose different goals: that we provide standard rates of income support across the province that are adequate to meet the recipients' needs; that we would provide a system of financial supports for additional needs that might be occasioned by child rearing, employment, disability and rehabilitative programming, so people would get basic, adequate assistance so that they are not driven down where they can pull knives on each other; that they would be given assistance to cope with various special needs that they may
have; and that we would provide - in partnership where appropriate - social, educational, parental and employment support services in the various communities of the province. You give the support so that people can move ahead.
Around barriers to work, we feel it is necessary to recognize the additional costs associated with employment, to negotiate with Health the appropriate means of providing for the financial needs caused by disability and to provide employment services in partnership with the individual and the community.
With regard to persons with disabilities, there is some talk of whether or not there should be a separate system altogether for persons with disabilities, and some groups feel strongly in that direction. We feel that we are not sure what the best path is in this regard, but we would like to point out that there are a lot of people with hidden disabilities who have difficulty accessing services, that a lot of people on social assistance are as disadvantaged as a person with a disability.
Those disadvantages can be caused by poor decisions that they made in the past if they have criminal records; it could be just from the effects of living in long-term poverty. With respect to child poverty, we would just like to add that we feel it is important to work with parents who are trapped in the cycle of poverty so that they can help improve life for themselves and for their children.
Goal 7 in the document mentions sustainability. We feel that the sustainability question should be looked at from the point of view of the province as a whole. What we should be doing is providing adequate income support, educational support and employment services to those in need, in order that the quality of life in this province will continue to provide for our overall sustainable economic growth. One of our biggest assets as a province is the quality of life, and unless we keep up the quality of life for those in need, then our overall quality will deteriorate and we will lose our economic advantage.
The last point I would like to make is that there is a real need for community education in terms of we need to see the potential that every Nova Scotia person has, that we need to try to break down the barriers that people have internalized. They don't believe in themselves, and there are communities that don't believe that things can change for them. Our community, in general, needs to be open to the fact that people, if they are treated with respect, may be able to actually do what we used to do in the past and pull ourselves up. We have to give them the bootstraps to do that with. Thanks for your patience. I tried to make it shorter than what I wrote.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you, Frank.
MR. MUIR: One quick one, Frank. Your program is slightly different than perhaps some other work activity programs. It didn't appear that you have one phase of your program for people who are mentally challenged. You don't operate with sort of what I would call a major workshop. Your people are in and out, rather than long-termers?
MR. GIBSON: That is correct. The employment-readiness side of the programming is about 30 weeks, total.
MR. MUIR: When I spoke to you when you first came in about the program in Truro, I thought this isn't really quite different than that one, . . .
MR. GIBSON: About 30 per cent of our folks are graduates of special education classes, so most of them would have been diagnosed with a developmental handicap or a learning disability . . .
MR. MUIR: . . . but they are capable of independence in most cases?
MR. GIBSON: Well, we take a run at it. Sometimes we find that they are not and then we need to find alternate routes for them. Some of our folks may only be able to handle part-time employment. We have one or two that we are still working with who are doing volunteer work; that is basically what they can handle. So it depends on a person's ability. We are driven by the outcome of moving people to employment, but an outcome that gets lost, that is important also, is that improved quality of life for folks. A lot of our folks, if they didn't achieve just improved quality of life, might end up in an institution costing $85,000 a year.
MS. ATWELL: Do you find that many of the people you move through your program, do they end up being able to find decent employment and housing and that sort of thing so that they can start getting out of the cycle?
MR. GIBSON: What has happened to us in the last two or three years is that we have a slightly higher attrition rate so we have a few less people graduating. It is now operating at about 50 per cent but, of the 50 per cent who graduate, about 80 per cent are placed into employment - 80 per cent of those graduating - so it is about a 40 per cent success rate from the start. We could go through 25 people in order to get a start-up group of 12. We have a new group of 12 that starts every five weeks.
We have a constant flow of people coming in and people going out. We are working with about 150 people on any given day, in employment readiness and employment support services. A lot of the folks can't even get to the door. I can remember one person who couldn't take her coat off for two weeks; she was too frightened. Then we will have someone else who maybe has done hard correctional time and that is the reason why that person is there, and then there will be someone else whose only reason for being there is a low level of education and low self-esteem, long-term single parent, and living in poverty. We deal with
a very mixed group. We use the mixed group to encourage respect and integration, and so we help people integrate into the workforce by integrating with each other in their groups.
MS. ATWELL: Do you work very closely with their employers?
MR. GIBSON: Yes.
MS. ATWELL: Are they basically the same employers, or is there a wide range of them?
MR. GIBSON: We have two employment support staff who do job development work. What they do is, we build a relationship and knowledge with the client through the employment readiness, and then they take that knowledge to our program manager of our person and we look for the employer that will fit, we look for the employer that this person has the best chance with. We do a lot of employer contact, but we don't try to find an employer who will hire 30 people. We have a person in mind when we are looking, we are trying to find the right employer to match this person. Then we have another staff who is one of our graduates, who now works for us, who will do job-coaching if necessary to help our person learn the job, adjust to the job and handle it.
MS. ATWELL: Thank you.
MR. PYE: Frank, I am not going to ask you any questions. I think I know a bit about Dartmouth Work Activity. I just wanted to make a statement to the rest of the members of this committee, that I have had the opportunity to make client referrals to you, clients whom I never thought would ever enter the employment field, who are still employed today and quite pleased that in fact they went through the Dartmouth Work Activity Program. That was many years ago when I was a municipal councillor. Also, it is enlightening to go to your graduation ceremonies and to watch what has been achieved by those individuals who have gone through the education and training program in self-esteem.
One thing you did not mention was the number of individuals who, over the years that I have known Dartmouth Work Activity, have not only gone into the employment field but continued on to university and got their education as well. Those individuals, when they entered, had very low self-esteem, one as recently as last June, as a matter in fact. That I truly appreciate. Thank you.
MADAM CHAIR: Are there any other questions or comments? Thank you very much.
Our next presentation is from the Nova Scotia Government Employees Union, David Peters and Ian Johnson.
MR. DAVID PETERS: Thank you, Madam Chair. Ian Johnson is a policy analyst with our union. Madam Chair and members of the committee, I certainly appreciate this opportunity to appear before you this evening on behalf of the members of the Nova Scotia Government Employees Union. In fact, we really appreciate this type of forum and really feel that the members of the Legislature, their information would be much more rounded if there were more of these and perhaps less time actually in the Legislature. We realize everybody is very busy.
It has been my experience, over my years in government, that too often the advice that is given to government ministers is often tainted, if that is the right word. To explain that, I mean it is filtered up through the chain of departments, and governments can only set policy based on their best advice. Often, errors in advice that were given in the past are sustained into the future because senior administrators don't want to admit that what is wrong with the system today is a creature of their creation and advice in the past. That is most unfortunate. There is nothing wrong with admitting, I was wrong, correcting the situation and moving on.
Having said that, your public consultation process on social assistance is very timely, obviously, because the Department of Community Services just completed its consultation process on October 30th about its discussion paper and focus group report. It is also timely because of the increasing frustrations of our members who work in social assistance and it is more generally timely because 1998 is the 50th Anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, including the right to work and to an adequate standard of living, as found in Articles 23 and 25 of that Declaration.
Although we did prepare a written response to the department's discussion paper, we also wanted to appear before this committee for at least three reasons. As I mentioned, we have the privilege of representing staff of the Department of Community Services who are involved in the organization and delivery of social assistance. In particular, we are pleased to represent the 350 women and men who are income assistance and Family Benefits caseworkers. They are the front-line workers who meet and work every day with persons applying for benefits, or who are already in receipt of benefits. They are critical to the operation of the system and, yet, there was almost no mention of them in the department's discussion paper.
We are also interested in being here because we are a member organization of the Community Advocate's Network, which is an alliance of people directly affected by social assistance policy, their organizations, advocates and allies. We endorse the separate oral and written presentations to the Minister of Community Services about the discussion paper and the draft discussion paper of June 26, 1997, to which we contributed. We especially recommend the network's position statement on social assistance reform, which we have enclosed with this submission.
Thirdly, we want to speak to you because, as a public sector union, we are obviously concerned about the future of social programs and public services. We are troubled by the constant attacks on the integrity of these programs and services by national and international corporate interests who want to take over the operation of these programs and services, including social assistance, and by provincial and federal governments seeking to win their favour by cutting funding and engaging in so-called re-engineering and renewal.
In this submission, we want to make a few comments about the consultation process and the overall thrust of the department's initiative and the concerns of our members in social assistance, as well as to offer some recommendations. At this time, we are aware of your recently advertised interest in obtaining comments on education and training, administration of services, gaps in services, coordination of services between provincial departments and the relationship between government and non-government organizations. We hope to touch on at least some of these issues.
Regarding the process, we have shared our frustrations of many others about how long it took for the department's discussion paper to be finally released in July, even though a draft of an earlier version was available at least a year earlier. We are also frustrated with how the focus groups were held in the absence of the discussion paper, which was originally supposed to have been released by at least the end of the summer of 1997 and with how participation in the focus groups was by invitation only.
We are also troubled by the unwillingness of the department to hold public meetings or hearings on the discussion paper. While not everyone feels comfortable participating in such a forum, it is one invaluable way to encourage public input and debate. So we were very pleased to learn of this committee's intent to hold public hearings on social assistance reform.
As proposed by the Community Advocate's Network, we also feel it is unfortunate that the department did not act on the Network's suggestion of setting up a broad-based committee to help plan the consultation process and to encourage public participation, as well as to have input on possible changes. We hope this set of public hearings and the department's consultation on the discussion paper will not be the last opportunity for broad, public input on welfare reform. We have a recommendation to make on this topic later in our submission.
Besides being troubled with the process, we are concerned about the overall thrust and tone underlying the department's initiative and other statements of the government on this topic. While we agree with the minister that, "All Nova Scotians have a stake in making our social assistance system the best it can be", we are worried by the following stated and unstated assumptions that seem to be part of the discussion paper and the government's overall approach:
that a major focus on administrative efficiency and financial sustainability, as well as the need to find the "appropriate balance for today and tomorrow", and to adapt to the "needs of the 21st century"; all of which suggests cost reduction is the overriding goal of this initiative.
the fundamental test being to protect and care for our least fortunate citizens rather than seeing social assistance and income support as an important social program to be accessible and available to all citizens.
reference to creating a fair and equitable system without considering how adequate or really inadequate the present system is in terms of rates of benefits and support services; in other words, a possible move to the lowest common denominator of social assistance rates instead of what is needed to help people achieve a decent standard of living.
talking about the cycle of poverty and a focus on child poverty without recognizing the need for a concerted national and provincial anti-poverty strategy.
an unquestioning acceptance of the so-called realities of the labour market such as fewer full-time jobs, more part-time and contract work and reduced benefits, instead of considering what needs to be done to change the economy to serve people's needs.
a major focus on employability for all recipients that is compulsory and not voluntary; in other words, a major move to workfare and learnforce, implicitly, if not explicitly.
a failure to recognize that the major focus of national social policy initiatives is not a National Children's Agenda or the National Child Benefit, but the undermining of national universal social programs, with enforceable national standards, in favour of weak, provincially controlled and inadequately funded social services, with unenforceable guidelines and objectives, better known as the "social union."
Why is there no reference in the paper to the major funding cutbacks of the Canada Health and Social Transfer, the elimination of the Canada Assistance Plan and national standards, the devastation of unemployment insurance cuts and the downloading and gutting of federal training and employment services to the provinces and territories?
The concerns of social workers. Of particular concern to our members who work in social assistance is the size of their caseloads and the increasing demands of their workload, especially for family benefits workers. Caseloads of 600 to 800 people for family benefits workers and 200 to 250 for income assistance workers are unacceptable for providing effective services to clients. As noted by the Auditor General in his 1995 report, excessive caseloads prevent workers from performing essential duties such as determining client needs
and verifying client information. As a result there are, inevitably, additional costs as well as low morale and burn-out for workers.
This issue was raised in his 1993 report and, yet, no standards for caseloads have been established and caseloads have continued to be excessive. While there is a brief reference to this problem in the paper, it did not seem to be a major area for action. We think it should be in the future of social assistance.
Related to this key concern about caseloads and workloads is how our members see the social assistance restructuring initiative being implemented. In general, many of these workers have informed us, their union, that they have major concerns about the implementation process to date and they have little faith in its integrity. In particular, they are troubled by poor internal communication, very few extra resources to assist them in carrying out new ideas and policies, limited training to help them interpret new policies and procedures, very little assistance to help them understand the best use of new technology, and diminishing training and employment programs and services to assist their clients.
They are very concerned about how the final amalgamation or consolidation of income assistance and family benefits will be achieved by the year 2000. In short, our members are finding their work environment to be very stressful and their caseloads to be very difficult to handle. An essential part of rebuilding the system must be to change the work environment in full consultation with front-line workers and their union.
Recommendations. In response to the types of concerns we have raised in this submission and the types of issues of particular interest to the committee, we would like to propose the following recommendations as needed directions for a better system of social assistance in this province:
Rededication to Fundamental Rights. We believe that rather than a return to viewing social assistance as a charity for the so-called least fortunate of our citizens, the new social assistance system should emphasize, in policy and in legislation, the right of all Nova Scotians to an adequate income and standard of living, the right to dignity and respect, and the right to appeal as stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the 50th Anniversary of which we are celebrating this year. We must seek to de-stigmatize social assistance and, instead, see it as a universal program that is part of our investment in the most important resource in this province, the people.
Development of Anti-Poverty Strategy. Also missing in the discussion paper is the recognition that we need a concerted provincial, as well as national, anti-poverty strategy or set of strategies that set concrete goals and targets in the same way that is done for deficit and debt reduction. We do not think that the central problem is the cycle of poverty but the systemic barriers to full participation by all citizens in the social, economic and cultural life of our communities and the province, such as the lack of meaningful training and employment
incentives for clients. When clients can receive more on assistance than in the workforce, then clearly there is a disincentive for many, if not most, to make any changes in their lives.
This is where coordination of services between provincial departments and agencies is especially important, not just for people on assistance but for most people with low and middle incomes. We need a coordinated approach to full employment and job creation, education and training, housing, health and social services and to ending injustice, harassment and discrimination that includes concrete targets and strategies. An example of how this can be achieved is found in the alternate federal budgets and related alternative provincial budgets developed by broad-based coalitions across the country.
Commitment to Community Advocates Network's Position on Social Assistance Reform. This position statement is really an immediate action plan for improvements to social assistance and related social programs as part of a longer term, anti-poverty strategy. It calls for: full and open consultation on social assistance reform; adequate and secure assistance; human dignity and respect; fair and equal treatment; universal health care; openness; accessibility and justice; education and employment support; full and safe employment; community and family support and partnerships; and universal programs to address family poverty. This statement is enclosed at the end of this submission. It calls out for coordinated action within the government, between levels of government, and between government and non-governmental organizations on education and training, administration of services, and gaps in services.
Joint Technological Change Process. As stated earlier, an essential part of "rebuilding the system" must be to change the work environment in full consultation with front-line workers and this union. In particular, meetings of the joint committee on technological change should be convened to discuss how best to involve the workers in the restructuring initiative and, also, how best to deal with the results of this initiative for workplace restructuring and reorganization. A specific focus should be joint discussions on how to reduce caseloads and workloads as soon as possible in an orderly manner. At least one example, of how well this can work, can be found in how child protection caseloads were recently reduced in British Columbia.
This government has yet to learn that more monies will have to be spent to reduce caseloads. There is clearly a limit to doing more with less, and that limit was reached a long time ago in terms of caseloads and workloads. The answer is not new buzzwords or re-engineering, but in hiring more staff.
Ongoing Broad Public Consultation. It is vital to the integrity of this process and that of the department that it be viewed as a beginning point and not the end of a process. In particular, broad public input might be sought in assessing the overall results of this consultation process and that of the department's, as well as pieces of legislation for social assistance. We also endorse the Network's proposal of a broad-based permanent mechanism,
such as a multi-stakeholder cooperative to advise and help set policy and administrative frameworks for the future of social assistance.
In conclusion, I appreciate this opportunity to provide input to the department and to the committee and I would be pleased to answer your questions and comments. We hope you will be especially receptive to our Joint Tech Change recommendation and ongoing public consultation proposals.
On the tech change, we feel it is critical to involve the front-line workers. Clearly, they are the ones who can see what is wrong with the system. If they are not involved, then some of the corrections that we make will be failures, the changes we make without the involvement of front-line workers. They are a very important piece of the delivery of services and should be seen as very important in the developing of new programs and policies.
That does not happen now. When you hear that the workers have been consulted with, it is hand-picked employees, and that places them in a very difficult situation. They feel intimidated by that type of selection process and they would be more comfortable if the request came through their union and they were seen to be there as a representative of their fellow employees and therefore protected from any reprimands or discrimination because they view things differently than their superiors. We feel that is critical.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you. Questions, comments?
MR. BALSER: Your presentation certainly covered a great deal of ground and through it was the thread of the need to address concerns from the union which you represent and, at the same time, weighing that against the overall need for reform and what is best to enhance the system. If you could make but one recommendation to this committee - because when this is all said and done, we are going to have a number of things to weigh - what would be the one thing that you would say to this committee as the most important area to address? If you could make one recommendation from the material that you presented, what would it be?
MR. PETERS: I have to tell you that is very difficult because there are many important issues and certainly the review and the reform is long overdue. I don't know if I can do that, honestly, I mean . . .
MR. BALSER: That is fair, it was a very difficult question, there is no question about that. Do you see - just to prompt a bit - that ultimately there is a concern about the amount of money presently going to this program? If there were to be additional monies allocated, would the biggest bang for the buck, let us say, would that be in hiring additional staff to address particular concerns or would it be in allocating funds to specific programs?
MR. PETERS: We view it in a little different context than that. If we had full employment we might not have a need for the program, almost in total we wouldn't have a need for the program, so it is not just the matter of throwing more money at it. We believe that you have to develop an overall strategy that will address the causes of people necessarily applying for social assistance to survive.
Part of it is education and training, where people are displaced and their skills prohibit them from re-entering today's workforce because over the last number of years the technology has greatly changed the way work is done in many instances and, unless we re-train people, then employers won't hire them. However, if you have high unemployment then you don't have to re-train people for work that is not even available. So it is a multifaceted approach. I think we have to deal with this problem from a number of aspects.
We could go on all night elaborating on things, but people who are forced onto social assistance, in some cases it reduces their self-esteem, in some cases they find themselves in a trench that is almost impossible to get out of because there are no alternatives. I think as a community and as a society that we all have to work together to find the solutions for those problems. It is not easy, and we recognize that it is not easy for government to come up with policies that cure something overnight. Often we find that the changes that are recommended or adopted fall far short in outlining a program to address the problem; in other words, we make our solutions fit our budget when we should outline what is needed and then do what we can toward achieving those targets. That is our firm belief. Too often the policies fall far short of addressing what the real needs are.
We realize, everybody in the province realizes that we can't fix all of our problems overnight but let's identify where we should be or where we want to go and then work together for solutions as to how we get there.
MR. PYE: Dave, we have been going across the province with respect to welfare reform in Nova Scotia. We are now at our ninth community meeting, I do believe. At many of the meetings we have heard this criticism with regard to caseworkers, with respect to some of them even needing sensitivity training. I know you briefly touched on that with respect to the caseloads that both IAP and caseworkers have. I also know that Deputy Minister Ron L'Esperance indicated that they would be hiring additional people so as to reduce the numbers, however, I guess what I am saying to you is that even despite that, where are your sufficient numbers? You said there were numbers of 200 to 250 with respect to family benefits, 600 to 800, do you derive those numbers from a national figure, a national standard? Where do those numbers come from?
MR. PETERS: Those are the realities of today in Nova Scotia. In doing some research across the country, we find that the average caseload or the optimum caseload for a worker to do and serve clients and meet the department's needs and policies and everything is approximately half of what the current caseloads are.
MR. PYE: Another question. You said about front-line workers having input, do the front-line workers now have input to the department heads to provide input on where they see policy or recommendations, change, or to the regional manager?
MR. PETERS: In some cases. Input is invited, although the point I was trying to make is many employees feel very intimidated if their true feelings and what they want to say are contrary to their superiors' view on the same topic or subject. We have seen it happen in reality - that is not just an abstract comment - we have seen where an employee, internally, disagreed with something that was strongly felt by superiors, and they have found themselves to be - and I don't want to use the wrong terms here, but to get the point across - they feel alienated or outcasts within their department.
Often they tell me that their views aren't sought in the future, because they were found to be very troublesome employees and everything, just because we hold different views. We can hold all kinds of different views and, at the end of the day, as adults, treat each other properly. In some cases, that is not what happens. We are dealing with a system here, a bureaucratic system which often stifles honest input. Many people, being human, know what their superiors' views are and, in order to survive as individuals, will often say what is wanted to be heard rather than what is truly felt inside, because they are truly fearful in some cases.
Whereas if the union was approached, for example, that the department has this committee going that is looking at this, that or the other thing, and we would like the front-line workers input, we would ask you, Mr. or Mrs. Union, to name two employees to sit on this committee. That would seem to be the fair way to do it. What we would do as a union then, we would go to the workers and we would say that we have been invited to participate with two nominees, so you the employees select the two that you want to represent your views and to have input on this particular aspect or whatever problem they are dealing with. Then the employees, and the employer knows, that we selected them, and the employees are free to get involved in open discussion and debate.
MR. PYE: Just two more questions, Madam Chair.
MR. IAN JOHNSON: May I interrupt you for just a second? Just in terms of the importance of this for caseloads and workloads, it isn't just a case, in our view, of additional money; it is how that money is actually allocated and the process by which it is determined where the money should go. That is why we refer to the process in British Columbia and the issue around child protection. It is not the same, but there is a process that we think has to be followed through a joint labour-management process. Not just the deputy minister saying here is additional money, but let's sit down and look at where we need to move, looking at not only the size of the caseload but the nature of the work. Certainly, our members say the demands are increasing. It is not only the numbers, it is the type of cases as well, so there has to be a joint process to review that, through front-line worker participation.
MR. PYE: Just two more questions, Madam Chair. This is to you, Mr. Johnson. Ian, as you know, there has been much talk about the minimum wage. Now you represent caseworkers who deal with what is called the working poor, individuals who need income supplements. I wonder, have you done any research with respect to the kind of impact that would be placed, or the kind of reduction that would follow as a result of an increase in the minimum wage on the number of individuals who are now receiving income supplement through social services?
MR. JOHNSON: I can't say, Madam Chair, we have done that specifically for this province. I mean there is some research to certainly suggest more broadly what the impact can be of an increase, in various jurisdictions, in the minimum wage. I can't say that we, at this point, have done something for Nova Scotia, but we see that, as Dave spoke, in terms of the overall strategy - as an important area, but it certainly is worth looking into for sure.
MR. PYE: Thank you. My final question, and maybe both of you can answer. Both of you are aware that the Community Services budget, as the budget estimates that have recently been passed, is some $550 million. Now there are the kind of messages that we have been receiving from people who are seeking additional programs, program fundings, income top-ups, reasonable shelter allowances, reasonable food allowances and so on. My question is, have you done an analysis with respect to - also the additional funding that would be needed to reduce the caseloads and so on - have you done an analysis as well with respect to the additional amount of money that would be required to go into the Department of Community Services to provide the kinds of programs that many people envisage should be part of the Department of Community Services' offering?
MR. PETERS: I don't think we can quantify that, but if we are not going to do anything else other than support the existing programs, it would be substantial. We believe the fix is in a much broader solution because, unless we address unemployment, we are not going to reduce any caseloads; I mean it just will not happen. Some of these other things, education and training, those are very critical pieces of social welfare reform. We have to recognize what are the causes that have placed people in that position and work at solutions to those, and the department's budget will come down.
MR. JOHNSON: I think you are asking the question backwards. Where do we need to go as we suggested terms of addressing the needs of people in an anti-poverty strategy? As David said, that cuts across all departments, not just the Department of Community Services. So we have to look in that sense at the funding that is needed for the initiatives that are needed over time to address that. That is not just Community Services.
MR. PYE: That's fair.
MR. JOHNSON: The other issue, as I tried to say a little earlier, was in terms of the negotiation. That is where the negotiation, the Joint Tech change process is so important in terms of identifying, from a front-line worker's perspective - not the administration or of senior management - but where money is needed, where waste is occurring now and how things could be better organized.
We can't give you that answer because we have not gone through that process. We hope you will consider it as a major area of recommendation. We put it to the department and we are now putting it to you as well.
MR. PETERS: We believe departments should approach this with a coordinated effort. Sometimes the shuffling of paper between departments to try and get somebody who is on social assistance into a training program is almost self-defeating the way we create this paper jungle. If there was a multi-departmental committee where some of these situations could be addressed and in the same day get moved on, rather than shuffling all of this paper and the time delay and everything, it would certainly improve the service to those clients who are in need at the time.
MR. JOHNSON: And we lack really a provincial strategy and an agency to coordinate training in this province; even the government admits that. So there is an area that has an impact certainly on the caseload and size of the caseload and who is or is not on assistance and what we can do to assist people. We have a major gap right there, and that is only one area.
MR. HYLAND FRASER: I guess my comments are mostly comments and not necessarily a question. I guess in the fabric of our province and its history, even to today, we have a level of unemployment that is unacceptable and it has been that for almost forever. Social assistance and those types of programs are also a fabric of our society. Even as we speak, the unemployment rate and the transfer of monies and that sort of thing from the federal level of government down to us have even put more pressure on in the last 10 years, I expect. My experience over the last 14 years between municipal and provincial governments, I have dealt with people who were on family benefits, people who were on municipal assistance, people who are employees of the government who worked for the provincial government and for municipal and now all under the same program. I guess if I had to make one comment, if we were to put any additional monies in or re-allocation of monies, if I were to spend the next couple of weeks in my constituency office hearing from people, they would overwhelmingly say to put it into the people who are receiving the benefits. That is the number one priority, that is why the whole program is in place. The calls I get, even as late as yesterday, would be people who do not have enough for adequate housing, say in an area like Antigonish, where housing costs are high because of university and shortage of housing and those sorts of things.
I don't disagree with what you are saying and I know you represented the employees. I think the number one priority is still the people out there who feel they do not have enough and, in fact, don't have enough in many cases to survive on for any length of time at all. That is just a comment. I don't have a question.
MR. CHARLES MACDONALD: I guess maybe, David, in a sense what we are talking about and maybe Mr. Balser asked before, but one area that might possibly come out of this or one recommendation you might make, we look at Community Services, we look at Education, Health, Justice and all these departments as being that they should all form part of the solution. It doesn't lie in any one department. If we could pull together and somehow we could come out of all this with at least a pilot project or something, a start or a base to start from, to start to look at the overall interrelationship, would that be of any benefit or help in your mind?
MR. PETERS: I guess I would have to know what the pilot project is to say yes or no to that, but personally, I do view pilot projects as very important. I think in hindsight and I guess I am as good at 20/20 vision in hindsight as anybody else, but I think, and I get this sense from ministers and departmental officials, that if the opportunity were to start all over again, such things as regional health boards, rather than do it all at once, that something such as that might be tried in one area to see what the wrinkles and the kinks in it were, before moving it forward and spreading it across the whole province. I do believe in that, but I guess I am just a little leery to answer yes or no without knowing what the project was.
MR. CHARLES MACDONALD: No, I see the side of social assistance or in that area and to move them through the education side and all the rest, we have to bring them all together. You said it yourself, you need almost a united effort in there or joint effort.
MR. PETERS: It may be that government could find within those departments some money to try a pilot project such as that and to select a number of clients to try to positively move them through that pilot project and see how successful that was.
MR. CHARLES MACDONALD: Or take one area of your coverage and . . .
MR. PETERS: Yes. Every little bit that is an effort to improve is certainly worthy of trying.
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. Muir.
MR. MUIR: David or Ian, front-line workers, what level would you see your front-line workers? Are you just talking about the individual caseworkers or are you talking about all the people in the field offices?
MR. PETERS: Well, certainly the caseworkers. They deal day in and day out with the clients. They know where there are barriers, in the current policies, in delivering these programs. I think their advice and input before changes are made is critical. I would have to refer you back to some of the comments I made right at the opening - and I didn't make those to point a finger at any individual manager or senior official in any department - it is because of the structure which doesn't permit the front-line participation.
For example, if a government minister in any government department says, look, we have got this problem and I would like a report by the end of the month, and your recommendations. So it goes right down the line from the minister to the deputy minister, and the deputy asks the executive director, who asks the director, who asks the regional manager, who may ask a couple of people in that office what their ideas are. So they give a recommendation and that recommendation gets filtered back up through that line, and by the time it gets back to the minister, what was said by the front-line worker may never reach the ears of the minister.
That is why I say this type of forum, I think, is invaluable for our legislators; it clearly is. You always have to be making that judgement yourself, but this is a problem that I have recognized because I have worked in government departments for 34 years and I have seen how they operate. The minister, who may be new to the arena, may not recognize that. Some of our processes are far from being pure. If I created this program, it was created based on my recommendations and, being a human being, sometimes I might find it hard to admit that, boy, did I ever screw up on that one, but that may be the reality, so I keep trying to justify something that is wrong and keep perpetuating it. Then governments change and new people come in and by the time they start to get a good read maybe we, the people, have changed them again and that is the process. I think it is in the politician's best interest to encourage as much open dialogue within a department.
Whether you accept what I say or not is not the important thing; the important thing is that at least you have had the advantage of hearing it and you can weigh what I say because obviously, in my position, I have certain biases and I don't try to hide those - I think we all do, they are inherent within us, even as honest as we try to be - but it is important that you, the legislators, get the best possible advice and the cleanest and purest as you are able to filter out of all of the things that we all have to suggest to you.
MADAM CHAIR: Dave, do you know whether or not in the department's consultation process, which included focus groups, if there were focus groups of workers?
MR. JOHNSON: I believe our workers were invited to be involved, although I don't know the make-up of every group, but particularly here in the metro area there was some effort made. Again, it was, from what we understand, by invitation only. It was not a joint process, as Dave outlined, in terms of can we sit down together with people who are
representing, and chosen by, workers to be here. The focus group process was flawed in our view because it was an invitation-only process, and that included our members.
MADAM CHAIR: The Joint Committee on Technological Change, is that a standing committee by virtue of collective agreements?
MR. PETERS: Collective agreements, yes.
MADAM CHAIR: What is the mechanism for triggering meetings of that committee?
MR. PETERS: Well the thrust of it is that whenever there are going to be policy changes or changes within the workplace which affects the work of the workers, then we are supposed to be invited to discuss these changes so that we, as the representative of the workers, have an opportunity to make suggestions, to make recommendations about ways to do it. Sometimes many ideas are very worthy and good that the departments come up with, but it is not so often what we do, but how we do it.
MADAM CHAIR: When has this committee last met?
MR. PETERS: Well, the committee meets at any time there is an organizational change in any government department, so it has a broad range of responsibilities. It is a forum that would encourage the kind of discussion that we are suggesting, because changes that would necessarily be coming out the other end are going to affect the workplace and how the workers carry out their functions. So it is a good forum as a suggestion of a place to start. It doesn't have to be that, but because that process is already there, we would suggest that that is one avenue to approach it.
MR. JOHNSON: It was involved in the process of bringing in - as several of you suggested - people from the municipal level into the provincial government, although that was kind of a straight transfer of people, but it hasn't been in use for the kind of issues we are raising tonight.
MADAM CHAIR: Okay. Thank you. Are there any other questions or comments?
MR. PETERS: Thank you, Madam Chair and members of the committee. I am very pleased to tell you that some of our members who work for the Department of Community Services are also present here tonight and it is very encouraging to see that.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you very much.
Our next presentation is from Alderney Manor, Helen Fleet. I don't see Helen. Is there anybody present tonight from Alice Housing?
Okay. Mr. Lloyd Gibbs.
Mr. Lloyd Bailey.
MR. LLOYD BAILEY: Good evening. I guess, basically, I just wanted to say that I have been listening for the past 45 minutes, and I am hearing a lot of people speaking about the disabled community or basically just persons, recipients. I don't see what people are willing to do. I hear a lot of talk about we need this, we need these programs, but speaking from a personal level of having to be a recipient at certain points in time because you may not make enough money if you are at a job on a part-time basis, basically, situations do occur that sometimes we can't be as efficient as we want to be by ourselves, so we do try to make up employment, and I am speaking from the point of a person with disabilities.
I don't feel that the system itself is really listening. They want the input from people, but where does it go? How is it being used? Yes, we are doing what you would call a survey, we want input from the recipients, but I find that when that input is given, it is not put to use. We could sit down all day and, like you said earlier, we could talk all night until the cows come home, but if we are not putting the information that we are getting to use, then there is not much point in us sitting down to have discussions.
I have been in situations where I have been involved in the community. I have tried to go to different courses; specifically, there is a course that I am trying to do right at this point in time, but it comes down to transportation. There are certain situations that are being covered. We are saying there is a lack of funds for food, shelter, clothes. Nobody expects to be rich, but if you expect a person to get off the system, I think basically it is not only listening to what the people are saying and taking the information you are given and looking and going over it and passing it through office to office - whether it is the Department of Justice, the Department of Health, the Department of Community Services, or whatever department it may be - I think they should take that information that they are given and use that information.
By using that information, it is not being biased to any persons, whether they have a physical disability or a mental disability. I find people themselves, who are working out of these offices, sometimes they are taking personal interest, but in a bad way towards people. I mean, the persons may be a criminal, okay? So the persons in those offices are looking at those people and saying, hey, I am not helping him, the Hell with him. Excuse my expression.
It could be somebody else, that may be mentally handicapped, and the people who are working with him, out of these offices, are manipulating these people. They are saying, we are helping you, but how are they helping them? By making fun of them, by keeping them back from maybe going out there to do something?
You may all be sitting here wondering how could I speak on this. I am speaking from personal experience. I was talking about myself before. A lot of people thought I was mentally challenged. I look different, so they treated me different, not knowing that I did have an education and was willing to learn even more. We learn every day as we go, but it is what people are willing to give me or others who are on the system. It is like I said, it goes right back to let's not just keep talking, we have to keep together.
To talk is one thing, because we need to communicate, we need to be heard, but we need to put that communication skill to another level. I guess what I want to say is provide these programs, but provide the resources with these programs. On a personal situation, to go back again, being involved in a course, but then you can't get the proper transportation, because maybe a person in a certain department does not want to work with you; they want to work against you, because they may have a personal vendetta.
If a person needs something - who may have a disability also - I will refer to myself, provide it for the person because basically you're saying you want them off the system. You want the system not to have to pay out so much money. You have a special budget, I am not sure what it is, I think you said $50 million or somewhere around there. I think that's what I heard.
What's the sense of having this budget if you can't provide the resources that are necessary? Educating your departments and then when those departments are educated, they're still going right back to square one because they can't get beyond the personal level. I think they have got to start, like you said, treating everybody equally and treating everybody fairly, whether they're recipients or out every day working, basically it is just being people. We all have to learn to be people. I think everybody, just sitting back - nobody wants to be on the system. Myself, I am working hard to be able to get off the system. I have accomplishments that I, myself, have made but at the same time there has been sacrifices that I have to make also by being there.
Times can be hard. Sometimes times can be really depressing. Then you want to talk about the mental aspects when a person is being manipulated and you can feel the manipulation from the people and then they say to you, well, no, we're helping you. At the same time by them helping you, by keeping your information on a desk for two weeks, or three weeks, and not maybe giving you any kind of feedback to problems that you might have, how is this helping? To me, I don't agree with that.
To give people money for the system, okay, we'll say families, for instance. Let's just say the person is disabled and their families may be not able to take care of them, you're saying, well, are you people responsible or maybe it is a person that maybe their daughter has gotten pregnant. Are you responsible? Of course, you're responsible but there are means that you should take that you're not taking. You're saying, yes, you have to be a certain age to
get funds from your services but then, again, you're not providing them with the knowledge in the process that goes with those funds.
It seems like, to me, a person nearly has to kill themselves or be killed to get any kind of help from the system, or you have to be pretty darn aggressive to be there. It is sometimes about persons being weak and being left as prey, I do see that, but I think also, us, as individuals, should be able to relate to people without them having to be maybe upset, frustrated, or whatever goes along with that. I am not saying sit there and hand out to people. Families, disabilities, whatever it might be, give the persons an alternative and an alternative is basically listening and not only listening, direct them to those resources. You people are sitting there with the power. You have the positions to make these programs available for people, do this, but at the same time provide these people with transportation, provide them with the necessary resources that they actually need.
You will find one thing, some people may enjoy sitting back being hand-fed, or whatever you want to say, or the system giving them what they are getting from the system and they don't want to go out there and work. I guess it is taking the strainer and straining these people out. You are always going to have somebody that's not going to want to work. Sometimes for the wages today, yes, we are talking minimum wage, what, $5.25. Who wants to work for $5.25? I, myself, I wouldn't but I guess if I really wanted to change myself, then I would think about that and I would take another step to that. If I am working for $5.25 an hour, will the system kick in and assist me and not take from me? That's the thing about it. I am seeing the system giving but the system has taken it back.
I will go back again to myself, personally. There was a new budget just proposed, there was something for families with children. They're supposed to be getting a certain fund but they ended up taking this fund back from those people. I don't understand this. I am baffled because I just can't understand how you can be giving something. You're saying, well, get off the system, go get a job but then if you work 20 hours a week, that's not sufficient enough for a person to live but then you might get a good job making $13 to $20 bucks an hour, but then you have to be taken off your cheque because you're only allowed to make $200. To me, I don't understand. It don't make much sense.
I guess, to myself, I am saying, don't take it from the people. Yes, okay, you're saying, well, we can make $200; that's it. Provide the persons with the $200, yes, but at the same time, if they're making over that, then just continue to, I guess the word I want to get would be, add it to what they might be getting from the system. So then the person has more of an incentive to work, to get up. I mean if they feel that they're working for themselves, basically that's what they're doing, they're getting up and providing for themselves instead of having to feel that someone is doing it for them, and they would be feeling bad enough in the process. Myself, I am embarrassed to be in the system because sometimes how people look at you. Oh, you're second best kind of thing or maybe, you know, they look at you, well, you're on the system, like you're disabled, and they try to manipulate you.
Let's stop the manipulation. Let's stop saying, well, here, you can't work because you can only make $200. Maybe raise that up, the $200 thing, like maybe raise it a little bit. I am not saying that the persons need more money because sometimes when people have more money, they don't know what to do with it. They get themselves in situations that they might become, with certain addictions or something, you know.
I guess what I am really trying to say out of everything that I have tried to put forth is let's stop talking, I shouldn't say that. Let's not stop talking. Let's talk but let's put some of this talk into action. I mean we can talk all night. It is not getting us nowhere. I just think we should start putting some action in and be honest. Sometimes it is hard to be honest because you have to look somebody in the eye and say, hey, listen, you're not able to do this. But if they're not able to do it, don't just leave it at that point, direct them to the resources where they can learn to do it and you will be far better off and you won't have such a big deficit which you're speaking about. You won't have a lot of people wanting to stay on the system because they will be encouraged and they will have inspiration and want to get out there and work and do something. Maybe they should look at an incentive of raising the wages. We know this is necessary.
Some people who may be here this evening are not being paid enough for what they're doing. Some of them are here that are in jobs they don't want to be in. That's the thing. I mean we've got to take responsibility as ourselves, as individuals also to be put in jobs, or to pick jobs ourselves, what we really want. That's all I have to say. If anybody has any questions, they can ask me. It is no problem.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you, Lloyd. Are there questions, comments?
MR. PYE: Thank you. We try to ask everybody who comes before this committee some questions, Lloyd. You haven't told us but I believe that you may be on CPP, a disability, are you on a disability benefit?
MR. BAILEY: I am afraid not at this point in time. It would be through, what do you call it, like community care for disabled persons.
MR. PYE: Are you in an educational program now?
MR. BAILEY: Actually right at this point in time I am in a program through Henson College. I am trying to do this program but what it comes down to now, it is funding for me to get back and forth, the transportation is a big problem.
MR. PYE: Yes. Transportation is what I was going to ask you. Do you use . . .
MR. BAILEY: I don't use Access-A-Bus. The reason why I don't use Access-A-Bus is because my mobility that I have now, that I have gained, I don't want to lose it because I don't feel like falling off the track but at the same time it is hard again because their system is really too tight. They don't open it up to make it accessible for those that need their transportation because you have to wait on the phone line for half an hour before you even hear anybody say hello to you although I . . .
MR. PYE: So do you use Ability Taxi?
MR. BAILEY: I take a plain old taxi or if I have a friend that can give me a ride, or I drive on my own.
MR PYE: Do you find that you have a lack of funds? I think you told us a lack of funds for food and shelter?
MR. BAILEY: A lack of funds, it comes up. It is like you might have to eat some pasta with nothing on it for a couple of days. I mean this happens. I mean nobody expects to be sitting back eating caviar and drinking champagne but you got to try to come better than this.
MR. PYE: The different courses that you take, are you able to tap into the EAPD, that is the Educational Assistance Program for Disabled Persons?
MR. BAILEY: When I do do this, I get the feedback from myself, and it is, well, gee, I have run into a dead corner or I run into a wall, I can't go any further, so it is like being passed down the line. So, basically, no, I don't feel there are any needs being met there or there are no funds.
There is one program that was available over in Halifax, Teamwork. I talked to them about maybe helping to assist me to fix my vehicle so I could have transportation to go to school, to get myself off the system. They are like, well, we don't do this, but you are willing to put out $500 or $600 we will say, roughly, a month for a person to go to school, but you won't put a couple of bucks into repairs or something. These are issues, too, that I should have discussed, but I didn't.
MR. PYE: You are at Henson College, right? Is there a counsellor at Henson College that you are able to communicate with, who acts as an advocate or taps into programs or fundings for you?
MR. BAILEY: At this point in time I am just really getting familiar with the people, but I know from talking to other educational persons who have dealings with Henson College, they basically tell me there is funding there, but the persons I call - I said one was the Teamwork in Halifax - they tell me otherwise. They tell you different, that no, there is no funding available. To me it is like a circle. You just keep going around and around and you have to kind of compensate yourself by depending on other persons, but you can't always depend on other people because they have jobs they have to go to or they have school they have to go to. So no, I don't think there is a person I have talked to who provides me with that.
MR. PYE: My final question to you. You obviously get coverage for special needs, do you?
MR. BAILEY: Yes, I do get covered for special needs, but it is still not covering the special needs. Now transportation is an issue.
MR. PYE: Thank you, Madam Chair.
MS. ATWELL: Lloyd, since we have been going around the province we have been hearing a lot about the treatment of individuals who are on social assistance and from their caseworkers in terms of being insensitive and not being able to address their problems. Very recently I had an experience with an individual whose power was going to be cut off on Friday and she was also going into the hospital and her caseworker forgot to do the necessary paperwork that would ensure her power would stay on and she had two children. So this woman who called was extremely agitated and we had to calm her down on the phone. When we called the worker, the worker was also extremely agitated because she had such a workload and she was upset because she forgot, so we had to calm her down on the phone, so I think it is a very serious problem in terms of working with caseworkers who are overstressed and overworked and then you are trying to get done what you need to get done.
I guess my question is what type of things do you think you need, other than transportation, because it is clear that you need transportation to help move you along to the next stage so that you can finish your education and maybe find the kind of employment you need, what kind of support systems within the system do you think you need?
MR. BAILEY: Personally, I think I would need transportation, we know that, okay, but also equipment. If there is any equipment that goes along with my education, basically it could be a computer, it could be books possibly; maybe we could get those in a library. I will say I will cover that myself, but there may be something that I can't get at the library, so I guess it comes down to material. So I will just say material for school. A person needs proper clothing. If you are sitting in a program that deals with business, you cannot go in there with a pair of track pants. You possibly can, but we know you are not professional, you cannot go to a job in a pair of track pants. Those people are not going to accept that.
MS. ATWELL: Is your disability - if you don't mind me asking - a permanent disability or can you be rehabilitated?
MR. BAILEY: Basically my disability, I don't like to say it is a permanent disability because I am progressing every day; actually I am getting better. So I would like to say that to me it is temporary but, I guess from another point of view, if a person wants to look from a book point of view, it is probably whatever you said . . .
MS. ATWELL: So, in other words, if you get the kind of support now that you need to move you along, taking away the mental anguish and stress, you would probably heal a lot faster and be able to get off the system?
MR. BAILEY: Exactly. If I have the resources and I have that support behind me, or speaking of other persons, if they have that support behind them, it is going to motivate me more to want to get out of bed in the mornings. If I keep going through the stress and the routine of trying to get transportation set up or trying to make sure that I have sufficient material, I am not going to want to get out of bed, so that is basically where it stands. So, again, I would just like to end by saying, let's talk, let's listen, but let's put some action in it. Thank you.
MR. BALSER: At a number of these presentations, we have had presenters like yourself, and I have used the word cynical in the past, so I will avoid that and I will say that they appear to be a bit sceptical about the process and what the end result will be. I asked the question earlier of one of the other presenters and that is, if you could see one thing - you have spoken repeatedly about the need to have people listen; that is what we are doing, and ultimately there will be some kind of paper generated and, hopefully, some action taken - what would be one thing you would look for and if you saw that thing, whatever it may be, and you could say, they did listen, what I am saying is what would you see and you would be able to say, those people who came . . .
MR. BAILEY: Did listen.
MR. BALSER: . . . they listened and they actually did something, what would be that thing?
MR. BAILEY: What would be that thing? Let's see. I guess the attitude changing with the persons whom I deal with, that the persons are not manipulating, but helpful and that goes under providing transportation, providing material and providing, I guess, a comfortable setting for a person like the persons I am dealing with, providing me with a comfortable setting to actually communicate with them. That is what I would see as an improvement. It would go for my social worker, if it would be a social worker. It would go for my educator, or whomever, it might be the person that I am doing transportation with might see this stuff
being put forth and the person is not trying to hold me back or keep me back. This is when I will say, yes, I see something being done.
If I didn't answer your question, tell me.
MR. BALSER: That is fine. Thank you.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you. Are there any further questions or comments? We have come to the end of our list, however, there may be other people here who are interested, before we adjourn, in coming forward and sharing with us your views or ideas. Yes, Linda Randolf.
MS. LYNN RANDOLF: Most of you know me. There are some around the table who know me and know where I work. I work for the Department of Community Services. I am not here tonight speaking on behalf of the department, and I want that understood right from the hopper, I won't have a job tomorrow. I wasn't even going to attend, Maureen, I was actually going to make a quiet call. Then I was on my way home and I said, I am going to stop in.
I guess tonight what I want to speak about are two things and a totally different view than what I am hearing tonight. One, I want to speak as a social worker. As a social worker, I am hearing more and more government intervention, widening the input of government into the personal lives of individuals, through providing more assistance. I consider what we have today to be a silencing tool for individuals; it is not helping. By government expanding and being expected to expand and take over more of the financial responsibilities for individuals means that these individuals are silenced. They cannot demand that government make other members in our community responsible, such as big business, to provide employment. That is one of the major problems, we do not have employment in Nova Scotia.
When we toss off a figure of $500 million, I believe it was approximately, was it not, for the budget for the Department of Community Services?
MR. PYE: . . . Community Services.
MS. RANDOLF: Exactly. That is a horrendous amount for a population of what, approximately 1 million people perhaps if we are really lucky, in Nova Scotia? That is one budget, one department. There is something wrong. You shouldn't be looking at saying we need more money for this service, we should be saying that we demand that industry be accountable. If they can take our tax dollars, then they can provide employment. It is not a matter of just taking over the financial responsibilities for individuals, that is not what it is about, we are all individuals who are accountable and responsible as adults in this society and we all should want to accept our responsibility for equal inputs into this society, no matter our
ability or disability. This notion of always asking government to do it, get government to do this, they should be expected to do that, no.
When we talk about stakeholders they are not only made up of government and community organizations, it is government, industry, community organizations and everyone in that society, and everybody has an equal responsibility to have input into that. We have this notion that all of a sudden social assistance has become employment. We haven't called it a guaranteed income; I don't know why we don't. If that is what you want to provide in this society, call it a guaranteed income and then you will get rid of the stigmatization of social assistance and then that will make everyone's job easier also.
If you are just going to go in there and provide monies to families that should be provided by employment, well, you are going to end up with even larger budgets because we have more and more people becoming unemployed in this province. We may think it is a nice thing to do, but it is not necessarily because all we are doing is creating dependence and dependence is no good for anybody no matter what that dependence is based upon.
Another thing that I haven't heard very much about - and that is my other hat here tonight - I haven't heard this voice, the other stakeholder in all of this, the taxpayer. Their backs are becoming bowed by being taxed and taxed and taxed to provide services and to provide more and more government. That is not what it is about and, as a taxpayer, I am getting tired, really tired and I am not the only one, and I guess - I am sorry I don't know your name, sir, the first gentleman at the table.
MR. BALSER: Mr. Balser.
MS. RANDOLF: Mr. Balser, you have asked many individuals tonight, if they could do something about it, if they could recommend one thing to this committee, what would that be? I guess for me that would be to take - and I am only going to talk about the Department of Community Services - I guess if I were going to change something and attempt to make it better and truly reform that department, I would take it and I would give it a good shake and I would start from scratch all over again and clean it up, right from scratch.
You don't start sticking a Band-aid here and a Band-aid there; that is not reform. You want to look at reform? Look at New Jersey, they did reform and guess what? The people are happier. The people who are actually dependent upon them for social assistance are happier.
Look at New Jersey. It is rough, but sometimes you have to bite the bullet. If you have to do it in your personal life, you are going to have to do it in public life, too, because ultimately the taxpayers are going to start saying, we don't want to hear it any more. You are going to be accountable. We are taxed for representation and we are going to demand it and we want it. We are becoming very tired now. No more of this, oh well, it is a nice thing to do. Let's be nice, let's give out some more money. No more. Fix it. That is why you are elected.
You fix it and you fix industry, you fix everything else that has been created that is a problem. We do have a problem in this province. Thank you.
MADAM CHAIR: Don't run away. You don't get off that easy.
MR. PYE: First of all, Linda, I believe you are the first social worker or caseworker who has spoken before this committee, (Interruption) as a private citizen, as a concerned citizen. I sense some frustration in your tone with respect to the delivery of service and with respect to those individuals and with respect to the stakeholders, the whole picture. I know that you made reference to New Jersey. I don't know a whole lot about New Jersey, but you did make the quote that it is tough, but it is real. I don't know what you meant by that quote, but I can only guess that by making that quote you meant that there is a greater reliance on self-dependency because government has shifted out of the role of social services. Is that a fair statement?
MS. RANDOLF: Yes, it is. While I recognize that there are some problems there and that they also have a lot larger population than Nova Scotia, it is just located differently when we start talking about the economics and industry. They have it there for their people to go to. I am just saying that New Jersey has implemented a five-year-throughout-your-lifetime plan.
MR. PYE: But I am wondering why you have (Interruption)
MS. RANDOLF: Five years, throughout the lifetime. You can only get it . . .
MR. PAUL MACEWAN: I have read about that. Yes. Is it a Republican Administration there?
MS. RANDOLF: I wouldn't know whose administration is there, but it is not a bad plan. It sounds rather harsh until you actually see when it is put in place and what happens.
MR. PYE: I guess my question is, why have you used a reference like a state in the United States with respect to its policy and way of dealing when we have prime examples of government intervention in European countries, both government, private and corporate intervention, as a matter of fact, all stakeholders actively involved in the delivery of services and programs? Some countries like the Netherlands, for example, where we have seen and there is documented evidence of their approach to a comprehensive social services program in those countries. I wonder why you used that analogy versus the analogy of Europe.
MS. RANDOLF: Okay, I am going to explain to you why. I used the United States analogy or example because it approximates very much what is happening in Nova Scotia. That is a population that is more dependent on social assistance than it is on any other thing. Whether it is a transfer of funding for that or for industry, because they are getting welfare,
too, with their little grants and their little whatevers, whether it is that kind of dependency or not, I used New Jersey because if we are going to talk about welfare reform, that is reform in every sense of the word, a change. If we talk about the Netherlands or Europe and the European experience and I am not necessarily going to talk about the Netherlands, I want to talk about Sweden. We have seen the development of and the fall of Sweden because of a society that was taxing individuals to death with cradle-to-grave social benefits. That is what we have to get away from.
MR. PYE: The final reason why I asked about the United States is because if you bought Time Magazine today, you would have seen on the front page of Time Magazine that in the last six years $125 billion was handed out to corporations which was equivalent to $60 million American taxpaying dollars with respect to not putting any money back into the social programs.
MS. RANDOLF: That is what I am saying, sir. There is a major problem here.
MR. PYE: That is the reason why I asked you why you drew that analogy and I did not get to read the total article, but I was rather puzzled.
MS. RANDOLF: I didn't even know it was there, but there is a major problem.
MR. PYE: Absolutely. Thank you.
MS. ATWELL: Linda, I guess what I'm hearing you saying is in order to make a change that is positive and constructive, you need to tear apart the system and look at something different, that includes more responsible businesses and corporations to help deal with the issue of unemployment. We know in Nova Scotia that businesses are not always open to supporting what happens in our community, there is no stipulation if you give Michelin $80 million, that you are going to say to them, you must hire 10 people who are on social assistance and train them. That doesn't happen.
When I hear you speak, I am hoping that you are talking about those kinds of initiatives so that you move people from the system to actual viable employment. However, there are people who, if they are forced off the system and there is no place for them to go, you are literally killing them. Is that what I am hearing you say?
MS. RANDOLF: Yes. If you are going to change something, and you truly want reform, you have to look at all of those aspects of society and industry is one of them, that makes a society complete. As we all know, industry is now playing the role of, I am going to take it where it is cheaper, and never mind you. We are all becoming enslaved to industry, and to their dictates, because while you haven't seen people here who are just the average taxpayer and you will not hear the poor and maligned caseworkers, because they are afraid for their jobs.
Unemployment is right there, and everybody can be kept on a very tight leash with that threat, so they are not going to come and tell you what is wrong. They are not going to come and say, listen, we have to do something about this, and they are not going to voice their opinion. I do. I am old. I figure, what can you do to me in the next five years. I am old, go for broke.
MR. PYE: I just want to ask one more question with respect to that. If you are implying that individuals who work within their place of employment are somewhat threatened by the fact that they can't come out and speak publicly, what does that say for the individuals who are receiving social assistance, many of whom you don't see here this evening and so on? Are you telling me that that fear is instilled within them, and when they all receive that single sheet of paper in their paycheque that asks them for their input, that they were unaware of what they should do or what they shouldn't do, or how they should respond or how they shouldn't respond, because they were afraid that their cheque would not come next month?
MS. RANDOLF: I said to you, sir, that social assistance silences individuals because they are dependent upon it. They are not going to rock the boat. They are not going to demand from their politicians that there be changes made, that industry be more accountable. They are not going to be out there picketing and saying, we want more input into this society, and we want to reap some of those benefits. Some of those benefits are self-sufficiency, sir. That is what I am saying. I am saying that it silences them.
MR. PYE: Okay. I hear you. So silence is not necessarily golden.
MS. RANDOLF: I am saying (Interruption) you will not rock the boat. You will not ask questions. You will not say a word, for the same reason that I am sitting here tonight, and I am not going to say a word about the Department of Community Services, because I work for them.
MADAM CHAIR: Those were my next questions. Let me ask you. You are not doing income assistance now, are you?
MS. RANDOLF: I am doing family maintenance . . .
MADAM CHAIR: Maintenance and income support.
MS. RANDOLF: . . . and income support.
MADAM CHAIR: Okay. So it has a relationship, but it is not the same. This is a question, well, obviously if you don't want to answer it, I know you, you won't answer it. The question I have is, in income assistance and family benefits work, how much of that work is social work, and how much of that work is documentation and paper and calculations and verification of rent and power and all of those kinds of things, if you get my drift?
The question is, do workers in the system doing this work have an opportunity to do social work, to do assessments and to really help people get access to resources, or is the organization of work and what it is that they do not social work, as somebody who is a social worker?
MS. RANDOLF: What I am going to do is I am going to put on another hat for now, and that way I am not going to be responding as an employee of the Department of Community Services. I am also the Chief shop steward for Local 8 of the NSGEU and I will respond as that person. I would say that while many of the workers - and I will say many - would love to be able to do more of the social work, that is not what that program is made up to be. It is basically verifying information as it comes in and responding to people's needs and doing it in a timely fashion because, obviously, you have caseloads that are horrendous. I would say that that is what they do.
I don't know if that answered your question, Madam Chair. If you want to go into more depth on that, I will respond.
MADAM CHAIR: No, that is fine. Just a general sense of that.
MS. RANDOLF: Now that is just if we are talking about income assistance. We are not talking other programs, because there are other programs where you have to do a lot of other kinds of counselling and referring and assessing, but if we are talking about the straight-up job, they do have to refer to services and they have to do assessments of that person's needs, in a very basic manner in some cases.
MADAM CHAIR: Okay, fair enough. Thanks. Are there any other questions or comments for Ms. Randolf? Are there any other persons who would like to make a presentation.
Mr. Jerry Taylor.
MR. JERRY TAYLOR: Basically, I will be brief, but I am only going on what I heard tonight and I would say that I wasn't on top of the information as I should be. I didn't see the issue of adversity or race in the discussion and not to inject it in a way of negativity, but just to reflect what Lloyd had said. He talked in terms of the behaviour of the workers and the disrespect and things like that that come with dealing with Community Services employees. That, to me, should be a priority of the department, or the people doing this, to talk about how they treat the people who are receiving assistance.
The issue of race comes into it in terms of when we are talking about confidentiality of information and the people in the community who are on assistance, information where a worker will just spread the people's business all over the place. That is one major issue that has been there for a long time and it is still there.
The community capacity building issue. People from the Black community - like I said, I am reluctant to speak on behalf of anybody, I am not elected to do that and there is an esteemed person there to do that - but the point is the people in the community are suffering from a stigma attached to them based on the fact that they are on assistance, not in the same way that others would be, in my opinion.
I guess to sum up, because it is getting late, the point is I don't know how to properly inject or put into this discussion the issue of race, but we can't really go forward properly without discussing that. To me, at some point in time - we had the opportunity, so we didn't take it it seems - that has to be discussed, because the issue of diversity in the workforce for instance, and I will give an example: The people who are working for the Department of Community Services, who are they? Where are they from? Of the population of the workforce, how many people are there of colour and, if they are, are they sensitive to the community? Are they destructive to the community?
I would say of all the departments in my time, being involved in the community, besides HRDC, which we are not discussing today, besides them, but this department has been destructive, in my opinion, to the community, based upon the behaviour of the people they employ.
Just to finish it off, in terms of political impact in our community, the Department of Community Services was funding a political organization in our community and they decided to cut that funding. That, in itself, has a political impact, regardless if negative or positive, in our community. So to me it is important that we look at racism within the Department of Community Services and the way they deal with Black people. I will leave it at that, if I can.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you. Don't run away, we will have some questions I am sure, and comments. Who would like to start?
MR. MUIR: One question or comment, Mr. [Jerry] Taylor. I believe you said that the number one priority in the system, in your opinion, was that the clients must be shown more respect than they often are shown when they enter the office.
MR. JERRY TAYLOR: Yes, in my opinion there is a lot of disrespect and disingenuousness - if that's the word - towards the people from the community, based on their skin colour and where they are from, where they are not treated as a client, they are treated as somebody who is getting something they should not get.
MR. MUIR: Okay, thank you.
MR. PYE: I do apologize, I did step away for a moment. Did I hear you say that the Department of Community Services was sponsoring a political Party or a political group?
MR. JERRY TAYLOR: No, they were the organization funding a provincial Black organization that was set up for the political needs of the Black community.
MR. MACEWAN: Is that BUF?
MR. JERRY TAYLOR: Yes.
MADAM CHAIR: The Black United Front.
MR. PYE: Okay, okay.
MR. JERRY TAYLOR: So for us to say that they don't have a political impact in the Black community would not be true, based upon their facts. Like I said, I could go into many other things but that was just an example of how they have a political impact in our community.
MR. PYE: So they are not funding that now?
MR. JERRY TAYLOR: Oh yes, but I am not sitting here saying get funding for that organization, what I am saying is that the fact that they were funding it shows that that department has a political interest in our community and has shown it and they have worked with our community and, from that point of view to this very day they do. So our community is basically not a hostage of the department - I don't want to make it too harsh - but they have a vested interest in our community, more than they would in others. They absolutely impact our community, based upon decisions made . . .
MR. PYE: Yes, and Jerry, I am going to ask you, can you give me an example of a significant impact that that funding, through BUF, would have on your community?
MR. JERRY TAYLOR: Sure, just in terms of, let's say there are jobs, gone; the consultation efforts that the organization would be doing within the community. Also they would have been a social agency itself that would be stopped, so services to the community would be disrupted based upon that issue alone, if you know what I am saying. They were basically a small kind of social service agency in a way, doing some of the department's work within the Black community, so that would be cut as well. I opened my mouth, of course, but I didn't expect - this is not what I - I was not planning on advocating the Black United Front or anything.
MR. PYE: No, no, I hear you. I just wanted to get a sense, or a feel, of the statement you made in relation to the community and its funding.
MR. JERRY TAYLOR: Just to go back to what Lloyd was saying as well, if you are very aggressive and know what you are doing, you can go down to the department and get your funding, be on assistance individually, but there are people eligible in the community who don't make a lot of noise, they get used. I am involved in a situation now myself, in a family situation where it has been very difficult. That is why I felt I had to say something.
MR. PYE: Okay, thank you.
MS. ATWELL: Jerry, we know this has not been injected into the discussion, by the way, so I am glad that you were able to put it on the table so it becomes part of the official information around some of the difficulties within the African-Nova Scotia community, where we realize in some instances 65 per cent of the population in this area is on social assistance. One could say that is no accident, in one way, but in another we realize that the employment situation has always been really difficult for all communities and when things get bad, in terms of less work, then the numbers in terms of social assistance will rise. So it is a major issue and it does need to be addressed in this discussion, in this context. I guess the question I would have for you is what do you think that, as a community, some of the things that we should be looking at to move our agenda in terms of saying, we no longer want to be known as a community that is supported by Community Services? What are some of the things that we can do as a community to move that issue forward?
MR. JERRY TAYLOR: Well as was stated earlier, all the government departments have the same responsibility to the citizens. Within our community capacity building, which we have to do ourselves, that is our own responsibility, I will go there first, that is what we need to do but as far as the government is concerned, their agenda shouldn't carry the day when they are talking or dealing with us. One of the things I find is that we are generally at a disadvantage dealing with them. They use their advantage to keep their agenda, they win their agenda, basically, so we are usually an afterthought in terms of any government policy or discussion. They will say, what are we going to do about that problem and then what is left? Then we go in there for the crumbs and that is the problem with it.
I would say articulating our concerns in a stronger fashion is the best way. I don't look to the government or government officials to actually be a solution because in the past they have shown that they can't do that. I suppose I should be positive, it is our responsibility to articulate our concerns within our communities and bring them forward and look at our government departments. Let's say there were 50 different types of assistance an individual would be eligible for. They would not get that knowledge from the workers in the department, just talking about that department. To me, we need to bring more people of colour into employment in those places. I will stop there but there are a lot of different things, I haven't thought it out properly, it was a hard question.
MS. ATWELL: Yes, I know. I guess that just brings to mind what Linda was saying about everybody being very silent and therefore not being able to do what needs to be done to move their lives forward.
MR. JERRY TAYLOR: It is a problem.
MR. MACEWAN: Yes, the discussion here tonight has brought up something that this committee has not dealt with at all or even heard from anybody on it so far and this is what happened as a result of the government's withdrawal of financial support for the Black United Front and the creation of a task force afterwards which made recommendations which were filed with the Minister of Community Services approximately a year and one-half ago which have not been acted on in any way. The amount of money that I think it was, off the top of my head it was about $350,000 a year. That was the level of financial support that Community Services was providing to BUF at the time that the support was withdrawn. That money is still sitting in the budget and a task force has recommended ways in which that money can be used to support the Black community in Nova Scotia but no action has been taken.
I think that is something, Madam Chair, that our committee should take a look at before we adjourn. I just wanted to put that on the record here because it jogged my memory when this came up in the discussion. Now if you want to respond, Mr. [Jerry] Taylor, go right ahead but I just wanted to make that intervention because it is something our committee had not yet heard from or discussed and I thought it should be put on the record.
MR. JERRY TAYLOR: I appreciate what you are saying but it is not a secret.
MR. MACEWAN: I know it is not a secret but this committee, up until now, has not discussed it.
MR. JERRY TAYLOR: No, but the point is you were talking about the minister, as I already said, that the Department of Education took control of the community and they did what they had to do and they cut the funding or whatever. The point is that the full community has not been consulted, dealt with, or nothing has been discussed with the full community, that is the issue. Now, whether we want $350,000 from the government is not my decision, it is not actually pennies. Really, I don't think it is really doing a service by saying you are going to put it on the agenda because I brought it up.
MR. MACEWAN: No, it just happened to happen. The last provincial president of that organization was Eddie Paris from 85 Hankard Street in Whitney Pier which is the community that I represent and one of my closest personal friends. He still hasn't been paid his travel expenses and I am trying to collect them for him.
MR. JERRY TAYLOR: Okay, but it makes me nervous when it is on the public record but anyway the point is, the community needs to discuss that. My complaint is that the Department of Community Services has a leadership role in our community based upon the fact that they are funding a political organization that represents our interest. That is a bad thing. That is what I was talking about. It really doesn't come to what I am saying, I guess. I appreciate it.
MADAM CHAIR: Are there any other comments or questions? Thank you. I am really glad you came forward.
MR. JERRY TAYLOR: Thanks for the opportunity.
MADAM CHAIR: Is there anybody else who would like to speak with us this evening before we adjourn? Hearing not, we will be adjourned. Thank you.
[The committee adjourned at 10:11 p.m.]