MADAM CHAIR: We have a quorum. I apologize for being a bit late. We had a pre-hearing meeting of the committee that ran a bit late.
My name is Maureen MacDonald and I am the MLA for Halifax Needham and the Chair of this committee. We are entering into the last two days of public hearings on social assistance reform in Nova Scotia. This is a process that we began early in September. We are an all-Party committee of the House of Assembly and we will have members of the committee introduce themselves in a moment. We started in September in Sydney and we have been to Sydney, Port Hawkesbury, Guysborough, New Glasgow, Kentville, Truro, Yarmouth, Bridgewater and Preston. This is the fourth time, I believe, we have sat in Halifax because the response in the metropolitan area has been, as it has been in many other places, quite significant.
So today we have presentations that go until approximately 3:00 p.m. from a number of private citizens and organizations. We will be breaking and coming back later on, around 6:00 p.m., and going into the evening and, again, we will be here tomorrow, finishing the public hearing process.
I want to draw people's attention - not that I really have to do that - to all of the folks back here from the television networks, CBC, ATV, and whoever else. They have an interest in covering the public hearing process. We certainly are in a process that is very public with members of the media and Hansard recording everything. However, what we have asked of the television crews is that if, at the point of time there are people who come forward to make a presentation, who would prefer not to be televised as they are presenting, in case that sort of throws them off their presentation, if you would like not to be televised as you are presenting, would you indicate that and they won't be filming. They will probably catch you later on to discuss further the points you are making. That way, hopefully, people will feel comfortable. If not, they may film you as you are talking.
So without taking up any more time, we will go around and do introductions.
[The committee members introduced themselves.]
MADAM CHAIR: There will be two more members of the committee joining us and I will have them introduce themselves at the time that they arrive.
Our first presentation this afternoon is from the Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia, Joanne Bertrand.
MS. JOANNE BERTRAND: Thank you. My remarks today will be brief and will focus on the main areas of concern to members of our society that we found in the Discussion Paper and Summary Report on Social Assistance Restructuring in Nova Scotia. I know that the standing committee has heard from family members and consumers from our chapters in Yarmouth, Cape Breton, Kentville and Truro, and they were very pleased with the attentiveness and respect the committee gave to their presentations. Today, I will try to summarize, from a provincial perspective, a couple of things we do not want government to do and why, as well as several things we do want government to do, and why.
First, what we do not want government to do. Schizophrenia is now known to be a medical condition, a disorder of the brain that can be effectively controlled only by using anti-psychotic medication. Drugs are the cornerstone of treatment and it is only with medication that persons with schizophrenia can benefit from other important psychosocial interventions. Medication for schizophrenia is as critical as insulin is for a person with diabetes.
For this reason, we do not want to see Pharmacare benefits taken away from individuals with schizophrenia should they attempt transition into the workforce. The stark reality is that the medications most likely to help equip a person with schizophrenia to re-enter the workforce are the newer, so-called atypical medications which are not available yet in generic form and therefore are prohibitively expensive for anyone on a modest income.
Second, we do not want government to underestimate the family's role in supporting persons with mental disabilities like schizophrenia. Here, we are responding to the section of the document which discusses the question, should families be made more responsible for people on social assistance if they are able? To ask the question should the financial ability of the family unit to provide support for family members be taken into consideration in determining social assistance eligibility suggests the woeful lack of appreciation of the current state of affairs. By far, the majority of families who have relatives with schizophrenia are playing a care-giving role, one that is unpaid, without respite and, often, for many years.
I would like to add at this point - and it is not in my written comments - that my brother developed schizophrenia in the early 1970's, so I have some personal experience with this. That, believe it or not, is almost 30 years ago now. In the 1970's, there was no such thing
as support groups for families or people with mental illness. I know when my brother became ill at the age of 17, for the whole family it was devastatingly traumatic and, in our case, there were six children and I was the oldest, but none of us knew what schizophrenia was. My parents certainly didn't know. As a result, my mother, in particular, felt a lot of the shame and fear and stigma that many families, even today, sadly, still feel when a person in the family is diagnosed with schizophrenia.
My brother actually lived at home with my parents, with my mother in the main care-giving role, although ill, herself, with cancer until the mid 1980's, which was over 15 years. Until they both passed away, he was living at home with them until his young adulthood. So when they were gone, he was then left on his own to try to cope, of course with the help of some brothers and sisters and one brother in particular who still helps him out financially. So I do know, personally, how the family does take on a major care-giving function that often goes unrecognized.
Unlike Alzheimer's disease, where the care-giving role of the family, while stressful, at least tends to be time-limited because the illness strikes late in life and is progressive, families of those with schizophrenia often become primary caregivers in the late teens of the relative, when the illness strikes, to the late 40's or 50's. The emotional and financial toll is considerable, especially for females. We urge caution on the part of government in assessing simply financial ability of the family, families should be able to provide natural supports for their adult children without the expectation that they must also become full-time caregivers. This situation is not only unhealthy for the family, but also prevents the person with schizophrenia or other mental illnesses from pursuing an independent life.
Now to a couple of things that we would really like to see government do. First, having schizophrenia certainly need not determine a future on social assistance. It is absolutely critical that all individuals with mental disabilities be viewed as persons with potential, as persons with skills, talents and abilities that can be developed. In the almost nine years that I have been Executive Director with the Schizophrenia Society, I have certainly had the privilege of meeting very many people with schizophrenia who have exceptional talents and abilities. However, it must also be recognized that due to the nature of the illness, stress can trigger a relapse. It is particularly important that individuals with this condition be well-stabilized on medication and only gradually reintegrated into everyday activities.
As well, persons with schizophrenia struggle with symptoms like apathy and lack of motivation and these are often wrongly assumed by others to be signs of laziness. When one's disability is not visible, compassion is frequently all too rare. Again, another personal situation or memory comes to mind: Neighbours of my parents asking, what is wrong with your son, he doesn't go to work, he doesn't go to school, what is wrong with him? Is he lazy? Again, people find it very hard to understand something that isn't visible.
The Schizophrenia Society would like to see much more individualized assessment and support for persons with this illness. We would also like to see far more outreach to identify people who live marginal lives because they are in shelters or on the streets and untreated, and there are people like that in Halifax. They are living in the homes of elderly parents, with no social contact; they are living in substandard housing; they have co-morbid substance abuse problems.
The kinds of supports necessary for people with mental or physical disabilities who are unlikely to enter the workforce are: outreach, to identify who and where they are; social and recreational programs individualized to overcome isolation and marginalization; adequate food, shelter and medical care; and supports to family who are in the role of caregiver.
We would also like government to better develop and support partnerships with the non-profit sector in Nova Scotia. Here again, we are responding to a particular section of the summary this time, where it was indicated by the department that this was expressed by many non-profit organizations. It is often groups like the Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia who know their constituents the best and therefore can best develop programs tailored to the individualized needs of members.
One example would be our Partnership Program which involves persons with schizophrenia, family members and professionals doing community education. Built into our program is training in public speaking, assistance with transportation and honoraria for consumer educators. This program has been exceptionally well-received by the public and builds the self-esteem of consumers immeasurably. I would just like to say here too that each year the Schizophrenia Society holds an annual provincial conference and, with the help of industry, pharmaceutical companies, we're often able to bring in quite high-profile researchers and psychiatrists to speak to our audience.
In the audience, of course, are family members, professionals and consumers but, invariably - and this is with audiences of over 200 people - we do evaluations after the presentations. The psychiatrists that come in are often given $1,000 or $1,500 honorariums and over the past three years when we have had consumers present on a panel, the evaluations from the audience indicate that the presentations made by consumers were the most worthwhile and they get $20 for their presentation. So it is kind of telling.
We believe government could best make use of available financial resources by identifying community groups who manage their resources responsibly and have the support of the volunteer sector and then support these groups financially with stable funding. Surely this would give government better value for the money invested than by attempting to duplicate efforts already successfully established in the community. I would be happy to answer any questions.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you. Are there questions?
MR. JERRY PYE: Thank you, Madam Chair. To you, Ms. Bertrand, I am not going to tell you that I am familiar with the Schizophrenia Society at all or how many people in Nova Scotia actually suffer from schizophrenia because that would be wrong. My question to you is that, and I do know that there were a couple of presentations prior to this, but I did not get a real picture as to how many citizens of Nova Scotia are, in fact, schizophrenia citizens.
MS. BERTRAND: The incidence around the world is the same. In Nova Scotia we know that 1 in 100 Nova Scotians either have schizophrenia now or will be affected in their lifetime. So that is a lifetime prevalence figure in Nova Scotia.
MR. PYE: So in a population of 1 million people, that is what, 100,000 people?
MS. BERTRAND: That is right, correct.
MR. PYE: It is significant.
MS. BERTRAND: It is very significant.
MR. PYE: Have you done cost analysis with respect to . . .
MR. PAUL MACEWAN: 10,000.
MR. PYE: Excuse me, 10,000. Yes, you are absolutely correct, 10,000. I do apologize. That is a significant cost factor with respect to 10,000. Have you done cost analysis with respect to the programs that you would like to see government introduce?
MS. BERTRAND: I only have figures for the national cost of schizophrenia. They have done a national survey that shows that approximately $2.5 billion in direct and indirect health care resources are spent on people with schizophrenia.
MR. PYE: Thank you, Madam Chair.
MADAM CHAIR: Are there any other questions or comments? I have one thing I would like to ask. About four years ago or five years ago, the Community Services Department of the Province of Nova Scotia under the Family Benefits Act, there were changes with respect to dependant adults living with a family member around the amount of assistance that would be provided for the shelter component of any assistance that individuals were getting, persons with disabilities or single moms living with a family member. I am wondering if that change in regulation had an impact on members of your association and how many people might have been affected by that and what your experience has been. I ask this
question because of the recommendation that you are making on your first page, that you don't want government to underestimate the family's role, et cetera. How did that sort of play itself out, I guess, with your members?
MS. BERTRAND: I can't tell you specifically in relation to that change. I can only tell you that our experience has been with a lot of our long-term members who have had relatives living with them for a long time. The impact has mostly not been financial impact. A lot of the family members who have been committed to have relatives stay at home tend to be in their 70's now. They have sons or daughters who are in their 40's or 50's. So they have more or less accepted that. What I am seeing now is a new generation of people who are being diagnosed where because they are being treated earlier, the encouragement made is to try to normalize the situation as much as possible because we have seen far too many families that have been, really, it is the emotional impact of the abnormal situation where you have a son or a daughter living to their 40's or 50's with you, very dependent, and the parents are constantly wondering what is going to happen when they are gone. So there is never that encouragement to gain some independence.
I am sure there has been an impact but I have even seen it in my brother's case where he lives on his own. He manages his money quite well now but he still requires help of the family and I think it is the help of the family, financially, where he is on his own, that enables him to alleviate some of the stress so he doesn't have a relapse and I see that with a lot of families. It is because they are subsidizing the care right now.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you very much. Our next presentation is from the Metro Resource Centre for Independent Living, Lois Miller.
MS. LOIS MILLER: Thank you, Madam Chair, for having me here this afternoon and my greetings to you and members of the committee. I am Lois Miller, I am the Executive Director of the Metro Resource Centre for Independent Living here in Halifax. We offer support to persons with disabilities to enable them to live as independently as they wish in the community. I must tell you, before I go any further, that I had intended to be here with two other persons, so later on I am going to refer to them and you will have to use a bit of imagination. I am sure you will be able to do that.
During your hearings, I know because I have received some copies of other submissions, you have been hearing from a number of groups that our organization cooperates with and corresponds with on a regular basis. For example, I know you heard from the Canadian Paraplegic Association of Nova Scotia, and that they recommended, for instance, I have a copy of their recommendations to you, that the costs of disability and income support measures be viewed separately and addressed separately. I know that the Paraplegic Association also recommended to you that necessary supports for persons with disabilities be
put in place to assist those persons with disabilities who want to enter the workforce or seek further education.
I know also that you will have heard from a number of organizations, which like ours, are members of the Community Advocates Network. I am familiar with a number of their recommendations. I know, for example, they will have urged your committee to seek full and open consultation on social assistance reform. I want to commend your committee for providing us with that opportunity. I know that other members of the Community Advocates Network will have urged you to recommend adequate and secure assistance for all persons who are in need, and that that assistance include sufficient money for basic shelter, food, housing and telephones, which I want to stress, by the way, is very important. I know also that other member groups in the Community Advocates Network have also asked that you seek universal programs to address family poverty, and that they will have urged that you recommend to the province a reversal of the claw back in the federal child benefit.
Our organization, like some of the others, I think, could have presented you with a list of recommendations. Instead our decision was that I would come with two of our consumers who could tell you in their own words, personally, how their lives have been affected by social assistance. Unfortunately, this morning I found out that both my colleagues were not able to be here. That is what I mean, you are going to have to use your imagination a little bit. The two persons who were going to come with me have sent to me by e-mail and/or dictated by phone their comments, and they have asked me to relay them. I will do my best to do that.
The first person who would have come with me today is unfortunately ill and is simply not able to come out this afternoon. His name is Kevin Penny. Kevin is a young man from the Valley. He is currently a student at Saint Mary's University. Kevin is quadriplegic and he uses a power chair. Kevin sent me his comments via e-mail, and I will just read a few of his remarks. Kevin is also a member of our board of directors, by the way, a very capable young man, and he is doing a Bachelor of Commerce at Saint Mary's University.
Kevin has written here two recommendations which he asked me to relay. The first is that the costs of disability support and income support be viewed separately. This also, I noticed, was a recommendation you would have received from the Canadian Paraplegic Association of Nova Scotia. Kevin writes, some persons with disabilities will need income support to cover their basic needs, but some will not because they can become fully self-supporting through employment or self-employment. Many persons with disabilities will always need assistance to cover the extraordinary costs related to their disabilities. Things like wheelchairs, other technical aids, accessible housing and transportation, attendant care services or assessment of learning disabilities.
Kevin continues: I am seeking - that is, he - a level playing field so that he as a young university student and soon to be a graduate can compete fairly with other young university graduates for entry-level jobs. Not meeting those extraordinary costs of disability support
simply wastes the investment that the province and society has already made in the rehabilitation and education of persons with disabilities. This need was brought home to me very strongly just a week ago, as my organization has been in the pleasant situation of being able to hire a new person for a job.
One of the persons who had applied for the position is a mature worker, a man who uses a power chair, quadriplegic, a person with outstanding qualifications. I was thrilled when I read his résumé and had a chance to speak to him about the position. When we sat down to discuss the position and he went over his basic costs, we figured out that it would cost about $39,000 a year for him to be employed.
Well, I was not offering $39,000 a year, and it really will not be possible for that man to work unless he gets that kind of an income what with the additional costs of attendant needs, the additional costs of his modified van, getting it on the road, the additional cost of the technical aids, the additional office space that he will need to accommodate his chair and his computer system and so on; it was $39,000 just to cover his costs. That story had a happy ending. We couldn't employ him but, in fact, someone else snapped him up because he is a person with outstanding qualifications in his field.
Someone like Kevin, the young man finishing the university course, he is not going to be interviewed next fall for $39,000 a year jobs; he is going to be like other commerce graduates, hoping to get a start at a bank or wherever. He wants the opportunity to be able to seek that position, know that he can do it, but know that his additional disability costs will be covered. The additional attendant care needs, someone to come and be with him at noontime, help him eat and take care of his other needs and so on, the additional costs of his transportation, housing, the computer aids that he may be need, those kinds of costs, he probably won't be able to cover from an entry-level job.
His recommendation is, first of all, that the cost of disability support and income support be viewed separately so that he is able to enter the workforce on a level playing field with other young university graduates. His second recommendation is that the guidelines and criteria for disability support should be clear and consistent so that caseworkers don't have to keep making arbitrary decisions. If Kevin were here, he might even share anecdotes of the difficulty of getting answers from different caseworkers. One tells you one thing, and one another. They are all doing their best, but it is very confusing for a consumer.
Now the second person I had hoped to have with me is a young woman, her name is Nancy Marshall. Nancy also uses a power chair. She has cerebral palsy. Nancy is not able to be with us today because she wasn't able to reschedule her homemaker. This is in fact an excellent example of why our organization has been pushing for the expansion of self-managed attendant services, because Nancy receives homemaking services through Home Care Nova Scotia and she is pretty well tied to their timetable. Unfortunately, if Nancy had been able to make her own choice, she could have chosen to come here with her attendant this
afternoon; unfortunately, instead she had to stay home to have a bath, because that is when the homemaker was able to come. That is the situation that many persons with severe disabilities are in, they actually have to make a choice between coming to a committee hearing or having a bath, and Nancy had to take the latter, unfortunately.
Nancy was able to dictate a number of items to me on the phone and, in particular, she questions the current policy of the Department of Community Services to require persons with disabilities to raise funds for their own technical aids, in her case, a wheelchair. Nancy's wheelchair broke down this summer, and we were able to assist her somewhat. We were able to put her in touch with a volunteer, a retired engineer who repaired the chair enough to get her through the summer and into the fall, but she needs a $10,000 wheelchair and she was told by the Department of Community Services to fund-raise. That simply was impossible. We assisted her during the summer. We were out to about 12 different organizations in the Halifax area, and so far we've received promises of $200 to $300 from several small service clubs, and possibly maybe another $100, but I can't see, however, we will get more than $1,000 to help her towards this chair.
This has a bit of a happy ending. Just before Christmas, Community Services did provide Nancy with a new chair because it was absolutely impossible for this woman to live without it; she simply could not get around. They have told her, however - orally, she doesn't have this in writing - that she will have to raise half the money. Well, we weren't able to help her raise $10,000 and I don't imagine we can help her raise $5,000, but she is certainly trying.
Her caseworker suggested to her that she should pursue corporate fund-raising. Well, I have done corporate fund-raising for organizations and I know how difficult it is. There is no way that a person in Nancy's situation could ever raise $5,000 through corporate fund-raising. Most corporations don't want to give money to individuals directly; they want to give money to an organization so they can get a tax receipt, which is understandable, of course. That simply is not feasible.
Nancy says there simply needs to be some way that persons with disabilities can receive assistance for technical aids and I have, here, her words, "I don't know who will be paying for the balance (the cost of my chair). There is no way for me to raise the money without assistance from other organizations. Likewise, other persons with disabilities would find it nearly impossible to raise the sum required. Technical aids should be handled as we do prescription drugs, as part of a provincial medical insurance plan.".
Both Mr. Penny and Miss Marshall have agreed that I will summarize their comments and I will be able to pass those on to the committee. My regrets from my colleagues who were not able to come. Our recommendations from them, through me, to you are essentially these three: First, that income support and disability support be viewed separately; Second, the guidelines and criteria for supports for persons with disabilities be very clear and consistent
so the consumers know the ground rules; and, Third, that necessary technical aids, especially mobility aids like crutches and wheelchairs, be made available to persons with disabilities.
Thank you very much for your time and for giving me the opportunity to make these comments to you. If I can provide any more information now or later, I would be delighted to do so.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you, Lois. Are there any questions?
MS. YVONNE ATWELL: Thank you. I just had one question. When people come to the centre looking for employment, do you directly help them with employment, or do you send them to other agencies, on how does that work?
MS. MILLER: Both, just to give you a quick answer. We do have, on our staff, an employment counsellor, actually the position is called career development facilitator, and she works on a one-to-one basis with persons with disabilities who are seeking to get into the workforce so, yes, we do deal directly with persons seeking to enter the workforce.
MS. ATWELL: Also with the provincial government there is, I think, an employment equity program which takes in people with disabilities as well. Do you do very much work with, or contact within government? The reason I ask that question is there are a couple of people with disabilities in my constituency who are having a very difficult time finding employment even though they are very capable, and I guess I am just wondering if you work directly with those agencies, particularly the government agencies that are designed to help those people, and if you've had any kind of response?
MS. MILLER: Yes, we do work very directly with them; however, our current caseload we have found tends to be persons with multiple disabilities who face many challenges, often are very far from being work ready, and our employment counsellor right now is working primarily with people who are making just first steps towards employment. So she is doing much more work with helping them identify what their needs and interests are and moving towards employment but, yes, we certainly have had dealings with those organizations.
We work very closely with TEAM Work Cooperative, which is funded by Human Resources Development Canada and has brought together a number of disability groups to provide a concerted effort to help persons with employment but, yes, our employment counsellor is very much in contact with all those organizations, yes.
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. Balser.
MR. GORDON BALSER: In your opening remarks, you spoke of being fairly aware of the committee and what was going on and, in fact, had received copies of previous submissions. I am just curious as to how that happened. Do you network, I guess, with your other counterparts?
MS. MILLER: Very much and that's the only way I would receive them. Your staff doesn't send them out, but a number of other groups that have made presentations and they've sent us, just for our information, copies of their submissions. For instance, the Paraplegic Association did, Community Advocates Network, that sort of thing, but, yes, we get together frequently for meetings because we all really need to work together. None of these non-profit groups wants to work alone. We cooperate very much. We have many networking meetings, formal and informal, yes.
MR. BALSER: Which, I guess, leads to the next question. What do you see coming out of this committee's work at the end of all of this? What would your group and your counterparts, in terms of the dialogues you've had, what do you see happening? I have heard the recommendations that the people here made, so one thing, or what would you like to see? Can we tinker with it or does it require major restructuring?
MS. MILLER: No, I think it requires major restructuring. I have read the government's position paper but, personally, I found it very hard to know what direction the government was going. I couldn't tell. It was raising questions, but not giving me any sense of the government's direction. I would want to see, and I think my organization and others that I have discussions with and meet with frequently, want to see, first of all, some mechanism in place by which groups, individuals, consumers can have input to the process of social assistance reform, and I am not sensing that in the way the current process has been set up.
I know last year there were focus groups held, but my organization wasn't invited to a focus group so we weren't part of that, but it seems to me that there should be some long-term process in place whereby people can have some input, and I think that would be one of the recommendations. It seems to me a second area that is absolutely crucial is that basic income support, the level must be sufficient to enable people to have a decent basic standard of living, and my perception is that, at the moment, it is not.
The consumer group that we see as most in need right now are persons with mental health disabilities frankly, rather than physical disabilities. Right across the hall from where my office is located, the Canadian Mental Health Association is running, essentially, a soup kitchen for persons with mental health problems who simply do not get enough money each month to live. They simply don't have enough to live, so I think that is an area where we simply must address the need and that persons who are in receipt of social assistance, in particular single persons often with disabilities, mental health problems, must be getting enough money to afford a decent standard of living.
MR. PYE: Ms. Miller, it has been a pleasure working with you in the past on a few occasions.
First, I want to make a general comment. I do find it deplorable, as a disabled person sitting on the Standing Committee of Community Services, to recognize that persons with disabilities are expected to go out and fund-raise for technical aids equipment such as wheelchairs, crutches, braces and the like. I find that extraordinarily difficult to come to grips with and I have to tell you that, as a person sitting on this committee, I certainly hope that one of the recommendations that will come forward is, in fact, a recommendation that the government will see within itself or have the wisdom to see within itself the need and the right for all citizens to have mobility within the Province of Nova Scotia and to have the technical aids equipment that is necessary.
I do know that there has been a presentation to the government with respect to a funding program to set up with respect to technical aids equipment . . .
MADAM CHAIR: Excuse me, just one minute Mr. Pye. When somebody has the floor, they have the floor, and I would really appreciate if other members of the committee would respect that, thank you.
MR. PYE: First of all, I want to make no apologies for what I say here. There appears to be some irritation here by a committee member. This is the second time now that this has happened when I have spoken. I don't want to make comment with respect to that Madam Chair, but I just want to be brief in my comment, and I want to say that I recognize that.
My question to you Ms. Miller. Are there provinces in Canada that do provide for, particularly those who are on social assistance, technical aid equipment and the like in order to have the mobility to move freely in this country? Thank you.
MS. MILLER: I am not aware of that. Now that is a really good question Mr. Pye. It is something I could try to find out for you, but I have not done research into that situation. I understand that in several of the other provinces - I was reading this in some information from the Disabled Persons Commission - that there are programs that do offer support for technical aids, but I am sorry, I haven't done that kind of research. I guess we could, but our mandate really is somewhat limited by geography and our own budget. We haven't done that kind of research, but that is something we certainly could look into. It would be very interesting to find out about that.
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. Montgomery.
MR. LAWRENCE MONTGOMERY: I was just wondering if your organization solicits support from corporate sponsorship or at least welcomes corporate sponsorship in terms of aids and helping people with disabilities?
MS. MILLER: Yes. We certainly do, and during the past summer, in fact, I was able to hire a business student from Mount Saint Vincent University as a development officer. We were delighted to have her with us. She was able to pursue foundation and corporate sponsorship. Our mandate is really not providing technical aids for persons with disabilities. We have four core programs: information and referral; peer support; independent living skills; and research and service development. We really are not in the business of providing wheelchairs; however, if you know someone who would like to give us $5,000 that I could direct to a person who needs it for a wheelchair, we are a registered charity. We could receive donations, but that really isn't part of our mandate.
MR. MONTGOMERY: Do you see a need for that sort of support through corporations?
MS. MILLER: Personally, I am not really in favour of moving in that direction. I think that, to me, is making the person with the disability then an advocate who has to go out trying to raise that sort of money on his or her own. I think that is really asking too much for a person in that position. It seems to me that the person who needs the wheelchair should be able to get that wheelchair just as my children can get dental care, or I can get eyeglasses if I needed that. I would not want to suggest that persons with disabilities should have to be going out trying to seek corporate support.
MR. MONTGOMERY: I am not suggesting that; I am suggesting that your organization or other organizations do that.
MS. MILLER: I think some other organizations do already. For instance, I believe the Cerebral Palsy Association, we actually approached them and they were one group that said they could offer some small support. The Abilities Foundation, I believe, receives donations. We approached all those organizations on this particular consumer's behalf. It just was that they either had no money, they simply couldn't help, but there are organizations that do receive donations and then will give that kind of assistance, and a number of service clubs too. We approached a number of service clubs and they often do fund-raising and then help people individually. It is just that they either didn't have any money at this point, or the amount that was needed was so much bigger than they would possibly be able to handle. I think there are groups that do what you are suggesting.
MR. MONTGOMERY: Thank you.
MADAM CHAIR: Are there any further questions? Thank you very much.
MS. MILLER: Thank you very much.
MADAM CHAIR: Our next presentation is from David Howard.
MR. DAVID HOWARD: Good afternoon. Happy New Year. My name is David Howard. I am a singer/songwriter and an artist, and I am here as a Canadian citizen as well as a recipient of our social services system. I am not sure what I am going to say. I have a few notes, but I am basically hoofing it.
I have been self-employed for 10 years now. I have always walked in faith and trust that, if I ever found myself down and out, there was a social service system or a social assistance system here in this country to assist people who need help for whatever reason; for whatever reason.
The reality is far different from the theory. I exist on $162 a month, generously provided to me by our social services system. This money goes to landlords, it goes to electric companies, it goes to grocers, very little of this $162 goes to me. I moved to Halifax eight months ago to expand my horizons. Social services assisted me with $360 a month, and I was lucky I found a 6' by 8' room to rent for $225 a month here in Halifax. Living with 10 room-mates was interesting to say the least. Alcoholism, drug abuse rampant. Nothing I wasn't accustomed to, but still it wore on me. I found a person with whom I believed I could share accommodation and enhance our lives a little bit. We were moving to a rough end of town, it was better to travel in groups.
Anyway, I was punished for this choice. I made this choice thinking that I would improve the quality of my life a little bit, and I was punished. Social services cut off my $225 a month shelter. It is interesting to say the least. The stress this has caused me is amazing, it has also affected my room-mate. Here we were trying to cut corners and, all of a sudden, there are no corners to cut. It is like, there are bills to be paid and no money there. It is a hardship. Poverty is like a disease that affects everyone. If there is one poor person in this town, you are going to run into him on the streets, in the shelters, somewhere. It affects everyone to some degree.
I find it difficult to be an asset to my community when I am feeling like such a liability, such a detriment. I would like to talk about feelings. Do you know what it feels like to have it insinuated that you are denying hungry children food because you are a single, white employable male who happens to need to use our food bank services?
Do you know what it feels like to be invited to a home to celebrate Christmas and not have the money to buy a Christmas card for your hosts? Do you know how it feels to go deeper into debt every day that you exist, a spiralling, downward hole, where you're ashamed to go out? You don't have money to give to your community. You don't have the money for a coffee. It is not comfortable going to your friends' or business associates' places because basically you cannot afford to support them in their endeavours.
Do you know how it feels to choose to be a loser because to be a winner creates losers and I, personally, don't want to see any more losers created? Do you know how it feels to hurt your friends and family, to be so angry at yourself that it is all you can express? Do you know how it feels to be an alcoholic who spent 10 years sober in the hopes of bettering himself, thereby bettering his community, and to give it all up as hopeless and to celebrate with a good drunk?
Do you know what it is like to desire win-win situations in a win-lose paradigm where the winners have an opinion and, even if the losers have an opinion, it is not valid because they're losers? Does anyone here know what it is like to take a shower and not have clean clothes to get into? I am really finding it amazing. My country has declared war on poverty. What a violent, terrible thing to do. I want to surrender. I don't know who to surrender to. I don't need the added stress of having a war declared on me because I am poor.
I received a cheque in the mail yesterday from our Department of Community Services. It was like, bonus. I will open it here, $162 a month. I also received a phone call stating that there was a mistake made and I have to return this cheque. I don't know what you guys do with $162. I know what I would do with it, but it doesn't exist. It was given to me. It has my name on it and I have to give it back. That's fine. I didn't say how I was going to give it back.
I don't know what to recommend here besides respect and dignity. We can create win-win situations. Our ability to create win-win is the exact same as our ability to create win-lose. I would just like to take everyone back for a moment to when we were all kids on the ice; we were all children playing hockey. Everybody played who wanted to play. If there were only five of us, one person played goalie for both teams of two. If there were 30 of us, we moved the skidoo boots apart to make a bigger rink and we all played and everybody was a winner. Everybody was Guy Lafleur and, if you didn't have skates, you were a goaltender or you were a referee. We all went to the play-offs even if it was just to the next pond.
I know we can do it and, like I said, it scares me that my own country would declare war on any aspect of itself. Poverty is here to be accepted, not to be denied or battled against. We all have the ability to be poor; we all have the ability to be rich. I don't want to lay any blame here; I am here of my own free will. I represent no one other than myself; I cannot represent anyone other than myself. Only I know what is good for me. I would like the committee to think about win-win.
There was also something a few years ago that was brought up, a guaranteed income. What a wonderful concept in this rich country that we live in; I mean phenomenally rich. We work the factories. We drive the trucks. We buy the produce. Without us, old K.C. is, you know, on his own. We are the power. We are the richest of this country and we need not be separating ourselves with us against them. We are all in this together.
That's all I have to say. I thank you.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you, David. Are there questions or comments for David? Thank you very much.
MR. HOWARD: Happy New Year everyone.
MADAM CHAIR: The same to you.
Our next presenter is Allan Smith.
MR. ALLAN SMITH: Good afternoon. I would preface my remarks by saying without prejudice against you people who are here at the panel or against the people that I am speaking about, I am not going to try to be politically correct but I do have some comments to make that I believe merit some consideration.
I am a landlord in the poorest district of Dartmouth and I deal essentially with welfare recipients. My business is almost entirely based on receiving rents paid by those recipients. Some of the things that I see, I see first-hand, and I doubt very seriously whether you people can appreciate what absolute poverty means; I doubt very seriously whether you can appreciate what it takes to remedy some of the situations.
My first comment would be that for these people that I'm dealing with health care and dental care is very important. Dental care is probably one of the areas which is least considered by this group of people and it is probably one of the areas which is most important. If you don't have a good mental image of yourself and you don't have a good presentation, it is very difficult to go out and find employment. So, with cavities and green teeth, the likelihood of getting employment is next to nil.
That is one situation that has to be addressed and that can only be addressed by the government being willing to allocate funds to dental health care for social services recipients. If you don't do it, then you're condemning this group of people to a situation which is lifelong; it has lifelong repercussions. Those people who don't go to dentists for dental care, don't take their kids. Now we have a level of insurance or dental health care for kids in this province, but it is not being accessed by these people because, in the first place, they don't go themselves. So consider that.
The second thing is - and I made a submission to you and you will have a chance to read it, or you have had a chance to read it already - that when we have a situation of someone trying to get off welfare, going into an employment situation, you penalize them by restricting their social services income. I don't know what the answer here is, but there must be, or there ought to be, some system whereby a person who wants to go and get a job can without the secondary consideration of, if I don't become successful or if I don't have a pay
cheque in two weeks or if I don't have a pay cheque in three weeks or if I have to wait a month, what am I going to do with my social services income which has been cut off as soon as I report that I am actually going looking for a job or getting a job. You people have to look at that.
I don't think that it is right that a person can accept an employment situation and guess whether they are going to be successful at it or not, or whether they can learn the skills required to do the job, and have their social services benefits cut off, and lose their job because they are unable to do it, or for whatever reason, and then have to go back and try to get their social services payments reinstated. In my eyes, the current system has to be looked at. You want to develop some kind of a system to accommodate that.
On my side of it, the current system, the current laws that you have, the current Statutes in the Province of Nova Scotia require that landlords who are abused by tenants skipping their rent or refusing to pay their rent have a recourse through the Residential Tenancies Act. That is a bunch of crap. The fact is that I have recourse through the Residential Tenancies Act, but these people don't have any money. I spend good money to go through the process, to go through the hearings, and I get an award that a tenant has skipped and they owe me three months' rent or six months' rent or even a year's rent if that is what their lease is, and I can file a judgement, but I am no further ahead. They don't have the money and Community Services is not going to give them the money.
The problem rests with this. Community Services dictates that they bring a lease down to the office which says who their landlord is and where their money should be paid but, when they get the cheque, they don't have to give it to that landlord. They can give it to whoever they want, and so they leave my building and go next door, and they give the landlord that money. Well, that is my money. My name is on the file at Community Services. That is my money; they stole it. I can't charge them with theft. It is contrary to the Statutes of the Province of Nova Scotia that they use that money for a purpose other than paying my rent, yet I can't charge them with theft. That is not right. All that does is that encourages those people who want to move, for whatever the reason is, to move, to up and leave, and that is not right.
We deserve some protection. You have heard it all before, but we deserve some protection. I deserve some protection in my business. If the government is going to give people money for rent, then that money ought to be paid for rent and it ought to be paid to the landlord of record and, if it is not being paid to the landlord of record, that is a fraud. Clear and simple, and that is the way it ought to be. If you people put that in place, then we are going to have a lot less people skipping around and jumping from here to there and everywhere. I want that fixed. I am not asking for that to be fixed, I want that fixed.
There is no penalty against these people. There is no penalty against them if they take my money and go somewhere else with it. There is no penalty if they take my money and go down to the video lottery terminal, and there is no penalty if they take my money and they go down to the bingo. The penalty is mine, because I don't have the money to put in the bank to cover my cable bills and my phone bills and my snowplowing and my mortgage payments. Your answer to that is, if you are going to be in the business, then you ought to make contingencies for that. Well that is a bunch of crap, too. If I am going to be in the business, I ought to have some assurance that I can be in business, and that people aren't going to be able take their money and do whatever it is that they like with it.
It ought to go as far as designating property or areas of the city or the entire welfare recipient population having their rents paid to the landlords, and if you think that is funny, I am serious about it. If you looked at the history of North Dartmouth and the number of landlords who have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars over the last 10 years, you would say there is something wrong. I am telling you there is something wrong. I am sure, Mr. Pye, you know there is something wrong. As far as the rest of you people are concerned, I don't know who you are and where you are from - Mr. MacEwan is from Cape Breton - I am sure that you don't have a handle on these people taking money and spending it for reasons other than rent.
The previous speaker spoke about a penalty, and Community Services seems to penalize people for trying to achieve something. I happen to provide very good housing. I happen to provide housing which is well above the standard of North Dartmouth, and I happen to do it at a rate which is below the street average or the zone average or the city average. I am probably one of the only landlords in Dartmouth who has a waiting list. I have a situation where a person can move from one apartment to my apartment at a lesser rent, in a better situation where I pay, in every instance, the electric bill, I pay the phone bill, and I pay the cable bill, and I pay the heat.
Someone moving into that situation is certainly moving into a better situation. If, for instance, they were paying $550 in one location and they moved to my location and they pay $500, the first thing Community Services does is take that $50 away from them. I think that is outrageous. I think if you are going to establish a housing allowance for a two-bedroom apartment and it is going to be $500, or it is going to be $550 or it is going to be $575 or whatever the number is going to be, then that is what it ought to be. If someone in that situation can find a better accommodation at a lower rate, they ought not to be penalized for moving. The same applies for a one-bedroom apartment or a rooming house or whatever it is, but you penalize them for some reason.
I get a situation where a person is moving into my building and they have a one-bedroom apartment for $400 a month and they have the heat paid for, the cable paid for, the phone paid for and the electric bill paid for, and they say to me, can you put $475 on my lease,
because they know that Community Services is going to take their money from them. That doesn't make any sense to me.
Then there are the abuses in the system which are there and which are reported and which are virtually ignored. It fries me that a woman on welfare with a child or two is getting the provincial allowance for housing and living in a two-bedroom apartment, and her boyfriend is living there, and he has an address somewhere else, and he is applying for social assistance and he is getting a cheque, paying somebody $50 a month for the use of the address. That gets reported and nobody wants to do anything about it, because someone says, well, do you have proof of it, do you really have proof that he lives there? Well, I am the landlord and I have been the landlord for a year, and I have seen him come and go every day for a year, and I know he lives here, but that is not good enough.
Well, you people have got to correct the system somehow. Your inspectors are overworked, or your Community Services workers are overworked and they don't want to look at this side of it. Well, if that is the case, then you are going to have the abuse and the few dollars that are available for Community Services are going to be squandered or used by some people inappropriately, and that will continue.
There is another thing that I put in my submission that I want you to look at - and I am not sure of the answer here either - it has to do with income. I have looked at the form that the people are required to file in order to get a cheque and it has all kinds of comments about income: Where did you get it, if it is from unemployment, or pension, or wherever?
It seems to me that somewhere along the line somebody has missed the boat. These people are poor. They're poor; they don't have enough to get along. I renovated a building on Pinecrest, in Dartmouth, this summer. I needed a painter. So there was this fellow on the street, a welfare recipient. I said that I would give him a couple of weeks painting, a couple of weeks income, and I am going to pay him $6 an hour and he's going to work 40 hours. He is going to make $240 and he is going to make $480 for the two week period. He worked two days and someone rats on him down at the Community Services Department and they cut off his cheque. So he comes to me and he says that he can't paint for me any more, his cheque has been cut off. He spends the next two days going down and explaining to them that he wasn't a painter, that he wasn't even working in the building and that he needs his cheque.
Well, of course, he needs his cheque, and the fact that he made two weeks' income shouldn't really have any bearing on it. That man is going to spend that $240 for necessities. He's not going to put it in the bank and he's not going to buy U.S. bonds, he is going to spend it on necessities. He is going to pay his late cable bill or he's going to pay his late Nova Scotia Power bill, or he is simply going to spend it on groceries, but it doesn't seem to me to be a big deal to let this fellow earn a couple weeks' work. So the consequence was he doesn't get any income from me, he gets cut off from welfare and he has to go back and spend two days friggin' around trying to get that thing straightened out. That stuff happens all the time.
So I think, in my estimation, it doesn't hurt, it wouldn't hurt and it can't hurt to allow these people to make some money if it is short term. I appreciate the ramifications of a person holding a full-time job, making an income, and claiming for Community Services. I fully understand but, on the other side of it, I understand that these people spend all of their money and, if they make a few bucks, they ought to be allowed to keep it.
I am going to comment for the Liberal Government - and you people, as a panel, are comprised of the members of the other government Parties as well and you really have no contribution - if they want to do something for the Province of Nova Scotia and they want to do something for the poor people of Nova Scotia, then they ought to introduce a five-year plan to get rid of the provincial portion of the HST. The sales tax is the worst kind of tax for the poor. Notwithstanding that the government gives back a credit for HST, the fact of the matter is that the people who are poor don't have any discretionary income and to put a 15 per cent tax on top of everything they spend is ridiculous.
The government has the ability in Nova Scotia now to get rid of the 9 per cent provincial sales tax. Over the next five years, over the next 10 years, the revenues which are going to come from offshore are going to be substantial. They did it in Alberta, they refused to put in a provincial tax in Alberta, and we can have the same situation here. There is no reason why we can't. If the government would commit itself to a program of reducing the tax 1 per cent a year, or 2 per cent a year over the next five years or the next 10 years, and do away with that tax, that would be equivalent to giving everybody in Nova Scotia an increase, a raise, and it would be equivalent to giving every poor person in Nova Scotia an increase, an increase which they dearly need.
That's a challenge to the Nova Scotia Government that, surely, today, they can find a way to do it. I understand the deficits and all the rest of it, but I also see all the rest that goes on with the way government is run and I know that they can find the money. I know that they can do it.
That ends my submission to you today. Thank you very much.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you. Questions.
MR. PYE: Briefly, Madam Chair, I want to thank Mr. [Allan] Smith for his presentation personally, simply because he did make note in his presentation that I do represent the area of Dartmouth North. You know, it is not an honour to represent the poorest area of Dartmouth at all and I want you to know that it is extremely difficult to address the social economic problems of that particular area. I do want to say that in our conversations, we have had many of them with respect to issues re social services. I want you to know that there is, hopefully - and I want to make this comment - the Department of Community Services is sincere in bringing about some changes. In a most recent conversation, some in that department have said that once they merge the two programs together, the IAP
along with Family Benefits, that, hopefully, they will be able to overcome some of the very problems that you have brought forward to us today. My hope is that that will happen as well. Thank you very much.
MR. ALLAN SMITH: I would make one comment. I refuse to be an extension of the provincial government's Community Services Department. I, as a landlord, will not - and I assure you I will not - become an extension of the Community Services Department. I will not allow social services recipients to live in my buildings without paying rent. I will not tolerate the government telling me that I have to give them a month's notice and two weeks' notice after that, that they can live there free. Until Sobey's is told to give free groceries, Nova Scotia Power is told to give free power, MT&T is told to give free telephone service, and Access Cable is told to give free cable service, I will not give free rent service. I will not do it and there is nothing that government can do to make me do that.
MADAM CHAIR: Are there any further questions or comments? Thank you very much.
Our next presentation is from the Nova Scotia Association of Social Workers, Harold Beals.
MR. HAROLD BEALS: My name is Harold Beals. I am with the Nova Scotia Association of Social Workers. I would like to first compliment this committee on holding public hearings on the restructuring of social assistance in our province. I am expecting another member of my committee to attend, but she is not here yet. We're a little bit early I understand. If you like, I will proceed without her or wait.
MADAM CHAIR: You can proceed.
MR. BEALS: First of all, I would just like to say that the Association of Social Workers, which many of you may not be familiar with, is an organization that regulates the practice of social work in the province. It consists of about slightly over 1,200 members at the moment. People who call themselves social workers or practice social work must be registered with our association. So it is actually a self-regulating body which takes its jurisdiction under the Social Workers Act, which is legislation of the province.
I would like to say that the province, to begin reviewing the restructuring of the welfare system in our province is a gigantic task and one that is not simple and one that has complicated implications for people who rely on social assistance and for many other people as well. The province is influenced by other factors that are beyond its control, and I think that has to be recognized. When you talk about a social economic situation, you have to also consider the national network of economic factors as well as global. All we're saying is that the Nova Scotia Government should do what it can within its own jurisdiction, not to leave
it there but to lobby both the national government as well to do what it can to improve the social economic conditions of our country.
You already have copies, I notice, of our presentation, and this I should mention was done in conjunction with the Department of Community Services' review of their department and policies, which has been sent to them as well. I don't see much difference in our presentation to your committee from theirs, but I have emphasized certain things that I would like to mention to your committee.
First of all, income assistance should be at a rate above the poverty line in Nova Scotia. It is kind of ridiculous for us to go on thinking that we are going to have welfare payments or welfare rates which are below poverty. That is a system that will obviously keep people in poverty forever, and it has no way of making sure that people can rise out of poverty. I know it is expensive. I know that the provincial government would say that it is impossible to do financially, there would be untold pressures put on the Treasury, but when you are talking about people and you are talking about what people need in order to survive, you can't go around advertising rates that are below poverty.
The poverty rates, as you probably know by now, there are many different views of what the poverty line should be and what the poverty rates are, and they don't vary much. Various groups have different ways of arriving at a level of poverty. What most people seem to accept are the Statistics Canada low income cut-offs, which the Canadian Council on Social Development have pretty well accepted as poverty lines, so we are also doing that.
When you talk about poverty rates, you have to think of what the poverty rate is in Nova Scotia. We have calculated and reviewed information that tells us that Nova Scotia has a poverty rate of about 17 per cent, which is the fourth highest in the country. The children of single parents have a poverty rate of 68 per cent, roughly. Single mothers on welfare with one child typically receive an income which is 35 per cent below the poverty line, and we are not talking about the poverty line, we are talking about 35 per cent below the poverty line. When you talk about poverty, you can't ignore what is happening to families who are on welfare and, in particular, you can't ignore the single parents who are by themselves, looking after children, and are living in the greatest depth of poverty in our province.
This also carries on to our observation that the House of Commons, an all-Party committee, indicated that they wanted to eradicate poverty by the year 2000 - this was back in 1989 - 10 years later, a whole decade later, we are told that there are 500,000 more children living in poverty in Canada, which looks like we are going backwards instead of forwards. We only have one year left, but yet we are noting that more children than ever are living in poverty in our country and this, of course, filters down to provinces as well.
I would like to point out that one step in the right direction that we consider important is the one-tier system, that the province has recently taken over the administration of social assistance and, although it is not a one-tier system yet and there are still two different rates - there is a provincial rate, as you know, and there is a social assistance rate or a short-term rate. I understand that the intention is to try and move towards a true one-tier system in our province. Of course, this is a step in the right direction. What has happened at the moment is the province has taken over the administration of social assistance and has equalized, to a certain extent, the rates that have been different in the various municipalities in our province. That is a step in the right direction and we certainly want to recognize that and we want to make sure that that does not remain stagnant, but that we move towards a true one-tier system.
If the province is going in that direction, we feel that there should be periodic reports of the progress made towards the goal of a one-tier system and uniform rates. I know this is difficult, because people will look at reports in their own light and make criticisms but I think the public needs to know what the progress is that is being made.
The other recommendation we make, you will notice in our paper, is for an advisory committee to be set up to advise the government on the implementation of the one-tier system. The advisory committee, we feel, should be composed of income assistance recipients, social assistance workers and departmental officials.
The next point that I would like to make is that the people of Nova Scotia deserve to have opportunities for public consultation with the government. We feel this has not been adequate from the point of view of what the Department of Community Services has done. They have looked for special interest groups and handpicked people to come before them. Also, produce a discussion paper to which the general public can respond, but it is not the same as this particular committee making itself available to the general public. The people who are interested in social welfare are not just the people receiving assistance; obviously they are the people who are paying for it, the taxpayers of this province, and the general public needs an opportunity to say what they think.
We believe this kind of committee hearing is a step in the right direction and obviously meets the need for the general public to make itself available. I think a committee like this needs more than just special interest groups like mine coming before it, they need the opportunity to hear people from the general public who have ideas and opinions about social welfare policy.
The other form of consultation with the public can be what was known as, in the years past, the Nova Scotia Social Services Council. I understand it is disbanded at the moment, it does not function. We are recommending that perhaps that social services council should be resurrected, rehabilitated, but revised to make it more representative of the people of Nova Scotia. As I mentioned before, an advisory committee, I think, if set up to advise the
Department of Community Services regarding the one-tier system, that would be another opportunity for the public to have input, to give advice to the government on how it is being implemented.
The next two points I would like to make are regarding the National Child Benefit Program. The association goes on record as supporting in principal the National Child Benefit Program which was implemented in July, 1998, the new federal-provincial initiative to address child poverty. You have probably heard lots about that. What we don't approve of though is the clawback for the reinvestment fund that the provincial governments are establishing. We believe that there should be new money for reinvestment in children and families.
The National Child Benefit Program is an opportunity we see for the federal government to become directly involved in making sure that children in our country have an opportunity to be raised out of poverty. I guess the more that the federal government can be involved in making direct payments to families to do that, the better. They are based on an income-tested process rather than a needs process, which is less intrusive and much simpler to administer as well, but the clawback from social assistance families receiving the National Child Benefit is not acceptable to us, and we believe that new money should be available for those services that were earmarked for the reinvestment.
We would propose what we would call a family reinvestment fund to provide those services and provide new money for those new services such as: enriched income support programs for special circumstances or family emergencies; child support supplements for children with special needs; benefits for families on social assistance extended to working poor families, such as drugs, dental services and eyeglasses; transition benefits such as child care, transportation and clothing costs that assist a movement to the workforce or further education and training; and child nutrition and teen parent programs.
As well, parenting programs which have been shown, if you have heard lately, several programs throughout the country are receiving recognition for their effectiveness which include early intervention into high risk families to prevent abuse of pre-school children; literacy programs for parents to improve their reading and writing skills; scholarships to help parents and children complete post-secondary education; provision of subsidized housing; access to the services of pediatricians, public health, psychiatrists, psychologists and career counsellors; and early social preparation of pre-school children from low income families to compete with other children in the public school system. Those are just some of the programs that have been in existence, some for several years, which have proven themselves to be effective in helping children become successful adults.
A program that we have noted lately, which I think should be noted, is the federal government's announcement in June 1998, last year, to make available $32 million a year for community-based prevention programs. These are available to community groups that can
develop some of the programs I just mentioned above, and which would be needed by any community-based organization in order to prepare for those programs.
The next point I would like to make centres around services to youth. These are children, I guess, between 16 and 19. This group seems to have been neglected over the last few years by the provincial government and they need special attention in areas of education, training, employment, emotional and mental health services, and adequate housing. We believe that parents do have a responsibility for their children and that attempts should be made for parents to be encouraged to work and help their children whenever they can, financially as well as emotionally, but there are a lot of children that cannot stay in their own homes for one reason or another, as you probably heard, reasons of physical or sexual abuse, conflicts with parents, which makes it completely impossible for a 16 or 19 year old to live there. I am not saying that one or the other is at fault, I am simply saying that it is not a healthy place for children, for those two groups to be together.
We feel that the child welfare system has let this group down. As you have been told probably, in the Children and Family Services Act there is a section, Section 19, which allows agencies to enter into agreements with youth to provide services and placement for them or as the question comes, do we have the resources to provide placements and services for that group? I think the answer has been no quite frequently over the last few years. That Act actually came into force in 1990, so we're looking at almost another decade of that particular legislation. Section 19 has really never been implemented, although it is there, and what it needs is the resources to implement it. I think it has been used sporadically, but it has not been used in an organized, routine way like the other sections of the Act have been.
This is pointed out by the fact that the youth in that age group, 16 to 19, if they're homeless and if they're not able to live at home, really only have two places to go. Well, they might have three, but they have three government places to go. One is the child welfare system. If they are lucky enough or unlucky enough to be included in the child welfare system, that system can help them until 19, but if they weren't lucky enough, or unlucky enough to be in that system, they're on their own and they must apply to the Income Assistance Programs that are available, in order to support themselves.
So what happens is that there is actually two different rates for the same age of child. If you're in the child welfare system, you have a higher rate for board, clothing and other services which are available, but if you're in the income assistance system, you don't. You don't have the same rate; you have lower rates and you, therefore, have less adequate accommodations and services available. So that's what has happened as a result of not implementing that section, in our view.
The other point I would like to make is that when you read the Department of Community Services discussion paper, you see that a lot of emphasis is placed on moving people from social assistance to the workforce. I guess it has been shown across the country
that successful welfare reform has really been attached to ways of making it possible for social assistance recipients to successfully enter the workforce, but if there isn't adequate workforce, if there is no - this is my committee co-chair, Ms. Eileen Carey.
MS. EILEEN CAREY: Hello. I am sorry I am late.
MR. BEALS: If there are not adequate jobs and if the workforce is one where there is high unemployment, et cetera, then how can people move who are uneducated perhaps, or don't have developed skills, how can they move to the workforce?
The association would support the move from social assistance to the workforce whenever that is possible, but we would also caution that on the other hand there are many people who will not be able to move to the workforce. They will not be able to work. They will be dependent on the state for the rest of their lives. We can't ignore that group. We have to look at that group to make sure that they're adequately supported as well and we don't mean supported below the poverty line, we mean supported above the poverty line. So, again, we get back to adequate social assistance rates for welfare.
In order to provide some incentive for social assistance recipients to move to the workforce, it is therefore necessary to remove a lot of barriers that are set up preventing them from doing that. We have listed some things here. They seem simple. They seem like, so can't they do that on their own, but they aren't. If you're living below the poverty line, you don't have money for any of these kind of things. For example, a transportation allowance, just to get to the job. If you live in the core of Halifax and you work in Bayers Lake business community, you would have to get up about 4:00 a.m. to get a bus to get out there, if you had the money to get there. So a transportation allowance seems simple, but if you can't get to the job, you can't have the job. An employer is not going to come out to get you.
You need an allowance for childcare, of course. You know, what do you do with children if you're away working and you're a single parent, or even if you're two parents and both are trying to hold down jobs? You often hear, too, of social assistance recipients losing their benefits, their medical, their drugs, eyeglasses, dental services when they move to the workforce. They are not likely to go into jobs that have medical plans or pensions, et cetera, other benefits, so they lose. If they have been on drugs, they lose the ability to pay for the drugs and, therefore, we feel that provisions should be made when they move to have funds available for that.
Things like personal needs, haircuts. If you are going to be presentable to an employer, he or she wants to see someone they feel is presentable, where do you get the money for that? There should be allowances for personal needs. Skills training is another. People who have been out of school for a long time, or who have not been working, don't have the skills to actually present themselves, look for jobs, and retain their jobs. Then finally, the social
assistance received should be a little less than the income; in other words, why go to work if the income you get from social assistance is going to be greater?
The other point we would like to make - and I am getting towards the end here - is we feel that community-based agencies, non-profit organizations are probably the best way to provide services to people, not large governments or big corporations, because you can ensure that if money is provided to community-based agencies, that they will decide what kind of services are required in their particular local community.
We would advocate community-based agencies as the best way to design and implement services to social assistance recipients or low-income families, but along with that comes the realization that over the last nine years there have been cuts to community-based agencies by the provincial government, and that has continually worn down the ability of the community-based agency to provide services. We have heard of stories of cutbacks in service and high waiting lists. Now these are vital services, these would be services to parents who physically abuse their children or have been known to physically abuse their children and are continuing to live together, and so they are on a waiting list. It really doesn't make sense.
If the government is interested in partnerships with community-based agencies - and I believe they are from their discussion paper - I believe they need to recognize that community-based agencies require funds. Because they are non-profit, they are run by a board of directors who are volunteers in the community, and they don't have any way of raising funds other than fund-raising, which everybody else in the community is doing. There is only so much a community will actually fork over, over and over again, so they require government funding. Probably the best thing that government can do is provide funding to these organizations so that they can provide the services that are required.
I mentioned that these organizations are really operated by some staff and usually a large number of volunteers. There has been a recent study done in Nova Scotia which indicates that - just to give a figure, I don't know if it means much - but over three hours per capita per week are given by volunteers in our province. They have estimated the value of that at being $1.75 million a year. So volunteers play a big part in our community-based agencies. By putting more pressure on them, but removing their funding or cutting down their funding, it puts more pressure on the volunteers, of course, who are probably already volunteered to death.
We would certainly recommend and support governments entering into partnerships, more partnerships than they have been, with community-based agencies, that a federal government program I mentioned earlier that provides $32 million a year to community-based organizations for preventive services should be tapped and it should be promoted and augmented really by the provincial government.
Finally I am just going to mention, because it is always something that comes up, and that is a guaranteed annual income. Maybe that is a solution to all our problems; I doubt if it is, but why not look at it again? Everybody dismisses it as being too expensive and not going to really serve any purpose, but when you look at the complicated system of services that we have available, and policies, wouldn't it be nice to put them all under one roof and call them a guaranteed annual income and give everybody what they needed in order to live in healthy living situations?
The governments have downloaded and cut funding to preserve their own deficits, both federal and provincial, and we think it is time now that the people that were faced with the downsizing and the lack of service, and were actually harmed in some way because of that, I mentioned the waiting lists, I mentioned the cutting of services by community-based agencies, maybe now it is time for that group of people to have some of their needs met, maybe it is time for government to put some money back. Thank you very much.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you, Harold. I apologize, I missed quite a substantial part of your presentation. I have just been paging through it and I look forward to reading the brief. Are there any questions? Are there any comments? No questions, no comments.
MR. BEALS: I would just like to mention that I noticed in the paper today - I don't know if you saw it - No Place for Boy with Behavioural Problems. Interesting that it would come up at this time. This is a 10 year old, and it turns out that our policies in our province focus on 12 and over, but if you have a child 10 years old who is tearing hotel rooms apart, who is beating up their grandmother who is trying to look after them and control them, you have to ask yourself, why is that kind of situation happening?
It goes back to those kind of preventive programs that I talked about before, those intervention, preventive programs. I know he is only 10, but where was he for the first 10 years of his life? In 1990, where was he, or 1991? What programs were available to him then and were they adequate? Did he make use of them? Did his parents make use of them? Let's not let it happen again. Let's not let it happen in the future. I know it is going to happen, but why not look at policies that prevent that kind of thing from occurring?
MADAM CHAIR: Has this brief been sent to the minister in response to the request for written presentations on the reform? Is this is the same one?
MR. BEALS: It is the same one. I mentioned earlier when I started, I didn't think from our point of view that we would say much different to your committee. The things we are talking about are things that are known, that are general enough. We haven't heard any response from the provincial government on that, although they received it. As I was mentioning before, I think that kind of input, I don't think it is as satisfactory as the committee here holding public hearings. What they got is what you got today, which is a presentation by a special interest group. Theoretically we represent our clients, and I represent professionals
who work with clients, but it seems to be that the provincial government needed to have a better mode of public consultation and the open committee idea is certainly one of the things that should go into public consultation.
I commend this committee. I know we are coming in at the tail-end. You had meetings earlier, at the end of 1998, and you probably heard these things over and over, but I think it is important for the general public to have an opportunity to face a government committee.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you very much. We will adjourn now until 6:00 p.m.
[The committee recessed at 3:01 p.m.]
[The committee reconvened at 6:00 p.m.]
MADAM CHAIR: Good evening and welcome. My name is Maureen MacDonald. I am the MLA for Halifax Needham and the Chairperson of the Standing Committee on Community Services. We're getting close to the end of a process that the standing committee began early in September, a process where we've been going around the province, hearing from interested Nova Scotians with respect to reforming the social assistance system. I am sure I speak for all members of the committee when I say that it has been really an informative process to hear from so many people about their experiences and their ideas about what needs to be done to improve social assistance in Nova Scotia.
The process we have been using is one where we have an agenda and we will call people forward as their names come up on the list. Everything is recorded through our friends here with the Hansard office. After people make their presentation we will have an opportunity to ask questions and make some comments about the presentations. We have, at this stage, six presentations for this evening. We should go until roughly 8:00 p.m. or so, in that vicinity.
I would like the other members of the committee to introduce themselves.
[The committee members introduced themselves.]
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you. The first presentation we have this evening is from Brunswick Street United Church Outreach Program and representing Brunswick Street United Church is Rev. Gus Pendleton, Lorna Pendleton and Stephen Jackson. If you would like to come forward, please.
REV. GUS PENDLETON: Good evening. You may have guessed that I am Gus Pendleton. I am the one who wears the funny collar. On my left is Lorna - she was easy to pick out - and Stephen Jackson is with us. Lorna and Stephen have both written their comments, but I don't generally work from a text and I hope that you will not mind if I don't work from a text.
I am a minister of the United Church of Canada. I was ordained in the United Church of Christ in the United States, and I will have to confess that I am not a Canadian citizen. I am an American. I have spent my life in the church, was raised in a minister's home, and was taught there some things about what it takes to be truly human. I have to speak to you out of my faith background, it is who I am. Some of the folk that I work with every day don't hear me preach, but I am going to preach a little bit and, if that's offensive, I will apologize in advance, but I preach to you out of a tradition that is at least the dominant tradition of North America. It is both Jewish and Christian. The prophet that I follow and call by name was a prophet who happened to be a Jew and we've always taken our relationship with other members of other households of faith seriously. So I do not mean to say anything that is offensive to anyone; indeed, when I read, I will probably read from what I would call Hebrew Scripture.
When we were raised in my father's house, my father was fairly advanced I think for his day and age and he shared a pulpit at one point, or exchanged pulpits, with a rabbi and it was quite an unusual thing at the time and there was a lot of excitement in our house and I think in our church and in our community. So we dutifully went around and learned the word shalom, the only Hebrew word that I knew as a youngster and, as kids, we did what kids did with that word: we said it means "hello good bye and peace", with no spaces, no commas. Many years later in seminary I learned that that wasn't a very good translation of the word. Shalom is about something we're talking about tonight.
If we had a less disparaging understanding of welfare, welfare would be the best translation of shalom. It is that time that one of the prophets spoke about when people would beat their swords into pruning hooks and everyone - one of the two prophets that used that passage - would sit under their vine or their fig tree and no one would be able to make them be afraid. It would be a time when there would be enough to eat, enough shelter, enough clothing, enough of the basic necessities of life that people would call it a season, a time of shalom, of well-being, of welfare, when the richest would have enough, but not too much, and the poorest would have enough.
There are some of us who still believe that that's what society is supposed to be like. Not to say that people shouldn't ever become wealthy, but to say that no one should be without food, or shelter, or clothing, or security in all of those things. Apparently that is important enough to people around the world that members of the United Nations have just chastised this province because we haven't done a very good job on those things. I take that seriously and I know that you do, that members of the United Nations, who look upon
Canada generally with favour also look upon Canada with honesty and the reality is, when they looked at Nova Scotia, what they saw wasn't very pretty in terms of people who are poor.
So for all those who wish to be righteous, Isaiah in Chapter 58 talks about what true religion might be like. He has contrasted it with people who make a show of their religion and of their fasting. Then, speaking what he believes God intends for us to hear, he says: Isn't this the fast that I choose to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thong of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free and to break every yoke? Is it not just a religious show, but is it not to share your bread with those who are hungry, to bring the homeless poor into your house, and when you see the naked, to cover them and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
That theme of what it really means to be faithful is not just about religion, but it is certainly a good strong religious base. Some of the prophets sometimes wondered aloud asking those who rule us: Isn't it for you to know about justice and not for the prophets; isn't it for you to know what it would take?
Well, let's look for just a few minutes at what this government has done lately. When the federal government passed a law that gave some money to poor families, this government decided that those who are on welfare should be taxed for that money. We didn't call it a tax, we called it clawing back. Those among the poorest in our midst, that child tax benefit was taken away from them. Then we fudged a little bit on it. I have heard legislators defend that, saying that what we are doing out of that money is providing child care. But why is that tax laid upon those who are poorest?
I went to our church recently, to our finance committee, to talk to them about an innovative program, something that we thought would be very helpful for people on welfare, a workers' co-op. We proposed to the Department of Community Services that people should not be restricted to the $50 or $100 that they were allowed to keep of earned money but, rather, that if you were single you should be allowed to keep $150, if you were a member of the co-op, or $300 if you were representing a family, and that the rest would probably go back to the province. About 70 per cent going back to the province, with a sliding scale so that we got to a point where people could work their way off welfare.
What the people on my finance committee said was that that was deplorable of me to be suggesting that anyone work for a 70 per cent tax bracket. The problem is that at this point, over $50, the poorest of our people work at 100 per cent tax, dollar for dollar. From $1.51 on, that money is taken off their welfare cheques. Would you work for 100 per cent tax bracket? Where is the incentive? Where is the new life? Where is the reasoning that someone should try to get off welfare? We have built a system that works against people and against their humanity.
Finally, I would like to comment, as I think someone else here will, on the level of assistance to people on income assistance for housing. I would like to challenge you, each of you, to consider one article of clothing you are wearing. There must be some article of clothing that you have on that has a retail value of $225. For some folks, it is their shoes; for some folks, it is a watch or a suit. That is the price that we expect our poorest people to find shelter for. I don't just mean finding a room, I mean finding a room and power, the lights, everything, for $225 a month. I will honestly tell you that I know people who do that, but I don't know many who do that.
There are two or three things that result from that kind of thinking, from that kind of limitation. One is that we force together, on a regular basis, two strangers to each other who end up at the turning point, we force them into an apartment and inevitably one of them betrays the other. They are strangers. They don't have enough money and sooner or later something happens and somebody gets hurt. Or, we force people to find shelter in rooming houses and, very often I get told, no locks on the doors; very often I get told, at 4:00 o'clock in the morning, people are smoking crack in the halls. Do you want to live there? Do you really?
It is time for a real reform. When this province started the process - I don't mean this committee - a couple of years ago, they were promising full, open consultation with the people. They were also saying that we were going to a one-tier welfare system; we still don't have that. We still have people on income assistance, it used to be called municipal. It is not enough to live on and, two years ago, we took away a lot of that from many of our people and that is part of the reason the United Nations is criticizing us.
Then we have people who are considered disabled, who are often victimized, regularly victimized. Although they are allowed $490 to $519 a month - try to get the department to talk straight about that one for awhile - though they are allowed that much more for housing, they usually can't utilize it effectively to make the housing better; in fact, these are the people who die in rooming houses. They are easily victimized and they rarely even get any of their personal allowance money because unscrupulous landlords tell them that they owe them that, they borrowed it last month. I have been there and I have seen that. If you want to know about it, it is right out there, you can touch it.
Now, what is it that we should know about justice, and how is it that we could really be Canada, a place in which there is shalom, the welfare of the people, justice, and a new kind of peace in this society, but not until we really reform. Thank you for your attention.
MS. LORNA PENDLETON: First, I am not American. You should know I have lived there, but I am not American, he is. Gus and I are married and we moved to this province together to work at Brunswick Street. The other thing I want to do is to thank you very kindly, that you have chosen to serve the public. For that I really do thank you, because it is
through your efforts that we hope that a positive outcome will result with welfare reform. So I do need to thank you very kindly for that.
I am the outreach worker at Brunswick Street United Church. The mission has been in existence long before we came to Brunswick Street. It is well-known. They have witnessed the degradation of lives of many of the people in the inner city and throughout Halifax proper. The church has witnessed how the disparity in income has caused people to feel overwhelmed and ignored, especially as the gap widens between the rich and the poor. We see many people during the day, during the weeks and the months. We see single people, single men and women, homeless and the homed, we see young and old, we see married and unmarried, and we see many families.
Our church serves people in many ways: by trying to assist people in seeking help with food, with shelter, electric power bills, emergency heating oil bills, dental payments, prescriptions, eye care, among many other requests. We do clothing, we do innumerable things, and sometimes I am overwhelmed by what we try to accomplish, and many times we don't accomplish it well. We recently began a trustee program for people - mostly people on welfare - who are unable to manage the little income they do get.
In coordinating these services, as well as living in other areas including the United States, it allows me to reflect on the pros and cons of various welfare programs. I am truly saddened to see what is happening, to see the erosion of our once very proud safety net. I remember being in the United States, when we moved in 1979, really bragging about what we had in Canada to offer. They could not hear enough of me just bragging about our Canadian system, and I can't tell you how many times they would say to me: You Canadians are real Communists, you are Socialists, you do all these things to take care of people. I moved back to Canada in 1991 and, just before I moved to Canada, you voted on the Free Trade Act. I remember Americans saying: Oh, those Canadians are getting suckered in. I was angry and, again, I defended Canada, and I said that we are not provincial people, we really look outwards.
I moved back to Canada, and I discovered our safety net had begun eroding. People no longer cared about the other. Then I moved, reluctantly, to Halifax, to Nova Scotia, because I followed Gus. We had been to Nova Scotia before, but I moved here. I was outraged and I was shocked because I knew that truly, truly we have begun to leave the lesser of those. We had begun to leave them, we were not with them, we were not responding to their needs.
I want to ask this question: Have we as a society chosen to value the global market place more than valuing our population? Have we consciously or unconsciously chosen to strip the basic rights of food, shelter and clothing, education away from our public? Somehow we have made some decisions, whether that be consciously or unconsciously, because I see it every day.
Gus talks a lot about the single people, but I see the single mothers, I see everyone. I can tell you, when someone comes to me and they talk about shelter and needing adequate housing, that adequate housing is just financially out of reach for many people, for the single people, for the families with children, for couples, for everyone. I often see people with only $50 left over from their allowances. It is not right; it is simply not right. I see people who come to us because they have to choose whether they eat, pay their rent, or pay their power bills. I see single people who have had to live in rooming houses come because they are scared that they are unsafe. They come because there is fighting in the rooming houses; they come because people are dealing in drugs and alcohol, and they are terrified.
Do you know that if those people called the police, it takes longer for the police to get to that rooming house than if my security system provider called the police for me. They would get there within 15 minutes but, if they call in the rooming houses, they do not come right away. You think about that. That is a choice we have made, to strip away some basic human rights. We have not provided safety, and we have not provided adequate shelter.
With some people on family benefits and disability - however you want to call it - they do have the ability to get into better housing, they have subsidized housing. Still, even these people, many of their homes are managed by disreputable landlords or managers. I can tell you horror stories that will take forever, but I have chosen not to do that. When people do get apartments, they have to have, well, most people pay for their lights, some people pay for lights, their heat, their hot water. It is not uncommon to see people pay $200 a month for power. Have you ever dealt with Nova Scotia Power? Have you heard about Nova Scotia Power? When they go after these people who are trying to feed their children and they cannot pay their power bills, there is no mercy.
Oftentimes because people are so discouraged, they disregard the mail, they ignore the mail, and when the doorknob notice comes, often that is too late, because your power is disconnected the next day. Then they have to run from organization to organization, the church, to anyone, trying to get, trying to scrape that money together to pay some portion of their power bill in order to receive power. For many of those people, they cannot get the power right away, so their children are witnesses to their parents stealing power by running an extension cord to the nearest outlet, often in the hallway, just to boil some water or just to provide heat or light for a poor, hungry child who is terribly afraid and unsure of what is happening in the household.
Why do our kids have to be witnesses to the parents doing that? Why should they be witnesses to our government treating parents in such a manner? I don't understand it. I am simply overwhelmed when I see and hear this. It saddens me; this is not Canada. Nova Scotia Power often goes after the families and they try to get all the money they can, but who is paying the bill? It is certainly not the families, they don't have the money. The other churches
and organizations are paying the power bill. I will not continue to talk about Nova Scotia Power and their disconnection notices, but I will go on to the other issue of medical/dental/eye care for people on social assistance.
The people on welfare, if you are on welfare, you may be able to get some dental care if it is an emergency, and often that results in tooth loss. Have you looked at how many people are walking around with badly decayed teeth or no teeth at all, and they try to eat? Do you know that we get bagels donated to us and we seldomly serve bagels because people cannot chew on bagels without teeth. Try it sometime; it doesn't work. So they get emergency dental health because they have a toothache, often abscessed, and they get that. If you are on disability or family benefits or any other kind of low income, you don't have access to dental care. If you try Dalhousie Dental Health, it takes forever, and still you have to pay. Not very much, but still you have to pay.
I pay for eye care quite frequently because I wear glasses, Gus wears glasses, and my children all wear glasses. I understand that it is necessary to see. If you are on income assistance, you can get assistance for glasses. Sometimes you are told you should pay for the eye examination first and then go to the opticians to get your glasses, and that happens through a purchase order. However, if you are given $369, how do you pay $55 for an eye examination? I don't know how you do that. If you are on disability, you are over the income, so then you have to pay for your entire eye care. Of course, sometimes you will have a worker who tries to be helpful and tries to find a way to help you, and then they pay $16 towards your eye care.
For medical care, while we are not dealing with medical issues here, I should tell you, for people who are low income, people who are homeless, people without support, when you go to a hospital with pain, and you are discharged to a shelter, when you're sent from a hospital in a taxicab to a shelter and you're in so much pain that you cannot sleep, and the next morning that shelter closes and you're sitting out in the cold, hanging onto a post because you are unable to move and you take that person back to the hospital and the doctor looks at you and says that this is not a medical problem, this is a social problem, I ask you that if the social system will not deal with these people and the medical system cannot help them, who will help them? Is this not a social problem? Is this not a social issue?
We recently had a man who had been with us for several days asking for detoxification because of his alcohol and drug dependency. We could not get a detox bed. We could not get a bed for him. The following morning we opened the door and the man was unconscious on the back deck. He had had a seizure; this was the fourth or fifth seizure in a month. He was in the hospital until today. He had brain surgery and he almost died. This is a social problem as well as a medical problem because the social costs are enormous. This man left the hospital today because he was deemed competent, so he took it upon himself to leave his hospital bed although he was incompetent to make that decision. Tonight they're searching for him because he is not able to take care of himself. If he had access to money, real money, and
medical help, this social welfare system would be looking after him, too. There would be a social safety net for him.
We see people constantly requesting detoxification. We see it almost every day. We call all over the province. We transport people all over for detoxification and often I get on the phone and I ask about long-term rehabilitation and they tell me, well, this is rehabilitation. I point out to them this is not rehabilitation. I have worked in rehabilitation programs and this is not rehabilitation. You cannot tell me that someone has been ill with a progressive illness for 16 or 17 years and you put them in a detox program for five days and you tell me they have been treated. I will not be convinced. I will not be convinced, when you have let them out without support, that that is treatment. The cost is enormous. You have lost people in employment, you have lost people who are draining on the social system, and you have lost people who are not participating in our public life. It is wrong, very wrong.
MADAM CHAIR: Can I ask you to move it along a little bit because we're going to run . . .
MS. LORNA PENDLETON: Okay. I am almost through. And as for education, I can tell you for people who are trying to educate themselves and trying, especially mature students, to find employment, and they have run into financial problems, they, too, are not eligible for any assistance in our social assistance program. If we are going to have welfare reform, I ask you to redress all these issues, to truly consider all the issues here and redress them so that the deficit cutting is not laid on the backs of these who are less able than we are. Thank you very much.
MR. STEPHEN JACKSON: Good evening. My name is Stephen Jackson. You will have to forgive me because I have got a really bad case of the butterflies right about now. I am delighted to be here this evening to speak on a topic which affects my life, day in and day out. As a recipient of social assistance, I have seen the effect it has on my life. I had a whole written spiel of what I wanted to say this evening, but I am going to respect the time, and I have three comments that I think will hit home. Many of us on social assistance, we want better dreams. I know that when I graduated high school with honours and I completed my accounting program, I never envisioned my life was to be on social assistance. Yes, I am grateful for the $408 that I get, but I am also frustrated and there is a reason why.
In preparing my statement for this committee, I have had the opportunity to look at the advertising section of the Halifax Chronicle-Herald, Rooms for Rent. I pay 63 per cent of my monthly allotment on a room, which feels lately like the walls are coming down on me. I am not proud of my past, but the last two years I have conquered my addiction with cocaine. I am proud of that, but this government, and governments past, have passed the buck on social reform. It makes me live in an area where the number-one entertainment value is alcohol and drugs. Each day I go home I have to face those demons and I try to tell myself I will be okay.
You allot me $225, and my rent is $260. As I said, I looked through the Halifax Chronicle-Herald, and there were 15 ads for rooms and I will use 10 of those. The average was $301.50. It may seem that the whole difference of $80 is a big deal. The buzzword of the 1990's is fiscal restraint. No one will deny that. My background is in accounting and I love that, but I am angry at this government. I am angry at previous governments that make me live in an area where I am afraid to live, where each and every night I have to wonder, will this be the night that I will lose 730 days that I have been clean? That will be my responsibility, but it will also be each Legislative Assembly member's responsibility too.
We need a new vision, my friends. History has shown us that to avoid the mistakes of the past we must look at where the past has come from. Accommodations. As Gus has said, for many people in our society, $225 does not seem much to spend on a pair of shoes; to me, it is 63 per cent of my income. I am very grateful for that, but I'm angry and we need to change that and I'm not going to hold that back. My parents taught me to call a spade a spade. I will not apologize to anybody for that because I didn't envision a world for myself where I would be on social assistance but, remember, each and every one of us sitting here this evening is one paycheque away from living where I've been living. I don't mean the next statement to sound critical, but every member of the Legislative Assembly, even the Premier of our province, is one paycheque away from living on the streets. I know. I lived at Turning Point.
Three months ago I was ready to jump off a bridge because I lost hope. You know, I never thought I would be sitting here and saying this to a committee. All my life I have worked for political Parties, for all three of them, and I believed in the dream, but I have to say this with all honesty, that this government and governments past have passed the buck and I am upset.
Our foundation of our social safety net is falling down, but where do we go from here? How do we create a new renaissance of a new partnership? I don't want the moon; I don't even want to be rich. I want to be able to have my own place. I want to have the ability to be home in my own place. They say home is where the heart is. Well, my friends, home is not where my heart is. You know, when you and the people that decide the future for people on social assistance - I don't begrudge you, I don't begrudge the salaries you receive, I don't begrudge any of that because you have a hard job - when you're sitting in your home and you need to go to the washroom, you don't have to lock your doors. I do, because $225 just does not cut it, my friends, it doesn't cut it.
I have had 730 days of clean time and I am proud of that. I have had a slip, yes, I have had a slip of one day, but I look at where I was three months ago. This government and governments past can no longer pass the social safety net onto other organizations. I am here today because I believe that the organization, Turning Point, gave me a place to live when I was on the streets. Brunswick Street United Church has been my saviour. It has raised my self-awareness; it has raised my self-pride, and we need to look at that. We need to start a
new vision. You know, if I was to make this decision this evening - I have thought about this for a long couple of weeks - and since I had the opportunity to prepare for this speech, there are four things that people on social assistance need.
One is accommodation. Two - I am lucky - I get the $57 a month for transportation costs, but my friends who get $18, and Halifax Regional Municipality has increased transit costs to $1.65 a ride, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize that $18 at $1.65 does not cut a lot. I have sent out, over the last four months, 125 résumés. People in our society think that people on social assistance are lazy and are out to abuse the system and that is why previous governments have looked the other way but, you know, I dare not say, I am not going to be naive in saying that there are people out there who abuse this system that we're talking about this evening, but I dare not say that there are others on unemployment insurance who do the same, or Revenue Canada are no different. I want a hand-up, not a hand-out.
The third thing. Lorna spoke about eyeglasses and I laughed and I am going to tell you why. My eyesight is 20-80. Up until about three weeks ago, Madam Chair, I wouldn't be able to see you. Eye examinations are $55, and I could not afford that. After I pay $260 and $40 on groceries and the laundry, I don't have that. So I went to Lorna and she asked me what I would like for Christmas, I was helping her with the Christmas program. I said I would like to see. I would like to be able to see, but I can't afford it. My worker tells me to pay for it first and we will reimburse you. Well, if I had a Visa card, maybe that would help, but I don't think that will work. So Lorna wrote a cheque to my optometrist and I went and had my eye exam.
On December 30, 1998, I began to see again and it wouldn't have been because of Community Services. We are the ones who are being affected the most. We have an archaic system. I am a member of the Brunswick Street Workers Cooperative and I am proud of that. I hold the executive position of financial controller and I don't know how to put it but I am complexed with Community Services. It is a pilot project, and to me a pilot project means a new rebirth. We are sitting here tonight to discuss new ideas, but when you talk to them it is the old ideas. We need to change that, my friends.
The last issue, that if I was sitting in your position right now, that you could do for me and my friends and people like myself on social assistance, is to give us back our self-respect. Give us back our self-dignity. As Gus stated earlier, $50 is what we're allowed to make extra. Many will say, well, if you can make $50, you can go out and make more. I have thought about that. Many will say the arguments for, are that many on social assistance have given up. If we make $51, we lose $1.00. I dare say that this government, this committee and other committees, that when you get your annual paycheques and you work overtime, you're not taxed at a 100 per cent rate. So why should we have the same burden? I know the buzz word of the 1990's has been fiscal restraint but it can no longer be done on the backs of myself and others like me. I am not saying I am not intelligent and I'm not saying I am proud that I am on social assistance but my addiction and my depression hasn't helped. I am here tonight,
hopefully, so we can all come to a new partnership. My friends, it is time to stop and smell the roses and the roses are decaying quickly. It is time for a new change.
I would like to thank you for this opportunity to have one viewpoint, from one person on social assistance who feels that the system puts me as a number rather than a person, who puts me less important than you, the Premier, or anyone else in this province and that is not right. Thank you very much. (Applause)
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you. Are there any questions?
MR. PYE: Thank you, Madam Chair. I just want to say thank you to Brunswick Street United Church for the presentation and also thank you for the assistance during the Christmas program. We see church organizations within our community taking on a number of programs that should be carried on by governments. That's the breakfast program, clothing depot and food banks. I know that you're making a presentation here tonight before the Standing Committee on Community Services. My question is, where does the Council of Churches stand with respect to an ongoing pursuit of the social issues within Canada and within the province and how do you continue to pressure governments with respect to that very issue?
MADAM CHAIR: I will allow that question, that is a perfectly legitimate question.
MR. GUS PENDLETON: With all due respect Gerry, you are a stinker to ask that question. Pardon me, I do mean it with respect. I am a member of a small Council of Churches. I have been in town for two years. I can say more about the presbytery of the United Church of Canada than I can about other ecumenical unions of churches. Frankly, too much of the church is too worried, as one minister's point of view, about its own future and is not doing the work that I believe is the work of the church. Having said that, I do not believe the work of the church is to do the work of the government, I think it is to supplement the work of the government. I think that we are intended to be a body that works for shalom, I am not embarrassed by the word, for the welfare of the people and for community.
Part of what we try to do is build community among very individual people, but the church itself is not the community that it should be, honestly. Some parts of the church are much more concerned with numbers and with balancing the books. I guess to expand on that finally, prior to my call to Brunswick Street, it was among this presbytery of the United Church of Canada, a real soul-searching about whether Brunswick Street should be allowed to continue as a church, because it is a very small church, and because we regularly fight the battle of the deficit ourselves.
Sometimes we do what governments do and we hide deficits. I can show you on the books that we balanced last year, but in fact, most of the people on the finance committee tell me that in 1997 we were in a $42,000 deficit, and that in 1998, I suspect it was more like
$20,000 to $25,000. At some point, churches will simply stop doing it, just the way governments have. That is a real danger in this society. They will especially stop doing it if the church itself is preoccupied with the question of do we continue to exist as a body with members and are there enough people to fill the plates on Sunday morning, et cetera, et cetera.
I can't answer for the broader ecumenical community, because I don't know it very well here in Halifax, but I can say that we all do wrestle with the same kinds of things that governments wrestle with, money and numbers and participation. However, at least at Brunswick Street and in many of our other churches, United, Anglican, Catholic, Synagogues, there are these questions about, (Interruption) He asked a question, it is a good question. With what do I come before God. God has shown you oh mortals what is good, to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with God. That is enough, but I suspect that too many of us don't live that way. We are more concerned about something else. I probably didn't answer well enough. I am sorry.
MADAM CHAIR: Are there any other questions? Thank you very much. (Applause) Our next presentation is from Women, Work and Social Policy, Dr. Janet Guildford.
DR. JANET GUILDFORD: Good evening, thank you. I am here as part of a research project that is going on in Halifax. Women, Work and Social Policy in Post-1945 Halifax is the name of our project. It is an interdisciplinary research project based at Dalhousie University. As members of that project, we feel that it is really important when we engage in the policy process to think about the history of social issues and the history of policies. I think that what we wanted to do by sending me here tonight, was to first of all remind you of what a very short and sad history the history of welfare services in Nova Scotia has been.
Nova Scotia is now restructuring its welfare programs under very difficult circumstances. The elimination of the Canada Assistance Plan introduced in 1966 has resulted in the loss of millions of dollars of federal funding for both income maintenance programs and for social support programs. The restructuring of provincial and municipal responsibilities for community services has created further problems as municipalities now find themselves totally unable to support the kinds of programs that are essential, the kinds of support programs not the income maintenance programs.
The political consensus which fostered the development of the welfare state in the years following World War II seems to be breaking down. So it is a very difficult time. I think one of the things that seemed most important, is to remind you that less than 50 years ago in Nova Scotia, less than 50 years ago, the major form of relief was incarceration in a poorhouse. We have a very short history of providing even the beginnings of an adequate social assistance program in this province. I think it is important for us to remember how short
our history is and how fragile the gains have been, and as we go through this process of restructuring to remember how awful it was. I am not suggesting for one moment that we are at any kind of an ideal state. We can't listen to the kinds of presentations that we have just heard and feel that things are okay now. But we are in a process of restructuring, and we do have to remember the past.
In the 1940's, as Canada was considering the kinds of welfare programs that would be set up, there were studies of these poorhouses and poor farms across the province. Most of you have my written presentation. George Davidson who was the Director of the Canadian Welfare Council prepared a study for the Nova Scotia Royal Commission on Provincial Development and Rehabilitation. He reported that the county homes were "little more than indiscriminate dumping grounds for the various types of unfortunate misfits who happen to be a burden on the community." The worst of the homes were "dark and dismal, evil-smelling and filthy to the point almost nauseating the visitor . . . What they must be to the poor wretched creatures who are condemned to live the greater portion of their lives in them cannot even be imagined."
Further studies in 1946 and in 1951 confirmed the sort of general horror of this process of living in a poorhouse. It wasn't until 1958 that Nova Scotia began the process of establishing income maintenance programs for citizens in need, and it wasn't until the Canada Assistance Plan in 1966 that these programs broadened, for example, to include mothers who were not married.
We are looking at a program that has only been in existence for a short time. It is so badly eroded now that there are grave concerns about what its future should be. There are three issues in response to the Department of Community Services' Rebuilding the System paper that we would like to address.
We want to stress the need for adequate social assistance to meet the needs of recipients. Policy reform and program development must first and foremost provide an adequate level of assistance to meet basic human needs. Present levels of assistance do not meet the needs of recipients, and income maintenance programs must be improved for humanitarian reasons, but also to permit those who can to gain independence.
Again, we have a long history of the need for promoting income programs that are above the starvation level. A 1946 report on welfare services in Halifax warned, "merely keeping (people) from starving through inadequate or humiliating assistance measures, serves only to undermine their health and morale and to prolong their dependency indefinitely." Social welfare research in the past 50 years has repeatedly supported this basic fact, and yet we haven't moved substantially on this question.
I also want to talk briefly about the new National Child Benefit Program, which has been a concern to many of the people who addressed your committee. The National Child Benefit Program introduced last year attempts to address the poverty in children, but the exclusion of families on social assistance from directly benefiting from the National Child Benefit Program does not address the issue of the poverty of children or their families. It recalls the inadequacy and moral paternalism of the Mothers Allowance Program introduced in Nova Scotia in the late 1920's. This program, although it was introduced in the 1920's and was extremely restrictive, was in effect in this province until the late 1960's, so for a very long time, this very restrictive and paternalistic program was in effect.
The recognition that the parents in receipt of social assistance are in the best position to know how to use this money wisely, is not being made in spite of current research to support this fact. The right of parents and children to federal Child Benefit programs has been hotly debated for several decades. There have been a number of different policies. I don't think that we have to assume that there is only one way to go on this. History would suggest that there are times in which parents have in fact been successful in claiming the right to spend these funds for their children.
The problem for the Department of Community Services is exacerbated by the withdrawal of the funding under the Canada Assistance Plan. That money, under the Canada Assistance Plan, could be used, as I am sure you all know, to subsidize income maintenance programs, but also social support programs. The program money is gone now, where do we get it? We can get it from the Child Benefit Program. Parents are subsidizing, as the previous presentation suggested, programs that are not of their own choosing or of their own design and may not be in the most immediate interests of their children.
I think that we should remember that the National Child Benefit Program was not designed to replace the Canada Assistance Plan and to provide the Nova Scotia Department of Community Services with a pool of money to be used for program funding.
Under the general issue of education, retraining and moving people towards work, I think that the issue that concerns us most is the erosion in the value of the minimum wage. The minimum wage in Nova Scotia is not a living wage. It is not enough money for someone to live. In the early 1970's it was possible for a single parent with one child, who worked 40 hours a week at minimum wage, to earn an income equivalent to the poverty line. Full-time work and you could be poor, but you could reach the poverty line. By the mid-1990's, it would take a comparable worker 84 hours a week, an impossible number of hours. I think that attests very clearly to the erosion of the value of the minimum wage over the last 20 years.
This has serious implications for low-wage earners and for the provision of social assistance, and we think that the two issues should be addressed together. Recent research suggests that a minimum wage of somewhere between $8 and $12 an hour is needed to provide an adequate standard of living for workers.
Our research project has been part of ongoing discussions with the Department of Community Services through a coalition which addressed the committee earlier in the fall, Feminists for Equitable and Just Public Policy, and we look forward to continuing to participate in this process.
I want to end by saying that as a historian, all I can really tell you is that there were no "good old days". There was not a time when families and communities took care of their own, and everybody was okay. People starved to death, people died, and people were incarcerated in poorhouses and in reformatories masquerading as benevolent institutions. That is really what we want to avoid. We don't want to be deluded into thinking that if we can just go back to the way it was it will be all right, it won't be. Thank you. (Applause)
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you, Janet. Are there questions or comments?
MS. ATWELL: Thank you Janet. I find your research paper really interesting. I am sure there is more to this than what you have here. I guess my question to you would be, what does the research team hope to have come out of their research in terms of being able to support welfare reform? What do you want to do with it when it is completed? How do you want to use it, or do you know yet?
DR. GUILDFORD: We don't know yet. We want to use it in ways that people will find useful. I guess we are open to suggestions. We will publish our findings in various formats, distribute them to public libraries, and we are hoping that by participating in the coalition, Feminists for a Just and Equitable Public Policy that we are able to contribute our research to their process.
MADAM CHAIR: Are there any other questions or comments? Thank you very much. Our next presentation is from the Nova Scotia Advisory Council on the Status of Women, Patricia Doyle-Bedwell.
MS. PATRICIA DOYLE-BEDWELL: Good evening everybody. I am very glad to have this opportunity to present before the committee this evening. I understand that you have been very busy and we have been trying to get a time to be heard here. I understand that it has been very oversubscribed. I am pleased to be here to speak about the issue of social assistance restructuring on behalf of Nova Scotia women.
I would also like to add, the Advisory Council on the Status of Women has heard many, many stories from women who are on social assistance or family benefits, and for the sake of time, I am not going to tell you every single story. However, our brief comes out of a lot of the discussions that we have had with women across this province early this year and late last year. I would also like to add that in my day job, I am the Director of the Transition Year program at Dalhousie. I have worked at Dalhousie for the last four years, and I have
worked with a lot of single moms who are trying to get a better education or are trying to get employable skills. That is also reflected here.
What I would like to start with and I would like to put my remarks into context. I will list a few important realities for Nova Scotia women. The most important reality is that women are especially vulnerable to poverty. Most employed women have never been able to earn a family wage. Some barely manage a living wage for themselves. About 70 per cent of people who work part time, the jobs that pay the lowest and have the poorest benefits or no benefits, are women. When women are employed full time, they still earn only 72 per cent of what men earn. Women's average income from all sources, however, is only 52 per cent of men's. Women's vulnerability to poverty is increased when they have children to support, when they have disabilities, when they are elderly and live alone, or when they face systemic barriers due to race, culture and language.
Current economic conditions, women's vulnerability to poverty, and the way that Canada's income security system is set up, all add up to a disproportionate number of women who must rely on social assistance to survive. Many are women with disabilities or they are single moms. I would remind you of a few sobering statistics, of the approximately 45,000 adults in Nova Scotia relying on income from social assistance, more than 60 per cent are women. Of the almost 22,000 parents depending on social assistance, 85 per cent are mothers. Almost 80 per cent of parents on social assistance are single parents. About 96 per cent of all single parents on social assistance in Nova Scotia are mothers. Finally, contrary to popular belief, the vast majority of single mothers on social assistance are not teenagers but between the ages of 20 and 35.
Having to rely on social assistance for survival is hard. We believe the assumptions and values underlying our current social assistance system keeps recipients poor. We believe the processes and practices in the current system are demeaning and are often damaging to the individual's dignity and self-esteem.
The Nova Scotia Advisory Council on the Status of Women certainly supports the initiative to restructure the social assistance system, but let's do it right. We've got to build a system that understands and supports its clients, a system that is focused, flexible and fair. We know the social assistance system in this and other provinces is moving towards promoting employment for single mothers and for persons with disabilities. That's a good thing. Transition to employment should be a focus, but we caution against the "cookie cutter" approach which imposes a requirement to look for work. This kind of approach is not likely to be successful for single mothers and women with disabilities. Every case is unique and a restructured social assistance system should have enough flexibility built in, to accommodate a broad range of variables.
More attention must be paid to building an infrastructure of employment support to address the barriers: to employment; to providing child care; to the development of appropriate employment support programs which ensure that single moms and women with disabilities have a reasonable chance of breaking free of poverty; to providing an environment for learning that is 'women friendly'; and, to injecting into programs a sensitivity to the issues of gender and race.
The Nova Scotia Advisory Council on the Status of Women details seven sets of specific recommendations in its written brief to the committee. I will outline them now.
The first is about equity and fairness. Principles or objectives for equity and fairness must be established and clearly articulated in practical terms for recipients; gender analysis and a gender lens approach should be integrated into policy development and change; an advisory committee on social assistance restructuring should be established. It should have gender parity and include individuals on social assistance as well as anti-poverty advocates.
Staff who determine eligibility, assess need, or otherwise interpret policy, must be sensitive to gender, race and cultural differences and fully understand the issues related to domestic violence and poverty. Clear and concise information about eligibility, benefits, the appeals process and other social assistance policies should be produced in plain language for all clients.
When we were out doing our work with women who are on social assistance, we heard stories that women lost their benefits. There was a situation where there was an allegation, according to some particular form of the regulation or part of the policy, and her benefits were discontinued until the appeal was heard. We are asking that the committee look at making sure that benefits should not be discontinued until an appeal is heard. If benefits are discontinued, recipients must have advance notice and be better informed about the reasons as well as their right to appeal. Overpayments must be dealt with in a fairer way. A clear repayment schedule should be used which is not greater than the Orderly Repayment of Debt Program. The Statute of Limitations should also apply to overpayments.
Nova Scotia must work with the federal government to strengthen the Child Benefit Program and to develop a fully integrated child benefit system for all low income families. Clearly communicate the goals and objectives of the Child Benefit Program in Nova Scotia and consult with social policy advocates and low income parents on future developments.
The budget that is used to calculate basic benefits should be reviewed and revised to more clearly reflect the actual costs of accommodation, food, clothing and transportation. Budgets should also include money for telephone, household operation and personal care. Budgets for families with children should include the costs of bus passes, recreation and school supplies. Money for special and emergency needs should be more readily available without delays and should be routinely available for dental and eye care. The province should
work with the federal government to ensure that the Pharmacare and dental coverage is available to all low income families with children.
Persons with disabilities and single parents should not be classified as unemployable or discouraged from making a transition to the labour market. However, the specific barriers facing persons with disabilities and single parents should be taken into account in promoting expectations for employment. Employment expectations must take account of labour market conditions and the specific barriers faced by women with disabilities and single moms. The availability of employment support programs, transportation and the realities of combining employment with parenting must be considered. I would like to add in my own work at the Transition Year Program, I have spoken with many single moms who have been advised by social assistance and family benefits that they shouldn't have to go into a program, for instance, like social work because there are no jobs for social workers. One of the things that I would suggest as well, is the people who are doing the career planning and career counselling have an adequate idea of what the labour market conditions are, especially within the Mi'kmaq and the Black communities because it may not be the same as in the mainstream. So I would add that particular part.
The second set of recommendations deals with barriers to work. The provincial government should lobby the federal government to increase the amount of its investment in the National Child Benefit Program. In partnership with the federal government, Nova Scotia should pursue an increase in investment and resources for job training, job development, community capacity building and community economic development. All programs must include the principle of gender equity and promote inclusivity and diversity.
Except on a voluntary basis, single parents with pre-school children should not face the same expectations regarding employment as a person without children. Parents who have educational upgrading needs should be encouraged to pursue that upgrading at least on a part-time basis. Depending on the wishes of the parent, a transition to either part-time or full-time employment should be considered as possible alternatives.
More funding should be provided to maintain and support the provision of quality child care which focuses on early childhood development. The number of subsidized spaces in child care centres and in agency-run family child care should continue to increase to better reflect the need. Provide a variety of support services and programs in the community to assist women to address family violence, relationship, life and self-esteem issues in a culturally sensitive and safe environment. Ensure that a variety of educational upgrading and transitional learning programs are established which offer culturally and gender sensitive programs and provide a women-friendly learning environment.
The amount of earnings individuals and families may keep before deductions should be increased and must be the same for all families and single parents in the two merging systems. At a minimum, the amount should increase relative to changes in wages and the cost
of living since the earnings deductions were last set. Take home pay rather than gross pay should be the basis of budget calculation. The allowance for transportation in the budget should increase to the equivalent or at least the cost of a bus pass given the current increase at Metro Transit. The budget should also provide an allowance for telephone. All families on social assistance should have access to Pharmacare and employers should be encouraged to introduce drug plans as routine benefits for all employees.
The next set of recommendations is about upgrading skills and education. Make educational upgrading available to the Grade 12 level available and free of charge to all Nova Scotians whatever their status or source of income. Maintain the option to pursue post-secondary education for single moms on family benefits. Ensure adequate support for single parents on social assistance in the post-secondary transition year programs, such as that for the Black and First Nations students at Dalhousie as an example. Work towards opening up the option of access to post-secondary education for all single parents on social assistance. Provide money for living expenses for recipients attending post-secondary institutions through social assistance or student aid so they are not discriminated against based on the source of income. Provide ongoing career counselling and monitoring of progress for post-secondary students in a non-judgemental and supportive fashion.
I would just like to add, a friend of mine who was on family benefits went to Mount Saint Vincent University, got a degree in education and in English and in French, and now has a great teaching job. I see the support for single moms who are on family benefits to go to school as an investment that is going to pay off in the end. You are going to make sure that the single moms have employable skills, and you are going to make sure that they don't pass on the generational aspect of welfare to their children.
I know from my own experience growing up in a very poor family and growing up with a mom, where we had to go on welfare at different times. Our focus, my mother's focus, and the way my mother saw it, was to make sure that we went to school so that we didn't have to live that way. I think that we have to support people to build up their self-respect and self-esteem. I am trying to stick to my speech.
The fourth set of recommendations deals with support to individuals with a mental or physical disability. There must be flexibility to address the financial and social needs of all social assistance recipients with disabilities. Staff must be representative of diversity and be well trained and sensitive to the abilities of persons with disabilities. Access to community resources and education, job development and training programs must be facilitated, and persons with disabilities must be included in community economic development initiatives. The additional costs of disability must be recognized in determining need for assistance and services to promote employability.
Next, recommendations on improving the administrative efficiency and effectiveness of the system. Consistency must be balanced with flexibility. Policy should be flexible enough to ensure emergency and special needs are attended to, but flexibility should not be an excuse to use policies in a punitive way. Develop sensitivity training workshops on poverty, gender and cultural diversity issues and performance management tools which promote more positive attitudes towards clients by social assistance workers.
Most of the stories that we have heard from women across this province concern the demeaning way that they were treated by their social assistance worker. It seems to be ongoing and I don't know why it has been so ongoing, but it certainly has been. I understand the difficulties of working with a high caseload and things like that, but staff still has to be accountable for how they treat their clients. They should be treating their clients in a respectful way and not contribute to their sense of loss of self-esteem. I should say that even though I understand the caseloads must be managed properly, and I don't think workers should have 50, 100, 1,000, one million clients at one time, because it is too much. However, they still have to treat their clients with dignity and respect. We heard over and over again that that was not happening.
Ensure that appeal boards are representative of diversity in the community, for instance, that board members are knowledgeable about gender, cultural diversity and poverty issues, and most importantly, the social assistance recipient should be included on the appeal boards because they have the best understanding of what it is the client is going through.
I am going to tell you a story. When I worked as a student at Dal Legal Aid, we went to an appeal, and we had a person who was cut off from benefits. This was an ongoing thing - I am not talking about one particular case - where you would go to the appeal and they would change their mind, the worker would change their mind at the appeal about what policy regulation was being used to cut this person off. You never knew until you walked into the appeal what the particular issue was going to be. That is just totally wrong.
We have to develop an appeals mechanism that is efficient, open and transparent, and which involves clients and their advocates of choice. In Halifax, clients have the access to Dalhousie Legal Aid. Outside of Halifax, they don't have access to legal representation at the appeals. Nova Scotia Legal Aid will not take on a client who is in a family benefits appeal. They will not do it. Most people on social assistance will not be able to afford a private lawyer to go with them to the appeal.
There needs to be a complaints mechanism in place to assist in smoothing out the communication gaps and to conduct conflict resolution. One thing I would like to see, is have community advocates working with clients and having that across the province. We need people, whether they are working within the offices or working in women's centres, we need to have people who are trained, who can work with women who are on social assistance, and work with them through the system, because the system is very, very complex, and it is very,
very difficult to understand sometimes what is happening to a particular client. I think we need to have people that are trained in that area to help women who are in these particular difficulties.
We would be remiss at this point in time not to include recommendations on building prevention programs that help break the cycle of poverty. Consult with family resource centres, single parent centres, women's centres, and child care centres regarding the type of early intervention and prevention programs which would best suit their clients. Enhance community programs for children to include anti-poverty programs for single mothers. Include money for recreation and school activities in social assistance budgets for families with children, and work in partnership with other government departments, municipalities, the non-profit and private sectors to support and promote recreation, sport or cultural activities for children from low income families.
Our final set of recommendations addresses the financial sustainability of the social assistance system. Nova Scotia must work with other provincial governments to ensure the federal government lives up to its obligations and responsibilities to address unemployment and child and family poverty. Encourage other federal and provincial departments to take more responsibility for programs and services to social assistance recipients and for the prevention of poverty generally. Take the lead at the provincial level in developing a think tank or consultation process with agencies, organizations and other federal and provincial departments who are concerned about the broader issues of child and family poverty in Nova Scotia, and which is focused on policy solutions at the federal, provincial, municipal and community levels.
Encourage innovative projects and programs and develop open and transparent partnerships for their development, funding and delivery through community-based organizations and agencies. Conduct research on the need for access to social assistance by youth under the age of 19, and include considerations of issues related to the effects of family violence and abuse.
This concludes our series of recommendations. As you can well appreciate, we have thought long and hard about the issues concerning social assistance restructuring. As I have noted before, we have talked to women from across this province, women who have been too afraid to come forward for fear that they will lose what little benefits they have. We have heard their stories, we have shared their frustrations and tried to help where we could. As one woman told me, and it relates to what was said earlier by the gentleman, we cannot guarantee that we will always be healthy and safe and well, because we don't know what is going to happen. Any of us at any given time, and I know from my own personal experience, I have been in that position, I am not in that position at the moment, but it doesn't mean that in the future I wouldn't be in that position again.
We are not safe. None of us are safe. We have to treat people the way that we would want to be treated ourselves. The only thing that will truly help Nova Scotia women on social assistance, in a nutshell, is a better social services system. I would be happy to take any questions, and I appreciate your patience.
MADAM CHAIR: Are there questions?
MR. JAMES MUIR: Thank you, Ms. Doyle-Bedwell. On Page 7 of your presentation, you used a term 'the gender lens approach'. I had never heard that term, and I was wondering if you could tell me what it means.
MS. DOYLE-BEDWELL: What it means, and the way that I look at it is, we have to look at all our policies and what we are doing in terms of the impact on women and on men. There is this movement, and some ways that equality means treating everyone the same, we need to be able to look at a policy and how it impacts on women. That is what we are looking for there. It may impact on men differently.
MR. PYE: Thank you. I guess I can call you Patricia.
MS. DOYLE-BEDWELL: Yes.
MR. PYE: I hope I can. Patricia, I believe that the Nova Scotia Advisory Council on the Status of Women reports to the Minister of Community Services, and it is under that minister's umbrella. When you report to the Minister of Community Services, do you provide an annual report with respect to recommendations?
MS. DOYLE-BEDWELL: We provide a report. We advise the minister on issues of concern to women, so we provide reports, for instance, we will be providing a report on the restructuring of the social assistance system, but we don't provide an annual report per se, but we maintain regular contact with her.
MR. PYE: When you say regular contact, do you mean by way of oral communication?
MS. DOYLE-BEDWELL: Or written correspondence.
MR. PYE: Or written correspondence.
MS. DOYLE-BEDWELL: Plus our briefs. We have done different things. One of the things we did, for instance, we put in a research paper on criminal law defences, defence, provocation and things like that. So, we give her reports on what we are doing in terms of research, that is what I am trying to say.
MR. PYE: I am new here, so I want to know a bit about the Nova Scotia Council on the Status of Women. How old is that council?
MS. DOYLE-BEDWELL: It is over 20 years old.
MR. PYE: Over 20 years old.
MS. DOYLE-BEDWELL: Twenty-two years.
MR. PYE: So it has in the last 20 years consistently made recommendations or suggestions to governments?
MS. DOYLE-BEDWELL: Yes.
MR. PYE: Have you kept an analysis or did an evaluation with respect to the recommendations that you have forwarded to governments, and how governments have responded?
MS. DOYLE-BEDWELL: When we make recommendations, yes, we try to follow up on what we have recommended. I have only been on the council for five years, and sometimes things work slowly.
MR. PYE: They do indeed. I understand that you hear from women's centres across the province, and I just want to tell you from my brief period since I have served on the Standing Committee on Community Services, going across the province and hearing from women's centres, the very real and important issues that are out there. I am just wondering if the Nova Scotia Advisory Council on the Status of Women have made recommendations to those very same concerns that we possibly have? Also, would the presentation you made this evening go to the minister on behalf of the Nova Scotia Advisory Council on the Status of Women as well?
MS. DOYLE-BEDWELL: Yes. Just to give people an understanding, the council has been in existence over 20 years. We have eight women on the council. They represent all areas of the province. We have a staff in an office on Quinpool Road. We have researchers and field workers that work in the community, and we work with women's centres. We have worked with different women's organizations and groups. We have also met with individual women on issues around social assistance. We have been dealing with this issue, it seems like forever.
Like I said, things move slowly, but the things that we have talked about today in our brief, at least some of those things, we have already brought forward to the minister, as well.
For example, a couple of years ago, we had a meeting with women in Sydney. That started our movements across the province to talk with women who were on social assistance. We have certainly been making our views known to government about what we saw, what women have told us. One of the things that was very clear to us is that there were many, many women who were terrified of coming forward themselves, because of the repercussions. They thought that if they were causing trouble it would impact on their benefits. We have been able to take that role.
MR. PYE: Finally, my last question. If I walk into your office on Quinpool Road and I asked you for a brochure outlining what the Nova Scotia Advisory Council on the Status of Women provides, then you have a brochure to that effect?
MS. DOYLE-BEDWELL: Yes.
MR. PYE: Also, if I asked you for recommendations that you have presented to governments within the last 15 to 20 years, I would be able to receive some information with respect to that.
MS. DOYLE-BEDWELL: You would certainly be able to get a copy of all the research briefs that we have written. Yes.
MR. PYE: Okay. Thank you kindly.
MS. ATWELL: Patty, I just have one short question. On Page 6 of your submission, you talked about the transition to employment should be focused for single mothers and persons with disabilities. Could you maybe just give an idea or elaborate a little bit more on that? I am finding, especially with young single mothers who maybe have not completed high school, that it is very difficult for them to find a focus, especially when their children are quite young. Could you elaborate a little bit on what you may see as the beginning of helping these people focus on . . .
MS. DOYLE-BEDWELL: When we talk about a transition to employment, I think that what needs to happen - and I am not saying that it is not happening, and I don't think it is happening now - we know that you need at least a Grade 12 to get a job. And if you have women who have Grade 9 or Grade 10, they are going to find it very difficult. Part of the process to help people, if they choose to get out there and get a job, is that they need the education to get out there and get a job, then family benefits should be supporting women in that process.
They shouldn't be just saying, okay, go out there and work at McDonald's for $5.00 an hour, because that is not something that is going to help, that is going to create a worse situation, in my mind. I think that the situation with women who are young, who are single moms is, if they choose not to work while their children are small, they should have that option, and not be forced out into the labour market.
One of the things I have seen and the stories that I have heard, and also in my work at Dalhousie, is that I have seen women who have gone off to training programs on the advice of their worker, paid $5,000, $6,000 or $7,000 for tuition to take a computer course, and because they are going into an environment that is not supportive of them as single moms, they end up failing. Then they end up with a $5,000 or $6,000 debt.
I think part of the transition to employment is there has to be career counsellors and people who are aware and are up to date on what is happening in the labour market and to be aware of the barriers that single mothers face when they are going to school. One of them is the class times, some of it is childcare, some of it is emergency childcare. You may have day care but if your kid gets chickenpox on the second day of school, what are you going to do? That happened to me, that is why I bring that example up.
There are all these other support systems that need to be in place, and from what I see, that kind of counselling is not happening. My fear is that women who are social assistance or are single mothers will be forced out into the labour market to take any old job without the proper supports in place. The other thing is that it costs money to work. It costs money to work. You have to have clothes, you have to have transportation, you have to have a phone, you have to have access to emergency childcare money. I am very lucky because I work at Dalhousie, and I have very flexible work hours, but most people aren't that lucky to have that kind of flexibility. There are all kinds of support systems that need to be in place to help women make that transition to the labour market, and it should be up to them to decide. If they choose not to work at this time, then at least support them in even getting part-time upgrading. That is what I mean about the transition to employment should be a focus, but it is not the only focus, and it is not just the simple of matter of saying, go out there and get a job. As the gentleman said previously, he sent out 125 résumés, and I know of other people who are out there looking for work, and it is very, very difficult to find a job with a living wage.
When you are looking at cost-benefit analysis, I think one of the things, is that the benefits that women receive under family benefits should at least be continued while they are making that transition to work.
MADAM CHAIR: Are there any other questions, comments? Thank you very much, Patty.
MS. DOYLE-BEDWELL: Thank you very much. I would like to thank the committee. (Applause)
[7:44 p.m. Mr. James Muir took the Chair.]
MR. CHAIRMAN: The next presenter is Shiana Gregg, who is a private citizen. Welcome.
MS. SHIANA GREGG: Good evening honourable members. Ladies and gentlemen, my name is Shiana Gregg, of Beaver Bank, Nova Scotia. I come before you as a single mother of three, who is still struggling to become financially independent. I feel that because I have rode the roller coaster of the social assistance program, I am a fantastic representative of where the welfare system could use some reforms.
Our policy makers, our courts, our lawyers, our doctors, our counsellors, our teachers, right down the line to the clients of social assistance need to be aware of just what people look, feel and think when they are involved in unhealthy relationships. Yes, unhealthy is how I feel my relationship was. It was always the girl-next-door syndrome or the poor, uneducated, "typical" girls who got themselves into relationships that were not healthy environments. I correct you there. That was wrong.
Some men, women, children, live their whole existence not being exposed to healthy environments to pass on or have examples from. If we ever expect to break the cycle of violence, it must be now that we take initiative and responsibility to do so. I feel the biggest area of work is with education. I don't mean send every welfare recipient back to school but rather social awareness. Although educated with family support and friends, I never knew the true meaning of three powerful words - control, manipulation and abuse - so clear until I fully understood and comprehended their impact on my everyday life. I went looking for ways to change, improve and feel about my life. There were resources, but none offered readily by the social worker I was involved with. There was no direction on his behalf whatsoever.
The last one and one-half years of determination has been very rewarding. I took not one but two Worth programs through the Bryony House. Allowances for gas and babysitters were a great help. I learned that what I was living was abuse, how people in general, let alone partners, manipulate and control. The only way to change this was to get and maintain positive self-esteem. The word self-esteem has to be my most valued vocabulary. What I have encountered, that people with positive self-esteem are far from aggressive or passive in any aspect of their life. They treat people fairly yet never let others step over their boundaries. They make healthy choices of behaviour, can dissolve and handle conflict easily and can promote examples to themselves, their children, neighbours, and ultimately their peers.
I have received personal counselling for depression which outwardly no one else knew but me, the black hole of panic. Fear and, again, self-esteem was sometimes overwhelming to a point of wanting to give up, not wanting to get out of bed, much less be a mother or valuable employee. Depression can be a product of your environment. Please, help the mental environment of mothers, children and even fathers by not just providing, yet pointing a direction to these resources out to those in need. I have again sought out a parenting course as well. Wow, what a difference that has made. We all need to be aware of better parenting skills because, like I always said, a child is never born with manuals attached to them.
You ask again about repeat offenders to the program. I feel if these clients of social assistance, myself included, received proper direction and self-esteem programs as part of the criteria for receiving your cheques, you would find less women and their children getting back into abusive relationships and starting the cycle all over again. The women could spot controllers and abusive actions.
My hard, bumpy, yet character-building trek began four years ago. Without personal determination and endurance I would never have been able to be here tonight to make this presentation. I come up against hard walls but, again, always found detours to financiers. Creativity became a way of life. There is a personal experience that you don't have a copy of that I would like to elaborate on. It is my own personal experience. I have had a social worker who has never tried to point me in the direction of any type of resources, be they resources Worth programs, counselling programs, self-esteem workshops, résumé writing, interview skill workshops, job readiness programs, or job development programs. You say the resources are there. Show the people the avenues to take.
I have asked numerous questions from how to deal with situations with low self-esteem and not knowing how to react to problems, how to get self-help seminars, job or career questions, and have been made to feel on many occasions as if it was not their problem. Deal with it and handle it. I will give you an example. Even as recent as July 1998 a term position became available. My name had been on day care lists for subsidies for a year and one-half but still was not available for me. I made calls to every day care in the metro area looking for a spot. I did not want to say no to work. It was my first foot in the door. I took a spot in Fall River for my children where they gave me a break on the price at $600 a month for three children. Day care, subsidized day care has to be a priority. At the same time when I took this job my social worker also advised me that if I quit my position, the best place for me would be to stay home and wait for my cheque. Well, with determination, and to prove him wrong, I rose above that one again. I will be honest with you. As my last resort I made a call, figuring that maybe the government who was in power could point me to some resources. I called Community Services and the Legislature and my answer was that they would get back to me. I felt it was some breakthrough until a few days later my worker called with an aggressive tone, being very intimidating, and literally raking me over the coals about going above his head because he had received heat from his boss.
How do you think someone trying to heal from an abusive relationship was to react? I was feeling guilty about the heat he had received and scared to rise up against someone in his stature. Last but not least, very angry, he thought he had the right to speak to me this way. There is one question still unanswered. Would he speak to his own boss the way he spoke to me? I don't believe so or he wouldn't still be working there. Did I report him? No, and, as you've already heard this evening, the reason why I did not report it was because until the point in my life comes, where I am financially off social assistance, I needed to just document it until a point came where I wouldn't have any repercussions in the future.
Also at this time I made a phone call to the Sackville-Beaver Bank MLA, Rosemary Godin. I hadn't even met her before and she had made a few phone calls for me, with the last being back to me. While working, I have an allowance of $200 to be made before deductions are taken off. Through the phone call from Rosemary Godin special allowances of $400 was supposed to be made because of the extraordinary cost of three children in day care which was very difficult. It was never my case put into place. I was told by my social worker there was no special allowances to be made.
The child poverty level is being affected when you give a mother a $200 allowance on gross pay and not net pay. For instance, if my gross pay is $580, my net pay might be about $400. Then you start taking deductions; $20 over and above doesn't go far for childcare or extra expenses. Also the new National Child Benefit Program was to provide an increase in your child tax benefit cheques. This was to help the child poverty level. Well, I would like to know how the program expects to achieve this when social assistance recipients as you know, are living on or below the poverty line and the money is directly deducted from their assistance cheques. Zero to zero feeds no one.
The Pharmacare card can also make a difference with a working mother. Sometimes it can break the financial barrier for a working mother. Knowing that the medication can still be supplied as well as money for extra costs. For example, a mother with an asthmatic child who was in an ongoing maintenance drug program without a Pharmacare card finds it impossible to accept employment unless at a wage rate way above the local labour market. Many of the jobs in Nova Scotia are part-time and low paying.
In closing, I feel that providing qualified, sensitive and knowledgeable field staff, who have the time to assess and determine client needs and direct them within the system, would be helpful and ultimately to self-sufficiency. My determination now has led me to a job developer within the social assistance program. I hate to say, my social worker never told me anything about job developer programs. After a year and one-half wait my subsidized day care spot has finally come through. I never thought for a minute when I was a child, a teenager, or an adult, that I would be a single mom, or be in a position where I would be on social assistance. I always wanted the family values and the picket fence with the children playing outside.
The day care spots, subsidized spots, need to be supplied and accessible quicker than in the past. The Pharmacare card also needs to be left open to working mothers. Education, from yourselves included, right down the line, should be mandatory for social awareness to the public to both inform and act on the rights and responsibilities of each individual. I invite each and every person that would be in the public to not just listen and pretend that they are hearing a sob story but to actually listen and hear the pain of any woman, child, man, that has been through an abusive situation or an unhealthy relationship as I like to call it. I am no longer a victim. I am now a survivor and will go on to meet the needs of my children and myself in the future.
Children's resources also need to be addressed. We need nutrition for proper physical and intellectual development. We send these little children to school. Day in and day out I walk over to the school with my children and see hungry little children who don't even have their hair combed, or their outfits are on backwards, their shoes are on the wrong feet and I think, where are their parents. Not all parents who are on welfare or social assistance don't care about ourselves or our children. We need counsellors to teach and recognize the effects of self-esteem in children. The areas of mental health for children has been overlooked for way too long. Teachers need to work on giving positive attitudes along with the whole community in finding a way to treating the holistic family healing process. Instead of fragmenting the family apart, keep it together as long as possible. Stop trying to stuff mothers and children into pigeonholes within the system to try to get by.
The choice, which is a very important word, is now going to be left to you as our decision-makers and policy-changers. I hope and pray not only for me and my children, that you won't make the choice to turn a deaf ear or a blind eye, but instead to educate yourselves and change the current system, which as a society we know is not working let alone preventing or promoting decent changes of life for us all. We all deserve and have the right to live and grow.
I will remind you of a story we were all told as little children. I still, today, remind my own children of this. Do you remember the little train who wanted to get over the mountain? I think I can, I think I can, I think I can, I think I can. All he needed to feel was I thought I could, I thought I could, I thought I could, I thought I could. Thank you again, Shiana Gregg from Beaver Bank, Nova Scotia. (Applause)
[7:57 p.m. Ms. Maureen MacDonald resumed the Chair.]
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you. Before you leave there may be some questions. Are there any questions or comments? Thank you very much. Our next presentation is from DASC Industries, Dartmouth Adult Service Centre, Dr. John Banks.
DR. JOHN BANKS: Good evening. I am the chairperson of DASC and I have with me an executive director in case there are any questions you may wish to address after we make our presentation. Our presentation is our response to the discussion paper, Social Assistance Restructuring Initiative - Rebuilding the System. I would like to give you some background on DASC or Dartmouth Adult Service Centre. We are a vocational day program for adults challenged with a mental and in some cases physical handicap. We are a non-profit society operated by a volunteer board of directors, employing a unionized workforce.
DASC currently provides services to 147 persons ranging from centre-based life skills programs to community-based employment programs. We are funded in part by the Department of Community Services and supplement that funding with our internal business ventures, such as promotional button manufacturing, Communion wafer production, and mailing services. The third source of our revenue is fund-raising and donations, which everyone knows is becoming an increasingly difficult race for the public dollar.
Our mission statement: The mission of DASC Industries, in association with its community, is to provide opportunities for adults with a mental handicap and support them in realizing individual potential in society.
The issues that arose in our review of the documents have been outlined on the second page. The major challenge for persons with a mental handicap is active participation in their communities. Parents and families meet basic needs of food and shelter in many cases, and for those persons 'in care' these needs are met by other non-profit organizations which may or may not be adequately funded. The onset of for-profit service providers brings another dimension on establishing standards and monitoring for compliance.
Meaningful activity after school consists of few real options for the mentally handicapped. Post-secondary opportunities are limited or non-existent. The labour force is still battling the acceptance of persons with a mental handicap, and by virtue of the disability, some persons can only participate to the level they are able and will not at any time be able to enter the labour force in a meaningful way to earn a living. For others, organizations like DASC are opportunities for learning, contribution and meaningful activity. Unfortunately, the current waitlist of 45 makes DASC an unlikely option for some time to come for any other participants.
Participation in community is also premised on a person's financial ability to do so. It is no secret that persons with a mental handicap live in poverty. If they live 'in care' and wish to go to a movie, they must also pay for the staff member's ticket who will take them there, and the organizations must have adequate staffing in order for the option to exist in the first place. If the person lives at home with family, the participation in community as a lifestyle issue becomes the family's responsibility.
At the heart of these issues is social assistance and family benefits, two-tiered systems merging to one and the agenda that drives social assistance restructuring. If that agenda is providing for equal citizenship, equality of opportunity, inclusion, empowerment, and participation of persons with disabilities in their community to the level they are able, then we celebrate this initiative.
However, the agenda items that appear to be invading the document are: selective consultation, administrative needs, financial cost savings, and labour force attachments. We acknowledge the department's responsibility for fiscal management, but in the absence of principle statements, clear polices and procedures; the needs of the person do not appear to outweigh the needs of the system for social reform.
We have some recommendations regarding the outcome of this reform. DASC supports a separate legislated income support program for persons with disabilities and people who will need assistance on a long-term basis, mainly persons with a permanent disability. Secondly, this separate legislation program should address those necessary additional costs or the support services that are needed by persons with a disability.
Support services can be applicable to the individual, but they also include organizations such as DASC who service a number of people with disabilities. We further feel that the support services, that being the organizations that are involved in trying to assist and provide these services, be involved in establishing eligibility, be allowed to participate in standardization issues, be adequately funded to meet these negotiated standards, be regularly evaluated, and aided in advancing the quality of support service provision.
It is in this way that social reform will enable DASC to fulfil its mission "in association with its community" to provide opportunities for adults with a mental handicap and support them in realizing individual potential in society.
I just want to make a few points, to summarize what our concerns are. As I indicated earlier, a big concern was the focus of financial restructuring to cut costs, that seemed to come from reading the restructuring initiative. Also, we feel very strongly, as I say, to differentiate between the persons with short-term needs for service and people with obviously permanent needs for ongoing service. These permanent persons of need, need more than just basic services addressed, they need to have addressed special services that they individually need.
As I indicated, the special services of support organizations should be addressed in this legislation. Organizations such as ours, really we don't see a place for our existence. If you read the document, it is like we are not there, there is no funding for us, we no longer exist.
Finally, on a personal level, I am a family doctor and I frequently have to fill out family benefit forms for people on short-term need but also long-term need. I find that the big issue is when I have to fill out one of these documents for a permanent person, who is clearly permanently disabled; filling out the form, to them, represents a threat to their provision of ongoing service. This shouldn't be happening on a regular basis to somebody who is clearly permanently disabled. They should be free of the threat of loss of their service on an annual or bi-annual basis, which often happens. I think these reassessments need to be done, but need to be done more to focus on how one could upgrade their service or address special needs that may arise to the individual, but not to serve as a threat to their ongoing basic service.
That is our presentation. I think if there are any questions, either I or our executive director would be happy to answer them.
MR. PYE: Thank you. Question to you, John, is it fair to term DASC Industries as a sheltered workshop?
DR. BANKS: Essentially it is. We do have clients out in the community working as well, that we do support.
MR. PYE: That was my next question. Do you offer a vocational training program, as such, with respect to mentally and physically handicapped individuals?
DR. BANKS: Primarily mentally, but some are also physically. Many of our clients are served full time in a really living education, it is a program for individuals who have no hope of even entering some of our work programs within the sheltered workshop. These are more at trying to train them in living skills, self-care skills. There are many clients who cannot. We call it our behaviour program, but it is essentially trying to meet the very simple human needs for persons who cannot even hope to move on to our in-house vocational programs.
We service clients who don't really qualify under a vocational workshop concept, in the sense they don't meet the requirements or don't meet the eligibility standards for that aspect of it. We are also trying to develop what we call a day option program for clients who would be, again, unable to benefit from the vocational aspects, but could benefit from recreational activities out in the community. These would again be the more severely handicapped members of society.
MR. PYE: Finally, I do recognize that there are individuals who will not seek employment in the labour force, and we do recognize that. I am wondering what is the percentage of individuals, both mentally and physically, primarily mentally, who go through a training program at DASC Industries that are employed within the workforce?
DR. BANKS: Do you mean the external workforce?
MR. PYE: External workforce.
DR. BANKS: . . . as a living wage?
MR. PYE: With a living wage, yes.
DR. BANKS: Well, I would have to pass that on to our executive director.
MS. CATHY DEAGLE GAMMON: If you are looking for a number, then you could say approximately 20 per cent of the total population that we serve, are out earning either minimum wage or higher, but that is 20 per cent of about 157 people. When you put it in that perspective, it is not that many. I think we have 12 people we support who are earning more than minimum wage.
MR. PYE: That is 20 per cent of the individuals without a sheltered workshop, who would not have been employed in the first place.
MS. GAMMON: Yes, and without DASC would not continue to be employed.
MR. PYE: Yes, absolutely. Thank you.
DR. BANKS: There is a substantial number who earn what you could call a stipend, money that allows them to go to the movies or something.
MADAM CHAIR: Are there any other questions or comments? Thank you very much.
DR. BANKS: Thank you. (Applause)
MADAM CHAIR: Our next presentation is from the Maritime School of Social Work, Jennifer Dwyer. Is this the student group?
MS. JENNIFER DWYER: Yes. Good evening. My name is Jennifer Dwyer, and I am representing the Maritime School of Social Work at Dalhousie University. I am here tonight representing the school's student group, and also the Committee on Racial and Ethnic Affairs or COREA as we call it. The student group has a very broad mandate which among other things includes being aware of current political, social and economic issues and supporting efforts to raise social awareness and create change. COREA is a joint student faculty standing committee of the MSSW whose mandate is to assist with the recruitment and retention of students designated by the affirmative action policy and act as a resource to all aspects of the program, including program and policy development.
The students and faculty felt it was important that we be here tonight and bring you our perspective on social assistance reform. I am not going to talk about the specific aspects of social assistance or point out particular areas of reform as we feel many other groups scheduled to appear before you are aptly able to do that. What we would like to focus on is social assistance in Nova Scotia as a whole. We want to emphasize that the government needs to do more than merely tinker with a few of the most appalling aspects of the social assistance program. It needs to be completely overhauled.
To truly understand how to go about reform we feel it is important to be familiar with the history of social assistance in Nova Scotia. Income assistance and family benefits in the province are based on the poor laws of Elizabethan England. The first poor law appeared in the books in 1768 and each municipality in the province established poor districts and appointed overseers to see that limited amounts of money were used to provide temporary relief to the poor. If the poor had relatives that could support them, they received nothing from the municipality. If there were too many poor people living in a municipality, they were auctioned off with the person willing to take them for the least amount of money.
More than a century later, in 1879, poorhouses were established where the poor had to go and live in order to get assistance. Their thinking was that if people saw how horrible the conditions were inside, they would stop their idleness and go back to making an honest living. Those who couldn't, people with physical disabilities, those who were mentally ill or too sick to work, unmarried mothers, children and the elderly, were forced to live in misery. The fact that their poverty was unfortunate results of living in a society that valued men and put white men above those of other races wasn't' even considered. Instead, the poorest people in Nova Scotia were considered morally defective and held responsible for their own poverty. Once they entered the poorhouses, they lost all freedom. It is a shocking history but even more since poorhouses actually existed in the 1930's and the Poor Relief Act was only repealed from legislation in 1958.
The new one-tiered social assistance policy that came into effect on April 1, 1998, continues the legacy of the poor laws. Since the province took over the responsibility for income assistance and family benefits the rates were standardized across the board and people are still being forced to live well below the poverty line which isn't very high as it is. For single people the poverty line is approximately $11,000 to $16,000, depending on where that person lives. The idea of the worthy and unworthy poor is still very much alive in Nova Scotia and gaining acceptance, if anything. Those deemed employable, like single men and women, youth, and even single moms whose children are in school, are considered unworthy of social assistance. Rates for them are kept purposely low to discourage dependence on the system.
For example, if a single mom with a two year old child in Nova Scotia receives the maximum family benefit amount of $781 a month and pays $550 for rent, $32 for phone, and $20 for her own personal necessities, she has only $179 left to supply all her and her child's needs for the next 30 days. It is not a lot of money when you consider the cost of food,
transportation, clothing and diapers. For food alone it costs $118.13 a month for a woman to eat nutritiously according to a Nova Scotia study. Even more striking is the fact that single people are struggling to find housing for $225 a month which is all they're allowed under social assistance. They may not have to live in a poorhouse but they might as well because they're living in the same life of misery and poverty.
Obviously, social assistance in Nova Scotia needs to be reformed but not in the direction the Department of Community Services appears to be moving. From the discussion paper that was released in the fall it appears that the department is leaning towards a single system of benefits based on a needs scale. Presumably, reforms would ensure those who needed support most would receive it, regardless of whether they fit into the designated category or not. While this has the potential of being more progressive, it is clear from the discussion paper that the department is more concerned with who should be excluded than who should be included. Although the discussion paper acknowledges that there will always be the need for a safety net, it stops short of stating that people have a right to adequate basic needs.
In fact, the department makes us consider how we can prevent fraud and whether or not we should make families responsible for supporting their relatives. This suggests to us that the reforms are being driven by financial considerations rather than any attempt to address people's needs. The department appears to be continuing the myth of deserving and undeserving poor. The department also continues to see employability as a solution to poverty. Rather than admit that governments keep unemployment levels artificially high to meet market demands, the discussion paper instead focuses on the needs to implement policies and enhance people's employability and job readiness skills. Although the department acknowledges that the government as a whole needs to work collaboratively to address the high levels of unemployment for all Nova Scotians, this goal isn't given nearly as much attention as goals that focus more on individual self-reliance and good family environment.
Although the focus group stressed the key to addressing child poverty is to help parents out of poverty, prevention initiatives centre around parenting supports, family resource centres and early childhood education. Again, the emphasis is on individual deficiency. The structural aspect of child poverty, such as the lack of subsidized day care, inadequate levels of social assistance and labour market barriers for parents, are virtually ignored. If employability is indeed the solution to poverty, we strongly believe that reforming social assistance alone won't be able to accomplish that. There is no point in training people for jobs that don't exist or pay so little that the cost of working is prohibitive. Yet that is what this government appears to be proposing.
This government is ignoring the reality the workers see every day. According to a report released recently by the Centre for Social Justice, workers' wages are no longer keeping up with the inflation and it is much harder to find full-time work. In fact, only half the workers currently employed today work full time. Instead, the fastest growing segment of the
labour market involves temporary, seasonal and contract work. What is crucial to understand is the fact that the middle-class in Canada is shrinking. In 1996 only 44 per cent of families with children under 18 earned a middle-class income of between $24,000 and $65,000 a year. That is a drop of 16 per cent from 1973.
Today, 60 per cent of families with children are earning less than in 1981. Employment no longer guarantees an adequate standard of living; 20 per cent of all poor or single people under 65 lived in poverty in 1996 even though they worked between 49 and 52 hours a week; 7 per cent of all poor families with heads under 65 lived in poverty even when both partners together worked for 93 or more weeks during the year. In 1996 the poorest 20 per cent of households with dependent children earned incomes of only $6,000. Even with government help in the form of unemployment insurance, social assistance and other programs, their income was only $16,000.
Nova Scotians don't need employment to get off social assistance. They need adequate employment and the opportunity to truly succeed. Although the government doesn't seem to feel the private sector has much of a role to play in social assistance, we feel that its involvement is vital. Structural inequity in the workplace must be reversed if there is to be true equality of opportunity for all Nova Scotians. There has to be more effort in ending racist and sexist hiring practices and inaccessibility for people with physical and mental disabilities. The minimum wage and workplace benefits must be increased and extended to a level where people are able to live above the poverty line. If you do the math, it works out to approximately $9.00 an hour, not $5.50 which is the minimum wage now.
As well, the spiralling costs of higher education and employment training programs need to be controlled and those on social assistance must have better access. Although there are many aspects of social assistance in Nova Scotia that need to be reformed, we want to stress that it cannot be done in isolation of the social, economic and political circumstances in which we live. Growing inequality shouldn't be the price we pay for economic growth. It doesn't make sense. International data stretching over generations indicates that societies where incomes are more equal have higher and more prolonged rates of economic growth. Moreover we feel the Nova Scotia Government has a moral responsibility to adequately provide for all its citizens. Success shouldn't be measured at the level of wealth. It should be measured by how equally the wealth is spread among society.
As you consider our presentation and the many others you receive, we hope you will recall our message. Governments have the power to implement real reform and real reform involves implementing policies that reduce unemployment levels, addressing systematic inequalities, redistributing wealth more equitably and cater to human needs as opposed to market forces and capital accumulation. Economic growth means nothing to any of us as a community of people if people's human rights and human dignity are ignored and the system pushes us down every time we try to get up. Social assistance reform shouldn't be about who deserves more and where limits of resources are best spent. It should be about ensuring all
Nova Scotians have the right to an adequate standard of living, and that can only be done if the government throws off the shackles of the poor laws that have haunted the province since 1768 and takes steps to eliminate the systematic inequalities which are the true causes of poverty.
I also want to say something on a more personal level. I am just listening to the presentations tonight and it has been very informative for me. As a student of social work, I do hope that the group of us that are studying in the program now will learn about the social inequalities that do exist and about treating people with the dignity and the respect that they do deserve.
MADAM CHAIR: Are there questions or comments? You're one of the students I missed. I regret that. Thank you. (Applause) Our agenda now in terms of people who have come forward, who have asked to appear, has been completed, but we've always taken the time to ask members of the public if there is anyone here who would like to make a brief impromptu presentation? We are certainly prepared to hear from you. Hearing none, we will adjourn and the committee will resume hearings tomorrow afternoon at 2:00 p.m. in the Red Chamber. Thank you very much.
[The committee adjourned at 8:22 p.m.]