MADAM CHAIR: Good afternoon. Welcome. My name is Maureen MacDonald and I am the MLA for Halifax Needham and Chair of the Standing Committee on Community Services. This afternoon is the last set of public presentations that the Standing Committee on Community Services will be receiving on social assistance reform in Nova Scotia. This is the process that we began as a committee in the early part of September 1998. We have been around Nova Scotia, from Cape Breton to Yarmouth and all parts in between, as many as the budget would allow for, I guess. We have had many extremely well-developed, powerful, and compelling presentations on the current social assistance system and how people think it could be improved upon.
Our process is one where we have a list of people who will be presenting to us today and, at the end of these presentations, we will have an opportunity to talk to the presenters and ask them a few questions. I would like the other members of the committee to introduce themselves, and we will get started.
[The committee members introduced themselves.]
Thank you. Our first presentation this afternoon will be from People First Nova Scotia. Mr. Paul Young and Ms. Jamie Alcorn.
MR. PAUL YOUNG: Good afternoon and thank you for the opportunity of speaking to your standing committee. I would like to tell you what the organization I represent is about in a very brief, quick summation. The organization is called People First Nova Scotia. It represents people who are labelled mentally handicapped and who have used services such as institutions, sheltered workshops, and the traditional services that might be provided for a person labelled mentally handicapped. It is recognized in the province as the official voice of people labelled mentally handicapped, who speak on behalf of themselves, as I might have said. "We speak for ourselves" is our motto and we speak on employment, deinstitutionalization and guardianship. We are recognized and we want to say publicly that we thank the Nova Scotia Government and Community Services for recognizing that fact and giving us operational funding as of one year ago this very month.
I would like to say that we are very glad that Community Services and this standing committee are looking at the social safety net, or whatever you might want to call it, and looking at how they may restructure it. As a past president of the provincial organization, and a founding member of that organization, I have been frustrated for many years seeing people labelled mentally handicapped as just very childlike, who never ever grow up - maybe they would be 15 years of age or 55 years of age - they are just children who don't know any better and we must give them something to do.
The environment is not good, it doesn't let people develop as a person, to gain self-esteem and self-awareness and self-accomplishment. Institutions have hidden them away and put them under quite a strain of being oppressed and not allowing them to have a spirit of their own being. Closing institutions in this province has begun in the last number of years, opening small options homes and group homes. There are still many institutions.
One of the problems that we have is that the funding is geared to the system, the system of how many beds are in a group home, how many beds are in a small options home, and whether the funders will either close that bed and lose the money or whether the money should go with the individual. We believe that the money that is geared to support someone to live in the community should go to the person, and let them make informed choices in plain language, or in language that they can understand so that they have, again, a spirit of accomplishment. This is not being done. The money is geared, as I said, to beds, it is geared to where the municipality has to have a say in it, Community Services has to have a say in it, and the individual has no say in where they might want to live or who they might want to have support them.
Education and training. School systems are not geared, again, to people with disabilities. Some educational settings allow for people to be integrated into the school, but no supports to help them be educated, no teachers' aides, no teachers' assistants. There are 30 and 40 people in a classroom where individuals need that support. We are not saying that they should be separate. As a matter of fact, we are saying the opposite, they should be in the school, in the class, but they need support.
We hear so many times about people saying that they have learning disabilities, and the system hasn't figured out how to teach them in a proper way. We feel that this is important, that people learn how to teach people, maybe not in the traditional way, but whatever way that they can absorb education. Training is important, and education, of course, is important, and it leads to employment.
People with disabilities in this province are not employed. I won't quote percentages, I don't remember them and it is not important. The fact is that people live in poverty. Yes, they get social assistance, but the social assistance is not even close to minimum wage, which an average able-bodied person gets and they have an opportunity to get a job. People with mental handicaps don't have the opportunity to get a job, they don't have the social experience to be able to work in the atmosphere because they have been sheltered away in the segregated, institutional, childlike system that has been created in the, of course, charitable mode.
Sheltered workshops have only provided a place where they might learn some skills, a place to go to enjoy each other's company and to be together. No mentoring, no learning from other people how to act or what to do or what situation they're in, how to get out of it because they can't learn. They only know that they're there because they can't do anything. These things have to change.
One way of doing that is to promote hiring people with disabilities and, in fact, putting legislation forth to do so. No longer can we afford to have people sit in corners and pass time away when they can be utilized and make themselves more worthwhile, to be empowered. We think that this is an important issue for people to consider when they're thinking about restructuring social services. We base everything on the charitable mode and not on what individuals can do. People in the system think that people with disabilities can only do certain things and that is all they can do. They haven't had the skills or the vision to know that maybe there is something more underneath the person than just the disability. It may be Down's syndrome; it may be cerebral palsy. All they see is the disability and not what's inside. What can a person do, what can't they do, and how do we support them to do this?
You have to start thinking about people and what they need, and not a system or what bureaucrats, or what municipal services need, or anything like that. The system has to change - not back - to the individual who needs support. We are citizens of Canada and citizens of this province. We need an equal opportunity to be employed and to have everything else that everybody else has, an opportunity to achieve. Not everybody is successful, but at least they have the opportunity. The people that I am honoured to represent do not have that because they're children. They don't need anything. We'll look after them and that's the charitable, do-gooders-society attitude with disabled people whenever they came out of the closet, whether it is 50 or 60 years ago. We're still in the mode of they have this and they have that and, my, isn't it unfortunate, I am glad I'm not one of those.
Start looking at the person and what they need, not what their disability needs. Yes, the disability may need support, it may need attendant care. It may need better wheelchairs for wheelchair users, but what is the person doing? What about the person who is sitting in that chair, who is trying to manipulate around in this province?
I am from Sydney. I came up by Acadian Lines yesterday and the man sitting next me, who was carried on the bus, who had cerebral palsy, he was a wheelchair user. He couldn't eat, drink, or anything, for six hours because he couldn't go to the bathroom on the bus or get off the bus to go to the bathroom in a station. No one should have to sit for six hours on a bus and not eat. He was concerned about whether he was going to move. If he moved to one place, it was going to be more money. If he moved to another place, it was going to be less money, and he didn't think that anybody would build a ramp for him in the house that he proposed to go into because he is a wheelchair user. Everybody is worried about, again, providing, making sure the system is there but not about what the individual needs. He may need more than I do, he may need less than I do to be supported, but he needs that opportunity.
Just briefly I want to give you an example of my own life. Thirty-five years ago, I was Paul Young in the Sydney Kinsmen workshop, going to Special Olympics, attending free bowling, and being looked after, being bossed around and being patted on the head: Aren't you a cute fellow and isn't your mother and father wonderful to have you at home? In the last 30 years, my life has changed because I have had opportunities. Three people in my life have given me opportunities to be employed. I just finished, six months ago, 18 years of service in the CBC, working as a radio technician. People saw something in me that even I didn't see because I was told I was handicapped. I was told that I wouldn't do anything and I believed it, because people above me - who I thought more of - said I couldn't do it. Someone found me. Someone took an interest and showed me that I could do it.
I did the "going down the road" thing 25 years ago in Toronto and I went to the workshop in Toronto. They told me I would never work in radio, that they would give me a dishwashing job. Thirty years later I have just finished with CBC, not by my choice but because of government cutbacks, and I have had wonderful experiences, opportunities that I could never ever have had.
I sat on the bus with a friend of mine this morning who goes to the Prescott Street workshop, and another gentleman who goes there and I looked at them and they were giggling and not caring about anything, they were doing the childlike thing. I thought to myself: That's what I was 30 years ago, a little child at 32 years of age, not having a care in the world, and not caring about whether I had any responsibilities or that I could do anything.
That is my presentation. People First Nova Scotia want Community Services to change their attitude about people with disabilities, to have a new vision of people with disabilities so that they can become individuals and not someone with a disability. I thank you for the opportunity and I wish you luck on your deliberations.
MADAM CHAIR: Thanks, Paul. Are there questions or comments?
MR. JERRY PYE: Jamie and Paul, both, I must tell you that it has been a pleasure to attend your annual general meeting that was held here most recently. First, let me say that although I believe that we have moved a long way towards deinstitutionalizing persons with mental disabilities, there is a saying that even the small options homes are, in fact, many institutions in themselves. I guess my question to you today is, Paul, do you believe that there are extraordinary circumstances or situations whereby persons with mental disabilities must be institutionalized?
MR. YOUNG: No.
MR. PYE: Can you elaborate?
MR. YOUNG: Everyone needs support and what people tend to do is - again, as I said a little while ago - focus on their disability and not on who they are. I have a brother - I am negotiating right now to get him out of Waterville - who someone who is able-bodied would say he is severely handicapped and he is non-verbal. Well, when I go in to see him, which is not very often, he puts a big smile on his face. I say, hi, Tony, you're looking good today and I talk to him. Then, if an attendant comes along and I talk to them, he grabs hold of my arm because he wants me to talk to him.
They were playing music at a Christmas party and he had just wakened from a sleep that he probably didn't need, because nobody is giving him anything to do, and someone was starting to play a song or entertain. A big smile came on his face when he clapped. We clapped along together and he had a big smile on his face, so there is a person inside this disabled body wanting to reach out and everybody is saying the typical, well, they're severely handicapped, we don't need to do anything about them. They can't do anything anyway and they don't know anything.
Well, I beg to differ. When people throw that kind of stuff at me, I have to mention three people, Ann Sullivan, Helen Keller and Dr. Alexander Graham Bell. If anybody was suffering, if anybody was non-verbal, if anybody was incapable of doing anything, it would have been Helen Keller, but I often wonder what Helen Keller would have ended up being if that was the attitude of her family and Ann Sullivan and Alexander Graham Bell. Where would we be today? So look beyond the disability, stop focusing on the disability. What can
this person do? Maybe it is not very much, but they should have the opportunity to do something.
MR. PYE: Yes. I believe that you mentioned that you received funding from the Nova Scotia Department of Community Services last year, was that the first year that People First Nova Scotia received funding from the Department of Community Services?
MR. YOUNG: No. We received a small - I call it a small - grant for about eight years, which would allow us to have a couple of meetings and maybe some transportation, but this was the first time that we got operational funding to hire staff people and to set up an office and to do this kind of work. If we didn't have that operational funding, we wouldn't be here today and you wouldn't hear our message, and I thank the government again.
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. Muir.
MR. JAMES MUIR: You mentioned that you think government monies ought to be attached to individuals as opposed to spaces, or institutions, or many institutions. Do you know places where that is done, Paul or Jamie?
MR. YOUNG: Yes. Right in this province, the SSG. What does it stand for?
MS. JAMIE ALCORN: The Support Services Group.
MR. YOUNG: The Support Services Group, where the funding goes to the individual. They pick their support people; they pick their people that they need around, a coordinator, or whatever, and they choose what they want. The money goes with them, not with a bed, not with a hospital.
MR. MUIR: Is that a pilot project?
MR. YOUNG: Yes. The pilot project is under the . . .
MR. MUIR: In Dartmouth?
MR. YOUNG: . . . Community Inclusions Fund which is funded by HRDC and is operated through the Nova Scotia Association of Community Living.
MS. ALCORN: It is different than the SSG. The SSG is a model that has been happening in Nova Scotia for a number of years.
MR. MUIR: The reason I asked was that I have had a group in my home constituency approach, and that's why I asked if it was a pilot program because I know there is a pilot going and if it is the same one.
MS. ALCORN: They've adopted the model, yes.
MR. YOUNG: It is a self-management . . .
MS. ALCORN: It is a self-managed project.
MR. YOUNG: Yes, yes, and that's budgeted through HRDC which People First of Canada sit on different community inclusion meetings and conferences. It is a part of that whole promotion.
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. Montgomery.
MR. LAWRENCE MONTGOMERY: I was just wondering, you mentioned that you participated in the Special Olympics. How did you find the Special Olympics, what kind of an experience was that for you?
MR. YOUNG: At the time of my growth it was wonderful. That was the ultimate for me, and that was the ultimate for my friends in the workshop. That's what I knew, okay? I now play golf myself. I have played floor hockey. That's a traditional thing for people with labels to do. I have played all that, but that is in the system and it is a narrow view of people with labels. It is a matter of having fun. Sir, millions of dollars goes into Special Olympics from corporations who don't hire anybody with a disability, particularly an intellectual disability.
Billions of dollars goes into that for fun: fun every six months, fun every week, fun every four years. Movie stars, hockey players, all pat everybody on the back and they pat the participants on the back and, yes, they love the participating. Yes, they should have the right to participate but, after they're gone home to their institutions, to their large group homes, to the sheltered workshop where they're not making any money, to the pension that doesn't even come up to minimum wage, fellow citizen, corporate citizen, pats himself on the back and says I belong to Special Olympics. If they took that money and put it into funding for employment and the supports to do that employment, they could make their own fun and be empowered and have self-worth, self-accomplishment. It is, again, the charitable model.
Many years ago they used to do that sort of thing to the Black people by having minstrel shows. It is the same attitude towards women, with beauty contests, and it is very demeaning. A person with an intellectual disability, they're in this little cocoon where they don't know any better and nobody is telling them that they can because they don't believe that they can do anything and this is all they can do. According to able-bodied people, the height of accomplishment is being in Special Olympics.
MR. MONTGOMERY: I thought it was to have equal opportunity, so that those people who are physically and mentally challenged can have the opportunity. Are you saying that it did nothing for your self-esteem?
MR. YOUNG: It did nothing for my self-esteem. Why can't I join the regular Olympics? Why can't I be part of the Canada Games? Why must it be separate? Why must it also be very special? How does that help people?
MR. MONTGOMERY: Is it not the first step in getting to that?
MR. YOUNG: Yes, but do you know how long that first step has been going on, sir? It's been 35 to 40 years; that is an awful big first step.
MR. MONTGOMERY: So you see it as a negative thing, as opposed to a positive?
MR. YOUNG: Absolutely.
MR. MONTGOMERY: Okay.
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. Charles MacDonald (MLA).
MR. CHARLES MACDONALD (MLA): Paul, if I may, were you in a sheltered workshop until you were approximately 30 years old?
MR. YOUNG: Yes.
MR. CHARLES MACDONALD (MLA): From there you went into the workforce . . .
MR. YOUNG: Yes.
MR. CHARLES MACDONALD (MLA): . . . at that point in time?
MR. YOUNG: Only on my own.
MR. CHARLES MACDONALD (MLA): On your own, yes.
MR. YOUNG: Nobody in the service said you can work in radio or you can work wherever. Nobody said that; as a matter of fact, they told me not to do it, and my parents told me not to do it. Why? Because I would lose my pension. Don't you dare lose your pension.
MR. CHARLES MACDONALD (MLA): Thank you.
MR. YOUNG: You are welcome.
MADAM CHAIR: I have one question, and it is whether, to your knowledge, there are any provinces in the country that pay minimum wages in the sheltered workshops? I ask this because I remember a legal challenge actually in Ontario, I think, some years ago, on this point, but I have never had information about what the outcome of that was and I am wondering if either of you know that.
MR. YOUNG: My educated guess - no facts and no proof - would be that there is very few of them that do, if any. My gut feeling is it is not part of the system. What did it used to be called, that the money went to? They changed it when they handed everything to the provinces but, anyway, it was basically funding that goes to the workshops. Why can't I think of that acronym? Anyway, I don't think so. I don't think anybody has had that kind of a vision.
MADAM CHAIR: I think, if I recall, part of the challenge was about whether or not sheltered workshops should be exempted from labour standards legislation in this . . .
MR. YOUNG: . . . it probably has. As a matter of fact, I think years ago, there was a law in this province that would allow someone to hire someone without paying them minimum wage because they had a disability.
MADAM CHAIR: Right. Anyway. Okay. . . . .
MR. YOUNG: Is it still in the books?
MR. PYE: I am not sure, it may very well be.
MR. YOUNG: Maybe you just gave me more work to do. Thank you.
MADAM CHAIR: It is an interesting question. Thank you very much.
MR. YOUNG: Thank you.
MADAM CHAIR: Our next presentation is from the Canadian Federation of Students, Jessica Squires, Penny McCall Howard and Inessa Petersen.
MS. PENNY MCCALL HOWARD: We have prepared a short brief; we gave copies to the Clerk. I believe it is being distributed now.
MADAM CHAIR: Before you start, would each of you identify yourselves? Then our Hansard people will know who to go to as you speak. For the record, it helps.
MS. HOWARD: My name is Penny McCall Howard. I am the national executive representative for Nova Scotia for the Canadian Federation of Students.
MS. INESSA PETERSEN: I am Inessa Petersen. I am the women's representative for Nova Scotia for the Canadian Federation of Students.
MS. JESSICA SQUIRES: I am Jessica Squires. I am the Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island fieldworker for the Canadian Federation of Students.
MS. HOWARD: The Canadian Federation of Students is a national student organization and we represent, federally and provincially, about 400,000 students across Canada, and about 7,000 students in Nova Scotia. Over the past several years, the Nova Scotia component in particular has been concerned with developing policy and strategies around poverty issues and students, and where they intersect. One thing that we have been noticing, increasingly, even in metro a number of student unions are now offering food banks. We know of two student unions in Halifax which currently run food banks, and the situation across Canada is quite similar.
Student assistance levels have not kept up with the costs of an education, yet students are expected to comply with rules governing study period income and, in essence, take a vow of poverty upon an application for assistance. It is becoming clear through anecdotal evidence that the post-secondary education system which once offered Canadians a way to improve their socio-economic situation, as well as their living standards, now in many cases does not have that value and, in some cases, has exactly the opposite effect.
In the specific arena of social assistance with which this committee is concerned, there are several issues of common concern to recipients of social assistance and recipients of student assistance. The federation has noted commonalities in: stereotyping of assistance recipients of both sorts; intention and effect of both types of assistance; intention and effects of public policy surrounding both types of assistance; factors which contributed to what are called "abuses" of both systems; myths that surround those types of abuses; and, above all, the inadequacies of both systems to adequately address the needs of those who require assistance.
We do have a policy statement governing poverty that does specifically oppose these stereotypes, as well as the factors which contribute to the need to draw from two or more kinds of assistance in order to be able to survive. The overall gist of our recommendations is to promote financial independence.
We do agree with the document statement that social assistance reform must not be used to reduce costs simply by cutting people's incomes, and that the trends towards workfare, which have been followed by some other provinces, are severely detrimental to both people's financial independence and to their self-esteem through the severe undervaluing of work and, in Nova Scotia, they should be definitely avoided.
We also don't believe that the expenditure of assistance that is received should be controlled. One example would be the introduction of food stamps. Currently, in the arena of student assistance, there are several job creation programs which do work against the financial independence of students by paying them in the form of tuition vouchers. Some examples do exist, especially in other provinces, where you are not even given a wage during the week, which would allow you to live independently. You are given a small stipend, which requires you to live at home. If you live in a small community which may not necessarily have a job for you there, you are not even paid, it is payment in the form similar to a company store chit, which were made illegal.
The use of vouchers, stamps, and measures such as workfare, imply that the recipients of assistance cannot and should not decide for themselves how to spend their money. They also imply that the work by assistance recipients does not have the same value as other kinds of work, and that the recipients of assistance are personally at fault for being in need and therefore should work for that help.
People with disabilities should also have access to services they require for any pursuit, educational or vocational. One damaging thing that has happened recently is the cuts to the federal vocational rehabilitation services. This is a service which provides students with disabilities the resources that they need to be able to attend school, whether that be interpretation, translation, or physical accessibility requirements.
We believe the only well-rounded approach to promote and ensure financial independence is job creation through public sector expenditures. Receiving assistance, by definition, does not mean independence. Independence is tantamount to employment. When joblessness is above 10 per cent, government upon government fails to deliver on creating quality full-time jobs, and youth are unemployed in the tens of thousands, it is clear that a change in current fiscal policy is required.
The fiscal policy in effect by this - and nearly every - government is currently one of bolstering the private sector at the expense of the workforce through corporate tax breaks, corporate welfare, and corporate tax loopholes. One particular example which resonates with us is the decision of this government to guarantee an $80 million loan to the Irving Corporation while, at the same time, refusing to guarantee $50 million worth of student loans, which has put the availability of those loans in further jeopardy because there are increasing restrictions on eligibility for those loans. So we see that as an abdication of responsibility on the part of the government.
These measures, we feel, misuse public funds which should be used to bolster failing social programs, including the social assistance program. We believe that an opposite fiscal policy should be adopted: job creation through public sector expenditures, low-interest rates, and fairer taxation.
In terms of employment, statistics tell us that key to accessing employment is education. More and more jobs do require varying kinds of post-secondary education and many do not discriminate between types of post-secondary education they require, although the rate of unemployment for university graduates is much lower than that of college graduates and high school graduates.
More than that, the right education is key to personal dignity and self-esteem. Any training is better than none and more education is better. Education must also be a matter of choice on the part of the individual. A person who does not wish to pursue post-secondary education has as much right to quality employment as anyone else. Social assistance recipients who wish to pursue further education and training should be assisted through transition programs. Currently in Nova Scotia, it almost seems like people who are on social assistance, who want to try and get some sort of post-secondary education, are almost dissuaded through some of the clawbacks and things that we will be discussing later.
Through the administration of social assistance, we believe that the possibility of fraudulent claims, their supposed high rates of incidence, et cetera, are used as excuses to blame recipients for their own situations created by circumstances that may be beyond their control, as well as also an excuse to reduce assistance and to change the way it is administered. Some participants in the focus group have identified that it is often the case that recipients of assistance are left with no alternative but to cheat the system in order to survive as levels of assistance are cut further and further, and we will give you an example later on.
A strong parallel to this situation does exist in the student assistance arena. If you compare the low income cut-offs set by the government to student assistance levels in 1997, a single independent student in a city the size of Halifax is living at 20 per cent below the survival level, and that is in the case where the recipient is on maximum assistance. The average assistance levels in 1997 are $7,500 over eight months, which would include tuition fees which, in Nova Scotia, run anywhere between $3,500 up to over $5,000. So it doesn't leave you with very much money.
The failure of assistance levels to meet the basic minimum needs of recipients leads directly to combining different types of assistance, failure to report income while receiving assistance, and other measures taken by individuals to ensure an adequate living standard. We don't believe further police crackdown is an effective way of dealing with these kinds of problems where they have been identified.
In terms of the role of family and partners, measures which require other adults in residence with social assistance recipients to contribute to their income is, we feel, quite antiquated. There are questions which are rather difficult to answer and which would lead to potentially huge administrative problems such as: How does one know if the couple living together are common-law partners or simply room-mates? What if the room-mate is the same sex as the recipient? What if the room-mate has children living with another parent for whom they must provide financial support? What if one or both parents have pre-existing debts? These measures encourage ideas that single parents or single people are less responsible than those in family situations.
Assistance should be considered on an individual financial basis, independent of resources belonging to other individuals, regardless of how closely related those individuals are. We especially find that, with student assistance, the expectation of parental contribution is often unrealistic, particularly with students coming from rural communities there is an expectation that they will live with parents over the summer or, if possible, when attending school which, in many cases, is simply not feasible if you do want to try and get employment and if you're going to try and make money to pay for your tuition the next fall. So many students find themselves in a difficult situation and not getting enough assistance because of unrealistic expectations of parental contributions.
Regarding youth, 16 year olds, we feel, do have a right to determine their own lifestyles. Adults can be negotiated with and educated, and adults treated like adults will generally respond like adults. The legislation of morals and behaviour is not only impossible, it is also inappropriate.
In terms of financial sustainability, the federation supports the idea of job creation in the non-profit sector, subject to public scrutiny. Job creation in any sector should be approached with extreme caution. Controls should be put in place to prevent abuse of the system by businesses or organizations such as using positions created to get existing jobs done more cheaply, exploitation of workers in those jobs due to extraordinary dependence on those jobs for their survival, and political leverage to lobby for anti-union legislation. These are three examples from programs implemented in Ontario and in Nova Scotia. Only quality, adequately compensated and protected jobs should be considered for this type of job creation and they should be in the form of placements leading either to eventual permanent employment or with the specific and clear goal of providing training for further employability in similar or different sectors.
I want to add a final word on what are termed as incentives, which exist both in the student assistance system as well as the social assistance system, and I gave the example of the student assistance clawbacks. I just want to explain what this chart means. The first column, Need, that would be, for example, what your need would be for one year, what you actually need to survive: food, rent, et cetera. Student assistance does assess your need at 80 per cent of what you say your need is. They will say that you need $10,000; okay, they'll give
you $8,000, so that leaves you with a certain amount of money which you must make up during the year through your own contributions, through your own employment.
Now, there is this bizarre provision in there that your allowable income - what they will allow you to keep - is substantially less than that. So they allow you to keep $600 of that income and, once you earn anything more than $600, that amount is clawed back again from your loan the next year. So, as you proceed through school, the amount of assistance that you get progressively decreases until you can see the example of somebody in their third year of study has to make up $4,000 over the course of the year while maintaining a full course load, trying to complete their studies, probably in the final year, or second to final year of their studies, which does require a lot more time commitment as well.
Incentives like this put people in a situation where they can't physically do what the assistance is supposed to be helping them do. I have been in situations where friends of mine have been forced to drop courses because they need to get a job to be able to pay their rent and for groceries but, of course, when they do that, then they're not able to attend school properly. We're talking about examples where people are working 30 or 40 hours a week at the same time as trying to be a full-time student and doing that leads to significant problems, and to health problems as well. I have friends who are 19 years old and have ulcers; it is not very nice.
To feel the effect of these incentives on social assistance is to limit the amount of income available to an individual, and these types of incentives mean that an individual can never effectively improve their situation through any kind of transition and it becomes a case of all or nothing. You go to school or you can't go to school. Therefore, the federation has recommended that "incentives" like these be abolished and, instead, use the low income cut-off levels to determine maximum income under assistance programs, and raise assistance levels up to those levels.
I would be happy to take any questions.
MADAM CHAIR: The floor is open for questions. Are there any questions? I have a question. (Interruption)
Go ahead, Jessica.
MS. SQUIRES: I just wanted to clarify that the assessment of need by the government is not always 80 per cent of what your actual need is. It is simply that the need assessment is not adequate and what your actual need is and what they assess your need as are usually different. In addition, it is rare that students will qualify for the maximum amount of assistance which is $10,500 in Nova Scotia.
Just to kind of tie it all together, we hope the focus of the presentation has shown that there are many ways in which the problems that we perceive in student assistance can apply to social assistance and, vice versa, that there are a lot of parallels.
MADAM CHAIR: My question is focused, I guess, on that maybe in a more concrete kind of way - and this may not be possible for you to do but, if you could, it would certainly help me understand this situation a little bit better - to explain how social assistance treats income from student loans and how a student loan program treats income from social assistance, can you do that?
MS. SQUIRES: I know there have been some changes in this area, recently in Nova Scotia specifically, that basically eliminate the possibility of drawing from two assistance programs at the same time. The position of the government has been that the reason for that is the assistance should be enough as it is, but the reality is the assistance is not enough. The low income cut-offs, which we refer to in the document, are set by the National Council on Welfare. They are what passes for a poverty line in Canada for the time being, and comparing levels of assistance to those low income cut-offs makes it very clear that assistance levels are nowhere near adequate.
When people on social assistance want to try to make the transition to a better financial situation through attaining post-secondary education and then learn that they are going to lose some aspect of their social assistance, such as a child benefit or some other such thing, because social assistance is going to treat it as income and claw it back, that will affect their decision whether or not to go to post-secondary education. It is like a double whammy; you're hit by both sides. Social assistance isn't enough. Yet, if I try to go to school, I have to put myself in a debt situation, an enormous debt situation, and that money, I eventually have to pay that back. So I am given the choice between a huge student loan or inadequate assistance under the social assistance program.
The same thing goes in reverse. I mean the assistance levels for students are inadequate and although the government has taken some steps to better the situation, for instance for students with dependants, those steps have been very minimal and the need assessment under student assistance does not take enough into consideration in terms of special needs, you know, extraordinary expenses, that sort of thing. The need assessment is very generalized and also badly in need of updating. So the two systems end up having kind of a negative exponential effect. When they clash, the situation becomes that much worse.
MADAM CHAIR: Where are the two universities with food banks in metro? I know UCCB has a food bank as well in Cape Breton, but which two metro universities have food banks?
MS. SQUIRES: I believe there is one at Mount Saint Vincent University. There is definitely one at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design.
MADAM CHAIR: Are there any other questions for the presenters?
Thank you very much.
MS. SQUIRES: Thank you.
MADAM CHAIR: Our next presentation is from Freedom Foundation of Nova Scotia. Joe Gibson.
MR. JOE GIBSON: Good afternoon. First of all, I want to thank the committee for giving me the opportunity to come here and express some of my concerns and frustrations and, second, without any disrespect to the committee, if I was to make a list of the top 10 places I didn't want to be today, this definitely would be one. I feel that I can do some things fairly well; however, this is not one of them. It is something that is entirely new to me, the opportunity has come and I think maybe the time is right.
I am the Executive Director for the Freedom Foundation of Nova Scotia and we operate a transition home for people in recovery from alcohol, drugs and gambling in Dartmouth. I am not sure if I can speak for those who are my bosses, but I would like to think that they feel the way I do. I don't profess to be an expert on addiction or a spokesperson for the addict; however, I have spent some 35 years, I suppose you would say, in the trenches and the last 12 years working with addictive people. I have walked with them, talked with them, lived in their homes, and felt their frustrations.
I would hate to think of where we would be without government, but I have to share one quick story that happened to me this morning concerning government. I was leaving Bathurst, New Brunswick, early this morning and I forgot what time I was supposed to be here, so, when I got to Moncton, I decided to phone. It took me six phone calls finally to be told by a lady to hold the line, and then she came back and she said here is a phone number that I am sure will have all the answers to your questions. When I phoned that number, I got an answering machine telling me all the representatives were busy and to leave a number and phone back. So what happens to the guy who doesn't have a quarter to make a phone call?
Over the past number of years my concerns have turned to frustrations and talking has accomplished absolutely nothing. Can you imagine a person with a heart problem applying for social assistance only to have the caseworker take their pulse as well as their blood pressure to determine if treatment is necessary, and to have the supervisor decide when and where the treatment will take place? Well, that's exactly what is happening to the alcoholic in Nova Scotia dealing with this addiction. Granted, on some occasions the caseworker will consult with addiction counsellors; however, the final decision remains with the Department of Community Services.
We have even reached a point now where the addict must not overspend on his addiction and, should he do so, he would be disqualified from receiving assistance. There is, however, a hardship clause but, once again, this is determined by the Department of Community Services without consulting an addiction counsellor or the medical profession. Unless change is not forthcoming, Nova Scotians will be faced with a major crisis as more and more sick people will be homeless and we will find ourselves faced with problems that most of the major cities in the United States have today.
I believe that there are some simple solutions to this problem. First, it should be mandatory that all Community Services caseworkers and supervisors take the orientation program put on by the Nova Scotia Drug Dependency Services. I believe that's five days. I would think that probably 60 per cent or 70 per cent of the clients that they deal with have an addiction problem. Second, I feel that Community Services caseworkers should work with and be influenced by addiction counsellors, as well as the medical profession, in developing treatment for alcoholics and addicts. With the excellent services that we have in Nova Scotia with treatment centres, transition homes, et cetera, it is a shame that agencies cannot work together to better assist Nova Scotians in need.
To take this a step further. At the present time a comfort allowance is allowed in the amount of $83 for a resident who is residing in a transition home dealing with addictions in the Province of Nova Scotia. Out of this $83 allowance, $57 is used to purchase a bus pass. That bus pass is to go to and from treatment, to and from school, or to look for employment. Should the resident need medication, then he has to spend $3.00 as a co-pay for his prescription. In many cases, he has $20 a month left over for toiletries.
Most of these individuals are coming right out of treatment centres, they have no homes, no family, and very little clothing. I don't promote smoking, but most of them smoke and now we are taking the last package of tobacco away from them too. What an incentive. It is over 50 years ago, I believe, that alcoholism was recognized as a disease. I think it is time Nova Scotians looked at it as that too.
Finally, it has taken the Department of Community Services far too long to determine whether or not an individual can be funded in a transition home in Nova Scotia. Without a doubt, funding decisions have caused loss of lives and will continue to do so; I can tell you that first-hand. I buried 14 since I have been involved in the Freedom Foundation. Sometimes one day is a lifetime in an addict's life. When he or she looks for help, they need it now, not tomorrow or next week, or come back and give us a call.
Once again, I feel there is a couple of simple solutions. A 30 day emergency fund could be set aside to assist individuals in immediate need, or block funding for transition homes should be established so that the homes themselves can determine the residents' needs
and act upon the crisis immediately. As nervous as I was when I decided to come here, and even coming here today, I believe that maybe I am the spokesperson for the 14 who will never get an opportunity to express how they felt and where they were. I don't want to go into detail now on where I have come from - I don't think there is any need of that - other than to say that I have been there and, in 35 years, nothing has changed, it has gotten worse.
There are some wonderful, wonderful people working in the Department of Community Services, caseworkers, supervisors, but there are some who, I believe, need to be educated. I think we all realize today that addiction is growing. When the home was first opened, we just housed alcoholics. Within two years, we realized there was a major cocaine problem, and then we housed alcoholics and cocaine addicts. Today we are housing alcoholics, cocaine addicts and gamblers. They are becoming younger and the problem is becoming bigger. We seem to spend our time dwelling in the problem instead of working in the solution, and that is why I almost didn't come, because I have been talking now for 20 years. I think that is all I want to say.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you. The floor is open now for questions.
MS. YVONNE ATWELL: Is your organization, Mr. Gibson, funded through Community Services? Is that correct?
MR. GIBSON: It is funded through a per diem rate through Community Services and emergency funding through the Department of Health, it is a combination of both.
MS. ATWELL: Is it yearly funding or is it core funding over a period of one year and then you apply again, or is it just core funding?
MR. GIBSON: . . . funded monthly.
MS. ATWELL: Monthly. A final question. Do you use other groups or organizations in the community for support and, if so, what kind of other groups or organizations would you use?
MR. GIBSON: The home was created to have a stable environment from which the individual could start life anew; we are not a treatment facility. Of the individuals who have gone through our facility, some 352, not one has just had an addiction problem; there are other issues to deal with. So, from our facility, they can go to addiction counselling, anger management, abuse issues. We network agencies, and we have excellent treatment facilities within this province. The problem that we have had for so many years is that the individual who wanted help didn't have that stable environment from where to get started, and that is why the home was created.
MR. PYE: Mr. Gibson, you and I know each other. The Freedom Foundation is located in the Dartmouth North constituency. I served on Dartmouth City Council when in fact the City of Dartmouth approved the loan authorization for the Freedom Foundation facilities. I know that you have come a long way, and I know that there is a tremendous amount of work that is done by the Freedom Foundation. I am not going to ask you a lot of questions today, because you and I have had ample opportunity in the last several months to have had conversation and work with the departments of government with respect to your facility.
One question I will ask you. We recognize that there has been a significant increase in the gambling addiction, and believe that there has been an increase in the number of people who have come to Freedom Foundation seeking shelter as a result of that gambling addiction problem. Can you tell me what the numbers are as a result of our new addiction problem that we have in Nova Scotia?
MR. GIBSON: Numbers as related to Freedom Foundation?
MR. PYE: As they relate to Freedom Foundation, yes. The number of residents who now live at Freedom Foundation, and the percentage of the number of people who are coming to you seeking shelter as a result of gambling addiction.
MR. GIBSON: We are licensed for 15. I would say that 20 per cent of our residents' primary addiction is gambling, with close to 50 per cent with gambling as a secondary addiction. The problem that I am seeing today is that an individual is maybe leaving a detox facility, having been treated for alcoholism to sober up, finds a job, puts a dollar into a VLT machine, and within two weeks he has his paycheque in the VLT machine. It is all gone, guilt sets in, he starts drinking again, and he ends up in detox being treated for alcoholism again. We are seeing that problem more and more, but there is a combination there that we also see, and I would say that about 20 per cent of the clientele we have today would be primary gambling with about 50 per cent, if not higher, as secondary would be gambling, scratch tickets, VLTs.
MR. PYE: Thank you.
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. Balser.
MR. GORDON BALSER: You said that you have been looking for change and talking for 20 years. One of the last things I want to see happen is that when this committee is done its work, you don't see any changes. What could we do? What something, one thing that could come out of this committee's work would make you say that, finally, after all this time politicians listened? What significant change would you like to see?
MR. GIBSON: I have seen it happen in other provinces, in Western Canada where Community Services, the Department of Health, the detox centre worked together as a team in enabling the individual to move along. For example, if someone phoned from detox this afternoon needing a bed, he is expected to make a phone call to see if he can get assisted. He may not even have one quarter but, usually, what will happen is that when he makes the phone call, he is told to phone back or please leave a number. He doesn't have a number, he has nothing. Well, stay at the shelter for tonight, and someone will get back to you tomorrow or Monday or Tuesday.
If there would be a way to get the groups together, where Community Services could work equally with the Department of Nova Scotia's Drug Dependency and homes such as ourselves or Alcare Place, to develop a team to better assist the alcoholic or addict. I think that has to come from government, directed by government, because I certainly can't do it and the people that I deal with certainly can't do it.
MR. BALSER: If I may, to follow up on that. That seems - not to be facetious - fairly simplistic, so why hasn't that happened? What is causing change to occur so slowly, in your perception? Is it a lack of will or is it the fact that there is a great deal of turf protection, no communication? What is the fundamental problem? Why for 20 years have you been asking the question and never gotten an answer, so to speak?
MR. GIBSON: It hasn't been longer than two years ago when a comment was made to me about how long is he going to stay at the house and I said I didn't know, that the average length of stay is about six months. All he needs is a job. I think that a lot of the agencies are uneducated about addiction. There is more than just putting the plug in the jug, or stop using or get away from the VLT machines. There is work to be done, but I believe what is happening today is that people feel there is a quick fix. Go out to detox, spend two weeks in detox, take a 28 day treatment program, find a job, and that is all you need. That is not the case. There is a lot more work that goes on.
Places like Freedom Foundation, nobody seems to know where we fit. Is it a Housing issue? Is it a Health issue? Community Services will push us over to Health, and Health will push us over to Community Services. Then, do you have anyone there from the correctional centre? Yes, well then it is a Justice problem. It is just passed and passed and passed.
That is why when I said about funding once a month, we have been open for 10 years, and we have always received funding from governments, but it has been a major struggle because we don't know from one month to the next. Everyone has told us that we are doing an excellent job. We have had 352 guys and I think at least a half a dozen have gone to university right off the street, but we are still in the pioneer stages of this type of facility in the Province of Nova Scotia.
Being non-profit, we don't have the funds to go out to the general public and let them know what we are all about. Another problem that was there 35 years ago and is still there today is that quite often the worker will send the individual out to Freedom Foundation, or an apartment, or a rooming house without having first seen it. Some of these guys and gals are now living in flophouses, because there is not enough money maybe for staff, or the lady can't go by herself if it is a female staff member, so here is your cheque, or what is the landlord's name, and nobody ever sees where you are living. That problem is still there today, and I believe that it has to be workshopped. It has to start somewhere, and my hope and prayer is that that starting point will be today.
MR. PYE: Just one more question, Mr. Gibson. I do know that I believe that your board of directors or the chairman of the board of directors has made application for funding from the Nova Scotia Gaming Foundation. Have you received any funding from the Nova Scotia Gaming Foundation?
MR. GIBSON: We received $30,000 about a year and one-half ago for emergency funding or the house was going to close; that has been it. The ironic thing about this is I believe that we may be the only home in Nova Scotia that houses gamblers and provides the service that we provide. When I phoned the Help Line in Sydney and asked where could a person go who needed help with gambling, they said why don't you phone Freedom Foundation, and yet we don't get a cent. It doesn't make sense. Again, there are alcoholics living over there, well then maybe it should be a Health issue.
We can't seem to get the right parties together. We have 8 people working there, and 15 people living there, for a total budget of around $200,000 a year. That is it. Not only is it saving lives, but what would it cost if we weren't there? What would it cost if we weren't there? In fact, a gentleman who is here with me today was at a meeting this morning, and we are waiting for the gambling corporation to meet. I think they have a board meeting, hopefully, in February. We have made an application for a three year project, and it is wait and see, and if they say yes, does that mean that Health will take it away? We don't know.
MADAM CHAIR: I have two questions. I think they may be connected. Early in your presentation you made reference to something in, I think, social assistance policy called a hardship clause. This is the first I have heard about such a thing. I am wondering if you can tell me what that is.
MR. GIBSON: My hair curled on the back of my neck. We had a gentleman come into the house. He had spent $29,000 - he had received a cheque, early retirement I guess it was - on cocaine and VLTs. He went for help and they said that he spent too much money and didn't qualify. He had no place to go, so he came with us. We kept him with us for four and one-half months; no one paid. We fed him, we clothed him, we got his prescriptions. They told him he could appeal. We appealed on his behalf. There were numerous phone calls to make, and we made those phone calls on his behalf.
We finally had a chance to appear in front of an appeal board. After hearing our case, after bringing documentation from addiction counsellors, from doctors, they said that they don't have the authority to overrule this appeal. I was wondering, what are you doing here? They said it would have to go back to government.
That hardship clause says that if you spent that kind of money - and it doesn't have to be $29,000. I don't know how much it is, it could be $1,000 I suppose - a lot of money on your addiction and you are faced with a crisis, then someone in Community Services can decide yes, he shouldn't be living there, or he shouldn't be at that apartment, or he shouldn't be at the night shelter and, therefore, we will help. A district manager can make this decision, and I felt that was wrong.
I thought that since the letters had come in from addiction counsellors that he shouldn't be on the street, he should be at Freedom Foundation or a place like that, and a doctor said the same thing, that all we would have to do would be appear in front of this committee and they would understand once they had all the documentation, 60 pages. I was thinking, what if this gentleman had no support? What if we weren't there for him? What would happen to him? He didn't have a quarter to make a phone call, and yet he was to make phone calls and send letters and fill out forms.
After four and one-half months, the afternoon we left the appeal, he gave up, and he used again. Thank God he is still alive. He made it back to detox. I am not sure where he is today, but I think he may be okay.
Again, Community Services does an okay job, but they are not educated in addiction. To have someone determine where the alcoholic or addict should go is ludicrous. How can they overrule a doctor or an addiction counsellor? Besides that, to put that much pressure on an individual, who has been clean and sober for 48 hours, to make all these phone calls and do all that, what kind of a system is that?
MADAM CHAIR: So, in short, it is a discretionary power that exists in policy, that if somebody doesn't qualify, but there are no alternatives, the discretion does exist in the department to award assistance. I think that is what I heard you say the hardship clause is.
MR. GIBSON: That is correct.
MADAM CHAIR: The other question I have. Early in your presentation as well, you gave us a sum of money that individuals receive and you said they spent so much for bus fare and what have you. Is that a monthly comfort allowance that is established by Community Services? Is that how that works?
MR. GIBSON: Established by Community Services. To give you an example, it is $83 in some, $105 in some others, and $92 somewhere else. It differs. Once the municipality that would give $105 finds out that we are giving $83, they will usually cut it back to $83. Very seldom will the $83 go up to $105. It is $83 a month, that's correct. I have heard it said, well, you know, they can walk, it is good exercise. It is a long walk from the north end of Dartmouth to the Metro Drug Dependency and, after phase one and they finish treatment, they're going to school or looking for work. They want to become active, productive members of society once again and I believe we should give them that support.
It is the same with the hardship clause. I don't believe for one moment that an individual should go out and spend $10,000 in Vegas and come back and expect the Province of Nova Scotia to support him or her, of course not. However, if he or she is showing some initiative and wants to make some changes in their lives, has gone to detox or an addiction counselling treatment program and has the support from the doctor and counsellors, then why not? Why should someone else make that decision? That is all I am saying. Allow other people involved and let's do this as a team, right, and not have one individual make that decision in someone's life.
When I bring this up and when I talk about it - and I've been talking about it since I came back from out West 12 years ago - usually what will happen is someone much more educated than I am, and sometimes with power, will just brush it aside. Who is he? Then, all of a sudden, it is swept under the mat and nothing happens for another six or seven months, and then we read in the newspaper that someone died in a flophouse in Halifax, or in a car that went off the bridge, and it is brought up again. So, hopefully, today it will be the start of something new.
MR. CHARLES MACDONALD (MLA): If I just may, if I can follow, I am lost here. Some gentleman, did you say he spent $29,000 or thereabouts? Was it a retirement?
MR. GIBSON: He had an early retirement, or he took some type of package from where he was working.
MR. CHARLES MACDONALD (MLA): But would he have been in the system before? Was he alcoholic? Was it drug related? I see a person in a system, normally he would have a home if he was working, if he was productive, . . .
MR. GIBSON: He was at the tail . . .
MR. CHARLES MACDONALD (MLA): Nobody else around him?
MR. GIBSON: No, he was at the tail-end of his down slide in his addiction. His wife was gone, the kids were gone, and his home was gone. He was living in an apartment, living the cocaine scene. It is not uncommon to spend $2,000 in an afternoon when you're using
cocaine. He had reached that point and now, near the end of it, he said that there was only one way to get the money that he needed. He will have to leave his job and if he leaves his job, he is going to have this big chunk of money. When you're in that state, you're not going to think rationally and he made the decision just to leave his job early and get this big chunk of money and he got this big chunk of money.
MR. CHARLES MACDONALD (MLA): Thank you.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you very much.
Our next presentation is the Nova Scotia Disabled Persons Commission, the Executive Director, Charles MacDonald.
MR. CHARLES MACDONALD (Disabled Persons Commission): Good afternoon. My name is Charlie MacDonald, and I am with the Nova Scotia Disabled Persons Commission. Just a very brief background on the commission. The commission is an advisory commission of the provincial government. Our commission is made up of 12 individuals, the majority of whom are persons with disabilities but, what is unique about the commission, we do have representatives from five government departments who sit and collaborate with us on the commission.
I would like to thank the committee for the opportunity to speak to our brief which had been pre-circulated to the committee but, given the extended hearings, we were able to come and make a presentation personally and answer any questions. I bring regrets from my chair, Ned Irving, who had hoped to be here but could not make it from the Valley today. Our brief, which was pre-circulated - and an updated copy without the typos is now being circulated as well to you - was done in response basically to a question from our minister earlier this fall in regard to the social assistance restructuring and whether or not there should be special legislation for persons with disabilities within a reformed social assistance system.
The commission engaged in a process of trying to answer that question in the context of the discussion paper that had been released and in the context of a number of other initiatives that were ongoing at the same time. Just a brief overview of the methodology of what we did. We engaged the services of Anne Martell who had facilitated the public focus groups through the fall and spring of 1997-98 and tried to follow the same methodology she did in the discussions and, as well, our members participated in many of the focus groups at the community level and there was a focus group as well within government that we participated in.
Appendix A has a fairly verbatim transcript of some of the concerns and issues that the commission identified in their discussions with Ms. Martell, and we used that as a basis for developing our advice through this paper. We also engaged the manager of the secretariat that's doing the work internally on the reform and got an update from him on the status of
social assistance restructuring, where it was and what state it was, when we were in our deliberations, et cetera, and some of the issues they were looking at. We pretty well allocated a whole meeting to that process.
As well, we engaged our partners in the community in a focus group. We belong, and we facilitated the work of the Metro Community Partners, which is a broad-based committee of stakeholders, both service providers and advocacy organizations, that meet regularly to discuss issues of disability. We set up a focus group scenario with that group to look at possible options for a restructured system for persons with disabilities. As I am sure everybody knows in your constituency work, the system of financial support for persons with disabilities is complex and, in many cases, how you became disabled will depend on how you're treated in the system.
There is the Workers' Compensation Program, there is Canada Pension Plan disability benefits and, of course, there are provincial family benefits. As well, there are other subsidiary programs such as private insurance, long-term disability, et cetera, but the big three, the main three are Canada Pension, workers' compensation and provincial family benefits that have developed for different reasons over the years and certainly have different cultures in their organizations and different ways of looking at persons with disabilities.
Through our process - and I was really pleased to hear Paul's presentation - we looked back at a fair amount of literature and work that had been done in the policy area around persons with disabilities and a vision for how persons with disabilities see themselves in society. Paul was talking about the move from the charitable model to a more egalitarian model, or citizenship model, and we certainly identified that as well, a move from a paternalistic model to charity model to a full-citizenship model, and the work that has been done across Canada with persons with disabilities substantiates that.
There was a significant report done in 1992 called Pathways to Integration, the "Open House" vision - it has three titles now that I think about it, Mainstream 1992 - and that was some significant work done by both federal and provincial governments in the early 1990's, but they did collaborate fairly extensively with the disability community and identified the open-house vision of persons with disabilities moving from what they described was a system of warehousing through a system of greenhousing to a society that's an open house. That work really defined the concept of full citizenship, that persons with disabilities are full citizens of the country and should be treated as such and, in fact, have the same rights and responsibilities as every other citizen.
What we saw was fairly ground-breaking work and they identified three principles - and these are in our short paper as well - Rights and responsibilities approach to services; Empowerment of the individual to self-direct their services, to the ability to take risks, et
cetera; and Participation, that consumers should participate in policy development programs, et cetera.
In our discussions with both the focus group and at the commission, we endorsed those principles but, also, when we looked at the issue we looked at our own principles that we defined several years ago in that when we look at policy and program legislation, et cetera, how do we view it from a disability lens? The commission has identified several principles. Certainly equal citizenship or full citizenship is the first one - these are in the report as well, and I think if Nita was here she would probably read them, but my hand-Braille-voice coordination is pretty meek, so you will have to settle with my summary - Equal opportunity is another principle, that we review policy as well and that equal opportunity suggests that affirmative action is a necessity to ensure equal opportunity so that there is an achievement of equity.
Dignity is another principle that is important to the commission, that persons have the right to live in our community with dignity, to make choices on their own, and to take risks. That certainly parallels the move in the independent living movement and, as well, a lot of the work that People First have done.
Inclusion is another key principle, that we view things with inclusion and integration. Again, it relates to the concept of citizenship, of being a full citizen of the country, of being included, of being in the mainstream, of being not treated differently, but not being treated differently does not suggest that support services and affirmative actions are not required to ensure inclusion. Finally, community participation is a principle that we have adopted in that persons with disabilities know best, should be involved in policy development, and should be involved in program development, both in their development and evaluation.
We took that work and then looked at the work - and I have handed around a copy of it and I think it would be valuable to you in your deliberations. You have probably seen it before, it was work that was ongoing through the summer and fall when we worked on this - it is In Unison: A Canadian Approach to Disability Issues. That work took a lot of the work done in the Mainstream 1992 report, the work of a federal task force on disability issues that, again, really defined the concept of citizenship, that persons with disabilities want to be seen as citizens and treated as full citizens. It took that work and developed a vision for programs and services for persons with disabilities and that is included both in our brief and fully in the document that I have also attached to that.
That points to persons with disabilities accessing the generic service system. That means separating income support from support services, and it means providing the necessary supports for people to achieve citizenship. It identifies certain key policy directions that are included under the headings: Income Support, Support Services, and Employment. So the achievement of citizenship is dependent upon those three underpinnings. I think even reading the executive summary would assist you in understanding where much of the thought in
disability policy is going across the country now - in what direction - and I believe that that document should be used by the department and the secretariat in defining a new social assistance system.
We then identified three options for discussion, with option one being very basically the status quo, a special program, a legislated program for persons with disabilities, that one would gain access both through need and through passing a definition or a test to determine whether or not one is disabled. We also identified a second option, which is a generic program for everyone, income assistance that everyone would access based on need, financial need.
We also identified a third option, which is a generic income assistance program that is based on financial need, that everyone would approach, enter, based on financial need, but a second program, a legislated program of support services for persons with disabilities that is both open to persons in receipt of income support, but also open to persons in the community who are not income supported. We assessed each of those options, their strengths and weaknesses, and I think in the report there is a fairly good summary of what were identified by our focus group work discussions with the community as what the strengths and weaknesses of them are, and I think they are fairly obvious.
One of the major disadvantages of option one, using the categorical definition of disability as a means of entering into a program, is the labelling that certainly has been mentioned by Paul, but the disincentive that is inherent on that, that you enter a program based on a disability, based on the fact that you can't work, and that has created significant disincentives in the system.
Certainly there were advantages identified, maybe a better opportunity to harmonize a separate program with the Canada Pension Disability Benefit Program and a Workers' Compensation Program. There was a fair bit of work done by the NEEDS report - Networking for Effective and Efficient Disability Supports - a few years ago that showed that there may be advantage in harmonizing income support programs for persons with disabilities, integrating them so that the system becomes less complex, et cetera.
I think some of the work, since that report has identified a lot of difficulties that are encountered in being able to do that, may be pointing to an opportunity to integrate vocational rehabilitation services or support services that may be provided by each, and getting some efficiencies of scale and expertise in taking on the best of each of the programs. The Canada Pension disability benefits are certainly just getting into the concept of vocational rehabilitation and have not been very aggressive at it over the past many years. Certainly that is seen as problematic by some of the other income support in that not wanting their clients to be put on Canada Pension because it is a license for long term, and the culture was certainly different, but that is changing.
Option two, again, has advantages and disadvantages. The advantages it seems start to outweigh the disadvantages, but one major concern with that one system is tying support services to income support and all the work done in the In Unison document, and all the work done in consultation across the country with persons with disabilities is the necessity to separate eligibility for support services from eligibility for income support, and a one-generic system does not seem to provide the best opportunity to do that.
As well, a major concern - and it is addressed in the appendix as well - is that persons with disabilities are significantly concerned that social assistance restructuring will have a significantly negative effect on their ability to live with dignity if there is a reduction in the amount of support from the current provincial family benefits. So I think it is safe to say that any restructuring process is going to need new dollars if it is to be effective. Those new dollars, or those additional dollars, and maybe I am dreaming here, but I certainly see it as a short-term investment to kick-start a new system that would be better and ultimately lead to less persons being dependent on the system. So I see it as a bubble at the start, but I think if the appropriate structure and legislation is set in sight, the capability of the service and programs having more people less dependent on the system, there is a better opportunity for that, which leads to the third option which is two pieces of legislation, one for income support and one for support services.
I think you will see in our recommendations in the Executive Summary that that is where the commission decided to suggest to the department that that would seem to be the best option for persons with disabilities; certainly, caveats are attached to that in that the level of assistance must be adequate. So we certainly see bringing the general assistance or income assistance up to at least the level of provincial family benefits.
Provincial family benefits in itself is a meagre enough stipend for an individual to live in dignity, and one major concern is not wanting to create an atmosphere of the worthy poor and the unworthy poor and, certainly, in listening today to some of the presentations prior to mine, there is significant need out there. In fact, many persons who may not be eligible for provincial family benefits because they don't fit the definition, do in fact have a disability that is either not diagnosed, is not to the extent recognized that deems them eligible, so a categorical definition has a lot of problems.
I think the Ontario experience, at least anecdotally in the Ontario program, it has a tendency to screen people out, particularly mental health consumers, particularly individuals with invisible disabilities who end up on the street, so I think there was a real tendency, in our group at least, to get away from that: You're poor because you have a disability. So you're okay but you are poor because, well, gosh, we don't know, maybe society has dealt you a low blow. There's a lot of problems with a categorical definition of disability programs in that someone in a rural community may have what's deemed a fairly minor disability but, because of that, it imposes significantly more disadvantage upon them than, say, someone living in
downtown Halifax with a considerably more significant disability, so it is a wrong argument to get into.
In summary, basically the program suggested would be income support based on financial needs, with clearly well-trained staff, knowledgeable in disability matters; and a clear, open and fair appeals mechanism, certainly utilizing, fully, community assets. The community is full of assets on disability, organizations that have tremendous expertise on specific disabilities. Whether it is blindness or deafness or mental disability or intellectual disability, there are organizations that are providing significant levels of service that have been tremendously underfunded over the past many years, but I think we now have an opportunity to more fully utilize that expertise because a generic service, where it fits philosophically, still requires expertise in understanding disability.
The support services side, I think, is fairly straightforward. Support services ranging from Pharmacare to technical aids and devices, wheelchairs, additional comfort or living allowances based on a person's need, everything ranging from home care services to vocational services, day programs, recreation programs, a variety of programs like that with the caveat that, wherever possible, those programs and supports should be provided through direct funding mechanisms where the consumer requires it. We certainly recognize there is always a limit on resources and there will always be some kind of need to provide some test of this type of program, but underlying this is when determining need, for heaven's sake, take into account the cost of disability that either an individual or a family is faced with when determining eligibility for programs like this.
Certainly the employability assistance for people with disabilities is seen as one of the tools of this legislated program, and the legislated program should also establish protocols whereby departments work collaboratively on the provision of services for persons with disabilities. As you know, different departments have different responsibilities and we certainly see it key that a protocol be legislated so that it is clear who the payer is, who the first payer is, et cetera, et cetera. I know I am probably forgetting some very key points, but I guess I will defer to that. I would highly recommend you read the appendices because that really gives you a flavour of what persons are saying. I must be quite honest, we did not achieve consensus in the deliberations, particularly with the Metro Community Partners. I can't quote verbatim, but I can recall it as clear as day. The statement was: I don't care, of all the highfalutin principles or philosophies or values, or whatever, but I don't want to lose my support and I am very concerned about losing my support.
I think it has to be done extremely carefully, so that it is done properly. I think it probably will take some courage on the part of the department to come out with the best it can. It will take courage, I believe, on the part of the Legislature to allocate the appropriate resources to ensure that it does work and it is going to take courage on behalf of the disabled community to see some improvement in a restructured system. Thank you.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you, Charlie. The floor is now open for questions.
MR. MUIR: Just one quick question. How many persons is the Disabled Persons Commission responsible for in the province, or that you would consider to be people whom you represent, what number?
MR. CHARLES MACDONALD (Disabled Persons Commission): The 1991 census, the health and activity limitations survey, identifies, I think it is 189,000 Nova Scotians who have a disability and I believe, I would be guessing, but probably currently, now, there are about 15,000 to 17,000, depending on how you define it on provincial family benefits.
MR. MUIR: Thank you.
MR. PYE: Charles, you had said that the Disabled Persons Commission has five representatives or representatives from five government departments. One of those government departments is Community Services?
MR. CHARLES MACDONALD (Disabled Persons Commission): Yes.
MR. PYE: Yesterday there was a presentation here from a Ms. Lois Miller from Metro Community Independent Living. In that presentation there were comments with respect to the Department of Community Services not offering or not providing funding for - even under its special needs programs - persons with disabilities for mobility aids or technical aids and/or devices. Particularly, she mentioned with respect to a wheelchair and I didn't mention to her yesterday, but I did have a very similar situation in the constituency that I represent whereby the individual is going to do a merchandise fund-raising by a local community hall in order to raise money for a wheelchair and other mobility devices that will be needed in the unit for this person to be able to be mobile as a citizen and to live as you or I or anyone else would like to have that opportunity.
My question. When the Disabled Persons Commission meet, surely there must be discussion around these very issues, and surely there must have been some recommendations to government in the past with respect to providing funding for this type of support. If there has been, can you tell me, within the confines of the Disabled Persons Commission, what prompts the government not to provide the support for these very essential services?
MR. CHARLES MACDONALD (Disabled Persons Commission): That's a good question. The whole area of technical aids and devices seems straightforward, and it is very complex. We have a group that has been working on a model to recommend to government on how to take the current resources and somehow organize them so that there is a rational program for technical aids and devices. We have tried a variety of approaches on the technical aids program and it is a patchwork quilt of programs. There is not a paediatric technical aids program that's required. The whole area of wheelchairs is just one corner of it as well. There
is everything ranging from computer assisted devices, environmental controls, a variety of things. We have looked at the Saskatchewan Aids to Independent Living, the Ontario Aids to Daily Living, the Alberta Assisted Devices Program. We see a lot of merit in a lot of those.
I think where we run into the brick wall is when the dollars start. I think a really targeted program under a restructured social assistance program, where you can really define and understand the costs, et cetera, may be an opportunity to get something working. I think the insurance companies certainly have responsibilities as well that I would suspect that government does not want to take over. There is certainly some value to community programs, the Abilities Foundation, the March of Dimes and others that certainly do provide resources. I think it is a matter of taking on some leadership to organize that system. I think British Columbia has tried it through the Kinsmen Association. I hope to find out how that is going, but they had a similar program here that we did, very patchwork quilt.
A lot of energies are spent by caseworkers and social workers, et cetera, in trying to identify resources for someone to buy a wheelchair. In many cases, we identify individuals who are stuck in the rehab centre, for instance, because they can't get the resources together to come home. The NEEDS report, Networking for Effective and Efficient Disability Supports recommended the concept of a venture fund whereby a lot of programs that may ultimately have responsibility for providing aids could pool some resources and the individual is funded up front to get them going, to get them back into the community. Then let the system struggle and fight over who is responsible to pay in the background, but let's get the person out. It is a big issue. We have been grappling with it for years.
MR. PYE: I would just like to make comment with respect to the Abilities Foundation. To my understanding, the Abilities Foundation has replaced the March of Dimes in Nova Scotia. In fact, the Abilities Foundation is far-reaching now, where one time it was designed primarily for polio victims. It is far-reaching now with respect to the people that it serves. It is limited to its source of funding. It does an annual fund-raiser, but it is limited and I believe it receives some funding from the provincial government with respect to its existence.
That does not answer the question of why we allow people to continue to stay in hospitals, and I have letters to that effect, for three and four days and up to a week simply because the technical aid or the mobility device is not available for them to go home.
MADAM CHAIR: Charlie, just a point of clarification for myself in terms of the presentation. You said that there was no consensus from some of the groups in the metro area, and I take that to mean no consensus on the recommendations, the options, option 1, 2 or 3, is that correct?
MR. CHARLES MACDONALD (Disabled Persons Commission): That is correct.
MADAM CHAIR: So, would we take from that, there are some groups that have fear around moving away from the status quo, some that are concerned about everybody being treated as employable? What does that mean? What is the debate that is occurring? Help me understand, what the problems are that the groups have, in reaching consensus.
MR. CHARLES MACDONALD (Disabled Persons Commission): The debate, as it occurred at our discussions, were fear for those individuals with severe disabilities or degenerative disabilities that employment is basically not an option. How do you adapt a system to be able to address their needs? There was also the concern of streaming, of sort of requiring persons to work, of being judgemental and saying, well, you are stream one, so you are first out of the blocks, and we are going to spend all of our energies on you, you are two, you are three, you are four. So there was some concern over that, but I think the basic concern was fear of losing what limited support their individuals currently have. If the system is generic, then the fear of bringing provincial family benefits' assistance level down to the income assistance level was seen as the possible outcome, I think.
MR. CHARLES MACDONALD (MLA): Charlie, I must commend you on your name, you have a good name, Charlie MacDonald runs well in the area. In looking at technical aids, and looking at disabilities in the whole broad spectrum, do you feel government should be entirely responsible or should it be a far broader group out there? We seem to get the idea that it is government's responsibility and totally government's responsibility. I guess I lean to the other side, and I see some of it as family, I see some of it as church, some of it as community, some as organizations, the whole field, I feel should be involved. I guess that is just my feeling, but your side of it . . .
MR. CHARLES MACDONALD (Disabled Persons Commission): I think the vision statement recognizes that, that it is society's responsibility. In order for persons with disabilities to achieve full citizenship, things have to happen, and removing barriers becomes one significant piece of work that is going on, but it is a societal responsibility. Making employment accessible to people with disabilities is a non-governmental responsibility as it is a governmental responsibility. Providing accessible premises, storefronts, the whole, it is a combined effort. There is a responsibility of everyone, even the person with the disability to engage in, I think, is what the vision is trying to say.
MR. CHARLES MACDONALD (MLA): You say there was five different sections of government represented on the commission. We were talking this morning with one of the previous presenters, and we talked about the interrelationship between the different departments, and we don't seem to be getting that cooperation or working relationship so that each department, Housing, Community Services, and Justice, each picks up its fair share or portion of the program. What we are hearing is that it is not happening.
MR. CHARLES MACDONALD (Disabled Persons Commission): I think that it is a barrier that has to be worked on. I think it is working in some areas and in other areas, it isn't. I think there are examples of it working, thinking of the CAYAC initiative, also the accessible transportation initiative where there is fairly broad-based interdepartmental cooperation. I know in our commission, it does leave for some interesting discussions, getting different departmental perspectives on a particular issue, but I think that was what was envisioned for the commission to do as well, to get that communication going. I think it does work, but I think the feeling was that there has to be more talk at the field level, between departments, at the front-line level.
MR. CHARLES MACDONALD (MLA): Thank you.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you very much. Our next presentation is Debbie Peck, private citizen.
MS. DEBBIE PECK: I heard a lot today, it is all in my head. I am a single mom. I have three dependant children. I am here today about housing. I recently went from full benefits to partial benefits, and because of this, I had to look for lower housing. Unfortunately, the only thing that I could find was a one bedroom boarding house, to take three children to. This is a concern because the boarding houses are filled with single men who are addicted to drugs, alcohol, do criminal offences. Three of the boarding houses that I went to had bullet holes through the doors, windows, walls. This is not proper to bring three children into.
I have been fighting with social services for the last three months, to give me enough income to provide me with a one bedroom apartment in a secure building. I have been denied. I am now boarding with a family, who, in four months will be moving. That leaves me in a boarding house. The boarding houses want $300 a month. I only receive $350 from social services, and $18 of that is my travel. It is not enough.
I am very upset at this. I am not alone. My only other alternative is to live in the street and basically that is what I am doing anyway. To go to a boarding house or live on the street, it is the same. There is no difference. If I go into a boarding house, due to my income, I cannot afford a phone, food, and I have to pay $300 for a room; that leaves me $50 to eat, travel, to look for work, and without a phone, I cannot look for work. It is impossible. Therefore without the extra income to travel, I cannot work.
That is my complaint here today. I would like to see housing for single mothers with dependant children, so we are not forced to go into a boarding house full of men. It is not a safe environment. It is not safe for me. It is not safe for the children. I don't want to see women forced into this, but unfortunately, we are being forced into it. That is all I have to say.
MADAM CHAIR: Debbie, what area of the city are you living in now?
MS. PECK: Dartmouth.
MADAM CHAIR: And what are the ages of your children?
MS. PECK: They are 11, 6 and 4.
MR. MUIR: You indicated that you are on partial benefits now. I missed where you said why you weren't getting the full benefits, and you were now down to $350 a month. I would assume it would normally be about $700, $800?
MS. PECK: I was getting $1,000. Because my husband and I have joint custody of the children, they don't look at that as having your children. So they take you down to a single person.
MR. MUIR: You are a single person.
MS. PECK: Right.
MR. MUIR: Is this always the case, did this just happen?
MS. PECK: This just happened in the last two months.
MR. MUIR: Thank you.
MR. PYE: Debbie, can I ask you where you live in Dartmouth?
MS. PECK: Right now, I am living with a couple, in their basement. I pay rent and live in their basement.
MR. PYE: Is that in south Dartmouth, north Dartmouth?
MS. PECK: That is in Cole Harbour.
MR. PYE: Okay. Mr. Muir answered the question as to why your benefits have been reduced, actually from family benefits to income assistance support is where you are at now.
MS. PECK: They classify me as a single person.
MR. PYE: Yes, that is right. Have you appealed your process?
MS. PECK: This just happened. They just took my income away from me. I really haven't had time. I have been going back and forth with them, but I have not been getting any results from them.
MR. PYE: Can I suggest that you make an appeal and you have an advocate on your behalf to that appeal?
MS. PECK: I was told if I made an appeal, the outcome would be the same because in the by-laws it states that if you go from full benefits to partial benefits, as a full parent to a partial parent, you're only entitled as a single person and not a single parent.
MR. PYE: Finally, I am offering as a suggestion, despite what you have been told, it may be appropriate to make an application to appeal.
MS. PECK: Okay.
MR. PYE: Thank you.
MS. ATWELL: Ms. Peck, maybe you can help me understand. I am not quite sure how it works. You have joint custody. So is it equal custody? They're with their father half the time and with you the other half of the time?
MS. PECK: Right.
MS. ATWELL: So when your children are with you, there is nothing extra or nothing at all?
MS. PECK: Nothing.
MS. ATWELL: Thank you.
MR. MUIR: Just one question. I am still trying to understand this. Is your husband or your former husband, your estranged husband, is he on benefits as well?
MS. PECK: No.
MADAM CHAIR: Are there any other questions or comments? Debbie, there is somebody here from the department who is prepared to sit down and talk with you and look at this situation. If you'll stay for a few minutes, we'll see that you get a chance to speak with her.
MS. PECK: I have one other thing I would like to add. If I appeal the decision and the outcome is the same, where do I go and what do I do after that? There is nowhere.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you very much. Our next presentation is the Denturists Society of Nova Scotia, Cape Breton District, Mr. William Lloy.
MR. WILLIAM LLOY: Madam Chair, as you are aware, my name is William Lloy. I am from Glace Bay. With me is the president of the Denturists Society of Nova Scotia, Mr. Ken Edwards from Bridgewater. Also with me is Darlene Bickerton from Sydney who is the Chairman of the Ethics Committee.
The brief that you have in front of you is in two parts. The first one is a formal brief itemizing issues that concern individuals within Nova Scotia and denturists. The second part is the actual policy of the Community Services Department for dental benefits. The Denturists Society of Nova Scotia enforces a code of ethics. A denturist will keep the welfare of the patient uppermost at all times. With this statement the denturists of Nova Scotia have provided information on the social assistance system as it exists today with observations and suggestions to provide assistance to the social assistance restructuring initiative.
It is understood by denturists in the province that not all Nova Scotians maintain the same standard of living especially when it applies to oral health care. Denturists are not doctors, however, play an integral part in the introduction and reintroduction of Nova Scotians to oral health care. The service begins with a patient history and an oral examination which allows the denturist to provide the necessary information a patient requires to make an informed decision. The mouth is the porthole to the body, thus it is a primary indicator of maladies in the body. Denturists are instrumental in referring patients who have not been active in the primary health care or primary dental care world back into the system, thus reducing the potential for long-term care of maladies. Thus denturists play a direct role in patient education, referrals, Department of Community Services' budgets and Department of Health budgets.
For the past few years denturists have been voicing concerns on the social services system: multiple fee structure in Nova Scotia; patients directed to clinics they do not wish to go to; patients directed to clinics they do not wish to go to that are located outside their normal community boundary; and government department, i.e. the Department of Community Services, not complying with government regulated fees. It is for these reasons that denturists in Nova Scotia feel that they must make representation on issues that affect Nova Scotians on social assistance, thus allow the Minister of Community Services in Nova Scotia to make an informed decision on restructuring social assistance in Nova Scotia.
With due regard to the many presentations and long hours the restructuring committee has endured through this process, this presentation will be brief and straight to the point. The Denturists Society will be available at any time should questions need answering.
In Nova Scotia at present, there are various fee structures which have resulted from community amalgamation and amalgamation of social services. The first is a program of 80 per cent system and 20 per cent patient in Cape Breton, which is a trial program initiated upon amalgamation of Sydney and its surrounding area. This percentage has met with good success from patients, social workers and denturists. This ratio provides a reasonable benefit to an individual but also causes the individual to have financial responsibility without causing financial distress in most cases. In individual cases where the system does not fit, social workers who are qualified to find a suitable financial ratio must be given the resources to do so. The exception is in the Port Hawkesbury area where an estimate is provided and paid without any problem.
In Halifax County and other areas of Nova Scotia south of the causeway there is another fee structure which has also resulted from community amalgamation and assumption of assistance programs from municipalities from the Department of Community Services. In Halifax prior to amalgamation, the city had a fee of $200 per denture. Upon amalgamation and the assumption of services the department adopted the program of services from the Municipality of Halifax. This has resulted in fees being lowered in these areas and a greater burden on patients who, prior to amalgamation received benefits based on an individual financial profile with an average of 60 per cent system and 40 per cent patient. This fee has not changed since amalgamation and assumption of services which when fixed to the ever-increasing cost of living causes a further burden on individuals who require services when on a fixed income.
In the remaining areas of Nova Scotia there is another system. A denturist submits a fee and it is paid with no question. If a denturist wishes to charge a low fee, that is up to them but the provincial base line for fees should be the government regulated fees, not the lowest fee that the department can find in the province. This lowers the standards below what is considered an acceptable average service.
During the past number of years denturists in the province have been complaining that patients are being directed to go to clinics they are not comfortable with. Denturists recognize that there is a provincial system where individuals are required to obtain two estimates from which the social worker authorizes the lower of the two estimates. The individual pays their percentage and the social worker issues a work order number and the denturist is then allowed to start work.
Unfortunately, individuals are being directed to clinics they do not wish to go to. Denturists recognize that the system has the right to select the lowest estimate and has no argument with this. However, denturists and patients do agree that an individual cannot be forced to go to a clinic they do not wish to go to. A patient may choose to go to the higher estimate clinic. The system will only pay a percentage toward the lower estimate. The patient must then pay the difference to the higher estimate clinic. This is the patient's choice, not the social worker who does not have to go to a clinic that they are not comfortable with.
Regardless of what type of medical or dental practitioner an individual was required to see, the individual would not be directed or forced to go to someone they were not comfortable with. Then why are patients being directed to denture clinics that they do not wish to go to?
Since denturists are only being paid $200 per denture on mainland Nova Scotia, regardless of the clinic or estimate, this problem does not make any sense. In Cape Breton clinics are paid 80 per cent system, 20 per cent patient. The financial inclination of the patient would be to go to the lowest estimate clinic but this is not what every patient wants. The final decision of where the patient goes is up to the patient with the understanding that there will not be extra money paid by the system for the higher estimate clinic.
During the past number of years denturists have been complaining that an increasing number of patients who live in their community are sent out of their community for services. This appears to be done with good intention by social workers to save money on denturist services. However, this is not the case. The patient may be approved so much money for the service but when they go out of their community, they must now pay extra expenses to travel back and forth, lost time in any employment they may have, extra child care expenses and any other expenses. These will vary from patient to patient and must be paid either by the system or the patient. Either way this practice puts an extra burden on the system and the patient. If a patient is comfortable with receiving services in their community and it costs less overall than to send them out of the community for similar service, why send them out of the community?
Denturists have also been complaining over the Department of Community Services not following its own government directed and regulated fees for the denturist services. From 1973 when denturists were licensed to practise in Nova Scotia, the government has directed and regulated denturist fees as with all professions in Nova Scotia who have legislation. These fees are reviewed annually and adjusted as required. The direct costs associated with denturist services are directly linked to the value of the Canadian dollar and the availability of resources and products internationally. Very few of the resources and products used in denturist services are made in Canada. Thus the cost of denturist services has risen a great deal.
The Department of Community Services has fixed its rate on mainland Nova Scotia which does not absorb a portion of cost increases but passes the cost increases directly to the patient. In Cape Breton the rate is a percentage. Thus the increases are shared between the system and the patient.
The underlying problem is the Department of Community Services will not follow the fee structure the government has regulated which if allowed to go on much longer will result in patients receiving a below average quality of service. Below average quality dentures will wear out much faster than the national service life accepted by all insurance companies of five years. Thus patients will require twice as many dentures in the same time-frame but the system will still only provide new dentures at the nationally accepted service life. This in the short
time-frame may fit into present budget allocations but down the road will cause an increased demand on the Department of Community Services' budget and the Department of Health budget. Patients will be forced to wear dentures that have worn out before the system will replace them. Thus patients will develop oral health problems, medical problems and possibly psychological problems in extreme cases.
Examples of oral health problems that are prevalent today as a result of continual wearing of worn out dentures are denture stomatitis, ridge atrophy, hyperplasia, angular chelosis and temporo-manibular joint syndrome. Medical problems will result from the patient not able to masticate their food, thus causing possible digestive and systemic problems. If a patient is required to eat a balanced diet due to medication and a medical condition and their teeth are poor, and/or their dentures are worn out, their condition should not be expected to get better. Thus there is a further burden on the patient, the Department of Health budget and the Department of Community Services' budget.
The Denturists Society is very aware of the budget problems that have existed and are going to exist in the future, especially if more people are forced to seek assistance from the Department of Community Services. To try and save a few dollars now but end up paying two or three times more in the future, plus possibly cause injury to an individual, does not make good sense.
The society has discussed some very important issues, as listed, from which the following observations and proposals have been drawn:
1. Multiple fee structures in Nova Scotia are $200 per denture in Halifax County and other areas; Cape Breton, 80 per cent system, 20 per cent patient on the lowest estimate, except Port Hawkesbury and area; with other areas a percentage or full amount of regulated fees as submitted.
Nova Scotians are not receiving equal benefits. Individuals in Halifax County pay a higher percentage. Individuals in Cape Breton receive a better benefit but still assume some financial responsibility. Individuals in other areas receive a percentage of denturist fees not reduced. Fee structure has not changed from the department in years, causing a burden on some patients, especially the mainland of Nova Scotia. Denturists may charge what they wish, up to the regulated fees, but the department cannot set a base line fee on the lowest fee that they can find in the province. This lowers the standard below what is considered an acceptable average service.
Proposal. Have one fee structure in Nova Scotia based on a percentage between the system and the patient of the government-regulated fees.
2. Patients are being directed to go to clinics they are not comfortable with. There is a provincial two estimate system in place that does work. The system has the right to select the lowest estimate, but not to direct that patient to a specific clinic. It must be understood that there is no extra money available if a patient wishes to go to the higher estimate clinic.
Proposal. Maintain the estimate process but allow the patient to go to the clinic they are comfortable with regardless of whether or not it is the higher or lower estimate clinic with the knowledge that there is no extra money if the patient chooses to go to the higher estimate clinic.
3. Patients are being directed to go outside of their community to receive denturist services, when denturist services are available in their community. Well-intentioned social workers are trying to save money, but unfortunately it costs more in other costs, thus more out of the total budget.
Proposal. Patients should not be directed to go outside of their communities to get denturist services, if they are comfortable in receiving the service in their own community.
4. The Department of Community Services does not follow its own government-directed and regulated fees for denturist services. Recognized service life accepted by all insurance companies for dentures is five years. Lower fees will cause below average quality of service. Below average quality will cause dentures to wear out faster, thus reducing patients to wear dentures when they are worn out, years before they can have them replaced by the system. Patients will be put at risk of injury in both short term and long term, thus causing a greater demand on the Community Services' budget and the Department of Health budget.
Proposal. The Department of Community Services, which is a department of the Government of Nova Scotia, which directs and regulates denturist fees in Nova Scotia must comply with the government and pay the direct fees.
In the Community Services policy paper on Page 294, dental coverage. Dental coverage may be approved for relief of pain, and/or control of prolonged bleeding, and/or treatment of swollen tissue, and/or provision or repair of broken dentures.
Financial assistance will not be provided for services arranged with a dentist or denturist without having received prior approval. This is the estimate process. Determination of services and costs shall be established prior to the authorization. This is the submission of the estimates. The cost of dentures may be provided based on the recommendation of a physician or a dentist. Dentures shall be obtained by the most economical means and must be provided by a licensed denturist.
This is the policy statement by the department, where it is dictating that denturists must provide the service. However when you go back through the province, the policy is not being followed. It depends on where you are in the province as to what policy is being initiated. However, there is only one policy, and it hasn't been updated for a long time. Thank you.
MADAM CHAIR: The floor is open for questions. Is it possible for someone to get these services from someone who isn't a denturist in Nova Scotia?
MR. LLOY: The only way that you can receive services identical to a denturist is from a dentist. For example, I polled 29 denturists in Nova Scotia, trying to spread it out to get a broad-based idea of what was going on in the community. It showed an average of 52.5 individuals who are going to these 29 denturists per week for estimates, in which they receive oral examinations and in most cases, those individuals have not seen a dentist or a denturist in 5 to10 years, and in some cases have not seen a medical practitioner in the same time-frame. Once they have gone through the oral examination, the denturist then refers these individuals back into the system. This is where we short circuit the treatment of maladies. Because if you catch something in the early stages, then it costs less in the end run to treat it, thus it directly influences the Community Services' budget and the Department of Health budget, and is there for the protection of the public.
MS. ATWELL: The services that you provide as a denturist are different services than that of a dentist? You deal with removable partials and full dentures?
MR. LLOY: Under the law right now, denturist are only licensed to provide complete removable dentures.
MS. ATWELL: Okay. The client would first have to go to a dentist.
MR. LLOY: No.
MS. ATWELL: They can come directly to you, even if they need dental services, for example, if they need teeth removed and that sort of thing.
MR. LLOY: What happens is an individual will make an appointment or they will just walk in. A denturist will conduct an oral examination and determine what that patient requires. If the patient requires dental work, then the patient will be referred to a dentist. If the patient requires a denture, then the patient will then be given a prognosis of what they can expect, and they then have the information to make that informed decision on what they want to have done. Whether they want to have the denturist provide them with a denture or whether they have to go, in some cases, to an oral surgeon to have some preliminary work done.
A lot of people in Nova Scotia who are away from the dental sphere for 5 to 10 years and have been wearing the same denture for that time-frame, their mouth is a mess. You can't put a denture on a mouth that has been destroyed by wearing a denture that long. You then have to give that individual the information that they need and the referral to the specialist to get treatment, before you can even start that denture. In most cases, that means sending him to an oral surgeon, a dentist or a medical practitioner, depending on what the denturist sees.
A denturist cannot tell a patient that they see a specific malady in their mouth. We are not legislated to do that. However, we will identify a problem, we will tell the patient that there is a condition in their mouth, and that we are going to refer them to a physician, a dentist, or an oral surgeon. Thus we reintroduce that patient back into the system to get the treatment that they require now, and not in 5 or 10 years' time when that condition will be so bad that it requires an enormous amount of time and money to treat.
Denturists in turn short circuit that system. We are there for the protection of the public, to provide them with a service, and part of that service is their protection.
MR. PYE: I guess I have a bit of difficulty with respect to a set rate or fee. The reason I say that is because when I was a municipal politician, and there were special needs such as eyeglasses and denture needs at that particular time, the Department of Community Services would negotiate with a firm who would provide the cheapest possible fee to service the client. My concern is that I don't know if that is still done simply because it has been taken over by the Province of Nova Scotia, but I would assume that there are some instances where that is still done. I do believe that it is still done in the optometry profession. In the dental profession, has there been negotiated agreements between denturists and the Province of Nova Scotia, in particular, locations throughout the province?
MR. LLOY: As far as a negotiated contract for denturist services or agreement or Memorandum of Understanding in Nova Scotia, there has not been any such contract or Memorandum of Understanding or agreement with the Denturists Society who represents all of the denturists. As far as individual denture clinics, I cannot speak for the individual denture clinics. That is private business on their part. The Denturists Society is there to represent the society as a whole and to look out for the profession and the protection of the public in receiving an average service.
The discussions that I have had with the department at a low level, indicates that the department is willing to look at a contract or a Memorandum of Understanding, because we are one of the very few provinces in Canada that do not have that type of an agreement with the Denturists Society of the province.
MR. PYE: I guess you answered my second question, which was, are there provinces that do have agreements with the Denturists Society, and you are saying yes, there are provinces that do have an agreement. For my own purpose, and maybe not for all the members of the standing committee, I would hope that you would poll the individual members of the society and ask them if they are willing or open and receptive to disclosing whether they have made agreements with the Department of Community Services with respect to providing dental services to clients.
MR. LLOY: Yes, and that is actively going on right now.
MR. PYE: Thank you.
MR. KEN EDWARDS: If I may, just for a second, as President for the society, when Dr. Jim Smith was Community Services Minister, I had a meeting with him on this very issue. Because New Brunswick had a contract, if you will, with the Denturists Society of New Brunswick, I managed to get hold of one of them and give it to Dr. Smith. It is probably in the office somewhere. Because of the legislation that we do not have yet for all removable dentures, it is one of the hang-ups why probably we haven't initiated this any further. But it is certainly one of our top priorities, no question.
MADAM CHAIR: How big is your membership?
MR. LLOY: There are 53 denturists in Nova Scotia.
MADAM CHAIR: When people come to you for examinations and estimates, is there a fee for that?
MR. LLOY: No. From all the denturists that I have contacted, there is not a denturist that charges a fee for an oral examination.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you. Are there any other questions? Thank you very much.
MR. LLOY: Thank you.
MADAM CHAIR: Our next presentation is the Nova Scotia Association of Black Social Workers, Dr. Wanda Thomas-Bernard.
DR. WANDA THOMAS-BERNARD: Thank you, Madam Chair. I would like to thank the committee members for this opportunity to come and to present. I realize that you have added these extra days. I know that it must be quite exhausting to listen to presentation after presentation. I don't have a brief to give you, and I will be speaking on behalf of the Association of Black Social Workers.
First of all, let me start by telling you who we are. We are a non-profit group of professional social workers and human services workers. We have had organization in this country since 1977. The first Canadian Association of Black Social Workers started in Montreal in 1977. The first Association of Black Social Workers in the world actually started in 1969 in San Francisco. The Halifax organization started in 1979 so we are actually beginning our 20th year in operation as a non-profit volunteer group.
We are a small organization of about 30 active members. We are an organization that actually does a lot of work in the community. It is not like the professional Association of Social Workers because we actually extend our services into the community, in all Black communities in this province. There are over 40 African-Nova Scotian communities in this province. We do not have chapters throughout the province largely because of the fact that once you get outside the Halifax-Dartmouth area, there are very few social workers of African decent employed in the social work field or in any of the human services field. However, our association frequently gets calls from every part of the province, so we have a really good handle on what is going on in communities.
I don't know about you, but when I heard the young woman speak here about her own personal experience, it was painful. It was very painful to listen to her story. It was really painful to see how she is personally affected by policy change and I want to tell you that African-Nova Scotian people, many of whom are in receipt of some form of benefit, whether it be income support, whether it be family benefits, whether it be some sort of pension because of disability, there is a large number of our people who are in receipt of some sort of state benefit.
The story you heard from Ms. Peck is a story that you will hear over and over and over and over again. I have no idea how many African-Nova Scotian people who are actually in receipt of benefits have come to speak to you. My assumption is not many have. My assumption is that most of our people are locked outside of these kinds of processes and this is why the Association of Black Social Workers decided that they would make a presentation to the committee. As I said before, I am speaking on behalf of the association. I am not speaking on behalf of all Black Nova Scotia. However, we repeatedly hear about some of the concerns. They are heart wrenching.
Just thinking about the restructuring process, we like the idea of the social assistance restructuring. We feel that's important. However, we have some concerns about what that really means. If we're looking at the whole issue of employment, we think it is unethical to train people for jobs that don't exist. We believe that it is really important that if we're looking at full employment, meaningful employment, that it has to be just that, meaningful employment. There is such a disincentive for people who are on benefits to take minimum wage jobs, especially if they have families. Those minimum wage jobs do not meet their basic needs and when those minimum wage jobs take from people's basic needs, what that means then, is that that's a real disincentive to working. Child care costs, costs for drugs and so on,
if those aren't covered and those minimum wage jobs don't cover those, that really is a disservice to the people we're trying to help.
We also need to really seriously tackle the whole issue of systemic racism and discrimination in the employment sector. It is not by accident that there are not African-Nova Scotian social workers employed throughout the province. It is not by accident that we have an overdependency on the social assistance system. It is because of systemic racism. As people we have been marginalized in this province since we first arrived here. I think that has been well documented. The Department of Education has made some good progress in terms of redressing the systemic inequalities in education. There is a wonderful window of opportunity there in terms of education with the African-Canadian Service Division and the Council on African-Canadian Education. Those are all really good initiatives. I think with that, in time, it may be two more generations, that we will see some change but it can't be all in the Department of Education. There are so many social needs that directly impact on the educational experience for our children.
For example, if you go to school hungry, no matter how much diversity you have in the school system, no matter how much diversity you have in the teaching system, if you're in school and you are hungry, that is going to affect your learning. If our kids don't have exposure to books, if they don't have access to computers, they are already at a disadvantage when they start Grade Primary. The changes that are happening in education are not addressing those kinds of issues and so we really need to take those things on board and work more closely with the Department of Education if we're talking about meaningful change for African-Nova Scotian people.
We have concerns about what is happening in the metro areas. What is happening in the rural areas is even worse. The Association of Black Social Workers frequently gets calls to do direct services, such as counselling services for people with a variety of issues. A lot of those issues are related to behavioural problems with children in schools. Some of those issues are related to issues of violence. Some of those issues are related to issues of substance abuse. Some of those are just everyday parenting problems. In many of those cases as we send support people out to work with families, a lot of those are child welfare matters and that's where a lot of the referrals come from when they come to the association's attention. As we begin to unravel what is going on in some of those families, poverty is frequently a key issue, and I tell you it is really difficult to expect people to address issues like these if they don't know where the next meal is coming from. It is really difficult to get people to do that if they don't have enough money to meet their basic needs.
The current rates are not adequate to meet people's basic needs, that's a given. So if restructuring is going to address that at all, it needs to begin by looking at what's an adequate standard of living, you know, how do we ensure that every individual has an adequate standard of living. The current system sets people up to lie, to cheat, to steal, to do whatever they can to get by. Is that the kind of society that we want to live in? Nobody wants to be on
the system. Nobody wants to live in poverty but too many of our people are and in the African-Nova Scotian community, in research we have done in the past, it has been documented that we are overrepresented in most of the mandatory Community Services agencies, such as social assistance, such as child welfare. I believe those two go hand in hand and I believe that we cannot address one without addressing the other. I believe that the readdressing that we're doing in education will really be in a vacuum unless we can also address the issues of poverty and how they impact on our community.
We believe that this government has the power to implement real reform. We also believe that this government has the responsibility to implement real reform and we do hope that people really understand that the restructuring, the reform, cannot happen in isolation from the very real social, economic and political realities of people. As you deliberate I do hope that you take seriously the condition of African-Nova Scotians in this community, to recognize that poor people are marginalized, poor people who are Black are furthermore marginalized; poor people who are Black, who also have disabilities, have triple jeopardy. Those are the very real conditions.
I can speak with some personal authority on this. I grew up poor. My mother raised 12 children on social assistance after my father died and I tell you she raised us to live with dignity, to live with respect, but it was very difficult. Every day was a struggle and so I know when I talk with people who are living in poverty, I know what that struggle is about. I know that it is really difficult. I know that it stops you from dreaming. I know that people think why can't you just pull yourself up by your bootstraps and get going. Well, I know that that's easier said than done. I know that you cannot do that unless you have real support and you cannot do that when you know that people are discriminating against you on so many levels.
The whole issue of restructuring and reform needs to really reflect people's day-to-day realities. I think the young woman who spoke here this afternoon gave us a picture of her day-to-day reality and that's a picture that you need to keep with you as you deliberate and think about the restructuring. The Association of Black Social Workers wanted to go out and talk with people in the communities. We had no resources to do that. Our members are all full-time or part-time, or triple-time employed. They're underemployed in some places and take on another job to assist and support their income. So we didn't have the resources. We don't have financial resources. We don't get funding from anyone and so we didn't have the resources to go out and talk to the communities. This presentation is really based on a compilation of the stories that we hear, the stories that we've lived over a great number of years. If you have any questions, I will be happy to answer them.
MR. PYE: Thank you, Madam Chair. Can I call you Wanda?
MS. THOMAS-BERNARD: Yes.
MR. PYE: Wanda, if there is one regret, I think the regret that I have is that the Black community had not come out to the standing committee's hearings and presented their real concerns or made very strong recommendations to the Standing Committee on Welfare Reform in Nova Scotia. We toured what I believe are major areas and where the majority of the Black population would exist, such as Sydney, Yarmouth, Guysborough, Preston and now in Halifax. We have had approximately five meetings in Halifax and it may be a bit more. I guess if you could elaborate or tell me, maybe I could have a better understanding of why the community has not come out and spoken to the standing committee, knowing full well that a large portion of that population is dependent upon social assistance as a means of existing. Thank you.
MS. THOMAS-BERNARD: I would think that for a lot of people, it is fear. There is also what would make people believe that they would be heard and understood? How would we send a message that people would be heard and understood, and with the best intentions? This is not a personal reflection on any of you as individual people, it is really a reflection of the systemic nature of the problem. When the Black Learners Advisory Committee was doing their research back in the early 1990's, they hired regional people to work in those communities. Those people had to do a lot of work in the communities before they could get people to come out, and that was sending a same race person in, usually someone from the community that they were working in, to go and to spend time with people. It is a very long process.
I know that the committee has really worked hard to get people to come out, but it is very difficult. It doesn't surprise me that people didn't come out. As I said earlier, that is one of reasons the association decided that we had to have some representation here, because we would expect that people wouldn't come out. It is a very difficult process. This is a very intimidating process for people to participate in. When people feel they have never been a part of the system, they really don't expect and don't have any way of really believing that, just because someone says it has changed, it would really need someone going into those communities and really working with people to get them to come out to speak.
MS. ATWELL: Thank you very much. Wanda, for your presentation. As Jerry mentioned, there was only one other presenter who talked about systemic racism in the entire consultations. As you said, we did some work of getting people out in the community, but for the reasons that you mentioned, I understand those reasons very clearly. I am really glad you came out, because those things get missed, even though there is a knowledge that they do exist. I think that if we don't find people within the community to come out and talk about it, it does get missed or it is not seen as important.
The Black community of Nova Scotia is quite small and people's lives, oftentimes, are quite open from one community to the other. Working within the community as a Black social worker with families and people on social assistance, do you find a reluctance to speak with you about major issues that people are having with the system?
MS. THOMAS-BERNARD: Yes. That is always an issue because the community, as you say, is so small, confidentiality is always an issue. I have been working in social work now for the past 22 years, and it has only been in the last five years, I think, that I have earned people's trust. It takes a long time. Some of us have developed that trust over the years, when people come forward, it becomes very difficult. It is usually a last resort, so things have actually developed to such a state where they have no place else to go. The concerns and the frustration are so high that they really have no place else to go. It is difficult for people to come forward even to us.
In a research project that I was involved with just in the past couple of years, we did have regional meetings around the province, really trying to get a sense of people's experiences. This is actually getting some of the Black social workers to talk about their experiences. Some of those Black social workers have had really negative experiences, but again it is really difficult for people to talk about that, because the community is small, people are really afraid of reprisal, so people are reluctant to bring complaints forward around issues.
We have also had some clients around the province who have actually come forward as part of the work that was being done, looking at services to the Black community. We did hear people, people did come forward at that time from the Black communities to speak about some of those experiences, and that has gone forward to the Department of Community Services.
MADAM CHAIR: Are there any other questions or comments? Thank you very much for your presentation.
MS. THOMAS-BERNARD: Thank you.
MADAM CHAIR: Our next presentation is the Maritime School of Social Work, Professor Joan Gilroy.
PROFESSOR JOAN GILROY: Thank you very much for the opportunity to meet with you. I know this is at the end of a long consultation process, and I will be brief. During the course of your public hearings, I am sure you have heard a broad range of views on Nova Scotia's social assistance program. In this presentation, I am only going to make a few points based on my experience in doing social work in Nova Scotia and in other provinces, and my considerable experience in teaching social work, and my most recent work on an international child welfare project.
The first and strongest point I want to make is the amounts of social assistance are not sufficient to cover the costs of food, clothing, shelter, transportation and other necessities of life. I am sure that you have heard this point many times during your presentations and know it from a wide variety of sources. The extent of poverty in Canada is very well documented in reports from governments, from the organizations such as the Canadian Council on Social
Development, the National Council on Welfare, Campaign 2000, the campaign to end child poverty in Canada by the year 2000, and from provincial associations such as the Nova Scotia Association of Social Workers.
Information from all these sources show that poverty is increasing. That one in five children lives in poverty, and that contrary to myth, "most poor children live in a family that includes two parents, one or two children under 18 years, is led by an adult in his late 30's and who graduated from high school. In general, poor families live in larger communities, live in rental accommodation and receive most of their income from work or work and social assistance." This is just one of many facts presented in the most recent Child Poverty in Canada Report Card 1998 by the Campaign 2000 that is full of good information.
Research from the bodies I have mentioned and from other sources also demonstrates that income is a key determinant of health. Poor people are much more likely to be unhealthy and to have inadequate housing that takes too large a proportion of their income. Poor children are more likely to drop out of school and to face chronic unemployment or underemployment, and they are more likely to have emotional and behavioural problems.
When people do not have enough money to feed, clothe and shelter themselves and their children, they cannot focus on finding employment. They cannot focus on upgrading their education, their job skills. They cannot focus on solving problems such as those in their relationships with their spouses or partners, their relationships with their children, their addictions, their mental health and well-being. Their energies are consumed with survival, which is an ongoing daily task.
The facts of poverty and its human costs are very well known. As is pointed out in the focus group summary, people are citizens, resources, not problems draining the public purse, but rather people worthy of sound public policy and social programs. The fundamental change in social assistance then, that is needed, is to bring the benefits in line with the real costs of living. Unless this is done, all the administrative efficiencies, coordinative efforts, training, monitoring, all the tinkering in the world will not make one bit of difference, or very little difference, in the cost of social programs, and more importantly in the benefits in people's lives.
The second point I want to make has to do with staff in Community Services, and I am speaking about social workers, since that is my field. If persons who need social assistance were provided with a sufficient amount of money to cover basic costs of living, then they would be much more likely to want and have the energy required to overcome personal and social problems.
As it is now, today, 1999, we have social workers who are well educated and well trained and who have the skills to help resolve personal and family problems. They are spending a lot of their time helping with basic survival needs, advocating for so-called special needs, which might mean eyeglasses, hearing aids, dental work, all of which we would think are necessities. Trying to find better accommodation for families, providing information about food banks, bus fare, trying to support clients in their efforts to survive in the highly stressful condition of poverty. This then is a waste of educated and skilled personnel.
Complaints are often heard about social workers and how they do their jobs. I am sure you have heard some. A range in education, training and experience accounts for some variation in effectiveness, obviously. Education and training that provides social workers and social services personnel with a basis for analyzing personal and social problems in the context of poverty, unemployment, disability, discrimination on the basis of sex or gender, race, et cetera, helps staff to be more sensitive, more supportive and more aggressive in their advocacy for human rights and needs.
Education and training are important, but the basic problem is lack of resources and services for people, and the working conditions of social work and human services personnel which make it difficult or impossible for social workers to do their job. In child welfare for example, because it is the field in which I am currently working on an international education project, when social workers talk about their work, they paint a very moving picture of believing that their work is important, indeed essential to families and communities, but they also say that they feel unable to meet their clients' needs adequately because of cutbacks in staff and services. They are left to expend limited resources on emergencies and high-risk cases, with little left over for prevention.
Social workers in child welfare also report higher caseloads, higher than the recommended number in child protection for example. Working with families who have more serious and more complex problems associated with lack of employment; low wages; job insecurity; lack of decent, affordable housing and day care; disabilities; depressions; addictions; lack of transportation in rural areas, particularly; and so forth. Lack of services, and two that are commonly mentioned are the almost total lack of services for young people 16 to 19, and another is the lack of a secure treatment facility for children. I think this was brought to public attention yesterday in the local newspaper, with the article about a boy living in a hotel room, being guarded, so to speak, and looked after by staff, and I forget what it said the costs were, $300 a day, approximately. It doesn't take much math to multiply that out to be a pretty expensive way to provide service that isn't even addressing the problem that this child has.
Social workers also talk about increased requirements for paperwork, documentation, fears for personal safety and liability in child abuse. Their fears are grounded in the reality of social workers being charged in the deaths of children. All of these conditions make for a generally high stress level among social workers, exhaustion and burn-out. I have been
interviewing social workers in child welfare, and we have been interviewing them as part of an international project at the school, and I do have a paper that does go into more of their working conditions. I can leave a copy of that with the Chair, if that would be useful.
At the same time as social workers are working with these conditions, their agencies and public offices have less money for staff development and for ongoing training which would help them to do their jobs effectively and to reduce stress and burn-out. Social programs require a skilled workforce. Governments must be prepared to invest in staff. One of the reforms I would suggest is an emphasis on staff and their own working conditions and their ongoing education and development.
The third point I want to raise is the international child welfare project, which I have mentioned. Dalhousie's School of Social Work, together with schools at McMaster, University of Victoria, Southampton, U.K., a school in the Netherlands and one in Stockholm, Sweden, is working on a three-year international project on child abuse, protection and welfare. The aim of this project is to build child welfare curricula in an international context. Toward that end, there is a student exchange for final field placements, and conferences among the participating universities, which also involve practitioners in child welfare.
I am mentioning this project because it has been an opportunity to learn what other provinces and countries are doing in child welfare and in social work education for child welfare. From our most recent conference held in Sweden last fall, we had an opportunity to meet and talk with social work faculty and students and child welfare practitioners, and to visit some agencies which are taking a more community-based approach to child welfare.
In Sweden, for example, social programs cover the basic necessities of life, and they seem to reflect a positive philosophy toward people receiving welfare benefits. Social workers there say that they can actually work with people on their problems in raising children, in finding jobs, getting more education and job-related training, and a wide range of personal issues. They know that the people with whom they are working have enough food, have a decent place to live, can take their children to the dentist, have bus fare, and are not as preoccupied with their daily survival.
From these conversations, we understood the impact of more comprehensive and progressive social programs on social work practice and on the lives of the people. Working in the context of adequate provision for basic needs, socials workers and their clients were able to work on personal, family and community problems in more effective, humane and satisfying ways. Our province and our country benefit from the exchange of information and ideas for the complex challenges facing us in social programs.
In closing, I will state in reverse order the points I have tried to make. We can all benefit from the experiences of other countries who have better systems in social assistance or ones that seem much better.
Two, staff and social programs are working in conditions that do not enable them to do their jobs of assisting people in overcoming barriers to healthy, full and productive lives. Sound public policy requires an investment in staff. In creating the conditions essential to effective work, factors such as caseload size, liability and safety issues, and opportunities for ongoing education training and professional development must be addressed.
Third, social assistance programs ought to cover the basic necessities of life for recipients. Unless this fundamental change is made, as I have said, large numbers of Nova Scotians will continue to live in poverty with all the associated problems in health, work and school performance and Nova Scotia will be deprived of contributions all its citizens could make to our economy and to our communities. This is the fundamental reform that is required. I join with all the others who have urged this Standing Committee on Community Services to recommend adequate resources for what is essential for life and health. Money certainly doesn't cure all problems but enough to cover the essential needs people have does provide the basis for working through other problems in families and in communities. Lack of food and shelter costs our people and our province very dearly.
Thank you again for the opportunity of meeting with the standing committee and I wish you well in your deliberations on the information presented and in your recommendations to strengthen the social assistance program in Nova Scotia. Thank you.
MR. BALSER: One of the earlier presenters today indicated it was his estimation that between 60 per cent and 70 per cent of social assistance recipients have some sort of an addiction problem. From your experience would you say that there is a high correlation between addiction problems and access to the social system and what we tend to do is treat one aspect of the problem and not the whole problem? If we give support to someone in terms of their housing and they have another difficulty that's not being addressed, then we haven't really solved the problem. So that's kind of what I'm looking for.
MS. GILROY: I don't really know the statistics on the correlation between addictions and social assistance recipients and I don't know if these are available, but I do know that poverty breeds all sorts of problems, including addiction. I would imagine there would certainly be a higher proportion of people who are poor who may suffer from addictions or mental health problems, or all types of human problems. So I totally agree that we have to work with people as whole human beings in a social environment. However, I don't think that social assistance creates addictions, if that's what the person was suggesting, but I think poverty, living in poverty is a very depressing life and addictions according to the theories are one way of trying to cope with the daily survival, and not a successful way and not an effective way but one way.
MR. BALSER: If I may, it has been commented on that a number of the people who are currently working in the system are not really formally trained, that they have had some other training and are working the system and, as such, may not have all the skills, or the
types of skills that are needed. Again we go back to being aware of the counselling necessary to handle people with addiction problems, those kinds of things. What I'm looking for is, I guess, are there extension courses available to these people and, if so, are they provided in ways so that they are accessible to people who are currently working and need to take additional training or is it primarily in your estimation done through professional development within the context of the job? I am thinking of the parallels between social work and education, that is that many teachers go out and take upgrading and those kinds of things.
MS. GILROY: There are courses available. There are opportunities available. I don't think they are sufficient for the staff. Our own school has a continuing education professional development program which is open to social workers and employees in the broad field of human services. Our people tell us that they can't get the time to take a day workshop or a week-long workshop, or a series of workshops. They can't get financial support whereas they used to get tuition or part tuition, or some travel expenses, or whatever, to help them with their continuing education and professional development needs. They are now not able to get enough of the resources. So it is sort of on their own time and money and, of course, their caseloads on the other hand are getting higher and the problems are very serious. So it is difficult. I think the working conditions of the staff make it very difficult to do the ongoing upgrading that they do need to do.
MR. BALSER: Just one more, if I may. Just in very general terms, if a student takes a Bachelor of Social Work, I guess, what generally are the kind of courses? Do they take a course in addiction counselling and do they take a course like money management? What is an area in broad terms? What does a course in social work prepare you to do?
MS. GILROY: At the Bachelor's level, which is the basic preparation, the courses are more generic, trying to cover working with people with a wide variety of problems. That's the core curriculum. The elective courses cover addictions, child welfare, various fields. They are not offered every year so every social worker wouldn't have those, although we also have the opportunity to take courses in other universities in the metro area. The place for learning more specialized work would be in field placements. Many of our students are also employees in the human services as well. Doing their education on a part-time basis. For a person who is interested, say in addictions, they would probably do their field placement in the addictions field where they would work with people under supervision with problems with alcohol, drugs and more recently with gambling. They would take the training that is available to the staff in that field and they may have opportunities to do special workshops. So it is through the field practice component of the undergraduate program where they would be most likely to get training in addictions or child welfare, or any other field, a hospital of social work, and that sort of thing.
MR. PYE: Joan, I guess MLA Gordon Balser posed a question that I was going to pose to you but I think it is very important that you are here because as an educator we are hearing from the front-line workers. Through you, the kind of problems that they have and
are envisioning today as a result of the workloads that are placed upon them and they have not come forward here and spoke before this standing committee. I believe there was only one actual caseworker who did come and speak before this standing committee in all our presentations.
How does the Maritime School of Social Work or the Association of Professional Social Workers, or the Association of Caseworkers impress upon government or I guess impress upon government the important need for continuing education? If you look at department budgets, training, conferences' allowance, and continuing education into their particular fields was the first to go if they need to cut, particularly for those individuals whom, in fact, have 10, 15, or even 20 years' experience in the field, there is this mindset that there is not a need for continuing education, that things seems to stay static, that there is no movement.
I guess my question to you is, without going off on a tangent, how do the organizations that represent the front-line workers impress upon their employers, or employer, the importance of needing the continuing education programs? I am pleased that you're here because we have heard very little from those individuals?
MS. GILROY: I am sorry that social workers didn't come forward. I think maybe some of the reasons are the ones that Wanda Thomas-Bernard alluded to the workloads, and daily conditions of their work, leave them little time to kind of reflect on it and come and present it. There also may be some intimidation for people coming to a more formal process. I wish that weren't so but I think that might be the reason.
In the Association of Social Workers, there is a requirement under the legislation for social workers to have, I think it is 40 hours per year of ongoing continuing education professional development and this can take a wide variety of forms, you know, workshops, reading, supervision, staff training, in-house staff training and so forth. So there is that requirement. In our own school, we have the continuing education program and we do try to promote that, but I don't think we have been as successful as we should be in promoting the education. We also have to work with our colleagues to change the working conditions so that people can actually take advantage of what is there, and press for programs that they need.
I think that education has to be seen in the overall picture of work, and we can press as hard as we like but if the social workers don't have time, don't have the money, can't get the transportation, the day off, or the week off, or whatever, then it is going to be hard for them to take advantage. So I think we have to do more and also among ourselves, too, I think people have to argue for the conditions that make their own work more successful and more satisfying.
MR. PYE: I guess, Madam Chair, the final remark is just a comment and I guess as a new politician in the provincial arena I guess it is somewhat striking, startling and disturbing to me, to hear that even professional people are reluctant to come out and speak in fear of intimidation. I can only imagine what that reflects to the individuals who are in need of a service if, in fact, the professional field is reluctant to come forward and speak. That is just simply a comment.
MS. GILROY: There may also be a degree of cynicism about these processes because it seems, as I have mentioned, that there's a lot of information to point out the basic problem being insufficient resources and the effect of poverty on people's lives and so forth. There is a lot of information and yet, that doesn't seem to be translated into developing a more adequate social assistance program. So maybe people are wondering what is the point in coming forward to say that people are poor. It is affecting them badly. It affects the way they raise their kids. We can't help them raise their kids better unless we have a better base for them to live and work and so forth. So there may be some of that. I am sure there is some of that also affecting participation.
MR. MUIR: Thank you. I was interested, Joan, in the international project that you're participating in. You talked about Sweden, you were saying in your comments that their program is much better than ours?
MS. GILROY: Yes.
MR. MUIR: I think you also said that the bottom line to improvement in the system here is more money. I think that's what it all boiled down to. I mean notwithstanding everything else. The level of assistance in Sweden compared to minimum wage, how would it, or the poverty line, which we talk about here is $16,000. Social assistance in Sweden, if we are looking at it as something that is a little bit better than ours, how does it compare to their poverty line? The other part of this, how far do we have to go, relatively speaking, to catch up to where perhaps Sweden is?
MS. GILROY: Well, we were told and the information we were given is that their social assistance or welfare rates are at the basic or above the basic poverty line. That is what the government estimates as absolutely essential for food, clothing and shelter. Whereas here, as was pointed out, I think, by the Nova Scotia Association of Social Workers in the case example of single parent women, she was living on $7,000-something a year, and it was 44 per cent below what Statistics Canada estimates is essential for living.
MR. MUIR: Roughly about 100 per cent increase, effectively, if we were to look at that one.
MS. GILROY: Yes. They also say that they believe it saves money. Like this example of this child, it saves money in treating people for depressions, addictions, and so forth. I think that is very hard to cost out, what are the actual costs, what are the benefits. It certainly seems much more humane and certainly seems much more effective in solving of their child welfare problems. They do believe it is cost-effective as well as more humane.
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. MacEwan, did you have a point you wanted to make? I thought you were indicating that you wanted to speak. Are there any other questions or comments? Thank you very much, Joan.
MS. GILROY: Thank you again.
MADAM CHAIR: That brings to an end, the people we have on our pre-established agenda. The practice of the committee has been to ask if there are any members of the public who would like to make a presentation at this time. Yes.
MR. PAUL MACEWAN: We were told this meeting would be over at 4:00 p.m.
MADAM CHAIR: You are free to leave if you want to leave.
MR. MACEWAN: You told us the meeting would be over at 4:00 p.m.
MADAM CHAIR: Excuse me, you are out of order. The decision of this committee Chair has been that we will continue to do the procedure that we have always done. We have one more member of the public who would like to make a presentation to us, and I for one am prepared to stay here and hear this member of the public. If you are unable to do that because you have to go have supper, then you can feel free to do so.
MR. MACEWAN: I do not have to have supper but I just believed what I was told.
MADAM CHAIR: I am sorry. Can you give us your name please?
MR. DAVID CHARLES MACDONALD: Microphones make me nervous, always did. I keep feedback squealing them. For what it is worth, my name is David Charles Macdonald. I have been a recipient of family benefits disability for about five, five and one-half years. My apologies to Mr. MacEwan, I would have put together a formal presentation, except I wasn't even aware that the hearings were being held at this point, until I saw them on the news last night. So I am afraid I could only come in to make an impromptu. I would have preferred otherwise, it would have been more convenient to the committee, and respectful to it. Unfortunately, for the last three months I have been spending more concern trying to find a place to live, keeping my health stable enough that I am out of hospital.
I am not going to go into any real detail of my medical background; quite frankly, it is a bit on the complicated side. It is a blood disorder and problems are related both to what it in itself does and the drugs that are required to treat it, the limitations they create. I may seem or sound a bit scatter-brained right now. Ladies and gentlemen, I am also under the influence of about 90 milligrams of morphine. It is the only way I could even handle coming in here and sitting here for three or four hours. This is not an enjoyable way to live, but one does so.
Two and a half years ago, I went through ITI, as opposed to one of the public systems, because I thought the best way for what my skills and my abilities to arrive for would be towards network administration and program development, and that was the best school here for it, by far. Unfortunately, as has proven to be the case a lot in the last 10 years, my health decided it didn't want to agree, although I got the majority of what I was looking for. However, even with a retraining program right now, I can't work in the field that I am trained for, because no one will hire me because of the medication regime I am on. Personally, I can't fault that. I wouldn't hire me right now. That is more than a little bit frustrating.
I have seen many people who have been on the system both for family benefits with families, single parents, because they never had the chance to get forward. I am a bit of an atypical exception. The only high school I have is the GED form of equivalency. I wrote the ITI entrance exam and got in, apparently I was an exception. They don't normally take people without at least a degree or a long work history, and I had neither. I did apply my best. My marks stayed in the mid-80's, so I didn't do too badly. I demonstrated ability. Again, it is being wasted right now. It is through no fault really of the school, the system per se, or my health.
Up to three months ago, I was boarding with my parents, for about five years. I received the grand total of $4,448.36. That is without dealing with the GST supplement that the federal government applies. That is it. That was enough to just make the difference for boarding costs and things like that. Now owing to circumstances to which I was not a party of, I was given very short notice to leave. Basically, I had a 24-hour warning. As you may have gathered, there are some dysfunctional family aspects. Again, that is not really relevant to what you are here for and what I am here to speak to you about, but the circumstances threw me into a situation where I would end up needing an increase.
One of the things that is true for me is, I am not really able to live alone. I am at high risk of stroke, high risk of embolism. I have had 11 deep vein blood clots and a suspected stroke in the last 10 years. I am only 31. They have only been able to isolate, last year, why my blood is doing what it is doing. It is a genetic fault. They only isolated the genetic marker in 1996 in Germany. So I spent the first eight years not knowing why and the medical community not knowing why. The first three years, three and a half years, I got bounced
around from cancer specialist to another because there was no haematology specialist in this field down here. Thankfully, a man came here. He has developed a lot of the protocols for the QE II as well. My system has slowly managed to improve.
Unfortunately, the cost to me is not just in the damage that the clots have done to my left leg. There is also the fact that my metabolism has been heavily slowed down, my stamina, my endurance is badly impaired. I have very little. I cannot function. I have literally forgotten what it is like not to hurt, even under the influence of analgesics. If I woke up and didn't hurt, I would be convinced I was dead. Not just think I was dead, I would be convinced. I am so used to having to biofeedback a certain degree of pain away automatically. I am stuck with medication regime choices that through no decisions or faults of my own, I have to live with. The lowest level of painkiller they can safely give me that my body will tolerate, that does not interact with my medication, the main medication, is morphine at the moment. I started throwing seizures on Demerol.
This is not terribly acceptable to me, and I don't think it is terribly acceptable to many employers. Yet at the same time, I have the skills. I have a mound of skills that I would like to use that can be translated into several different employment sectors. I don't particularly enjoy having to sign a waiver every year that allows the government full and total access to my electronic fingerprint and my bank records. It is not that I have anything to hide, it is literally the principal of having to allow somebody that kind of right into my privacy. I doubt very much any of you would enjoy that.
These are all situations that I am forced to deal with. I am one of the lucky ones? This is part of what disturbs me with the system. I am actually one of the lucky ones. My system is going downhill from there. My physical health will not improve. I have been able to stabilize it, but it is a slow degenerative thing. Basically I throw blood clots. The older I get, the worse it is going to get. It has already demonstrated that. Nine have been in the left leg. There is massive circulatory damage. I walked into the emergency department last August. The emergency room doctor's description was walking corpse, because my blood was so thin. I was only bleeding in my leg; what they didn't understand is why I didn't bleed everywhere. It took two blood times to confirm that, because the first one, they were convinced was a lab error, because I would have been dead if I had it, by normal acceptable norms. I don't fit medical profiles. I don't fit categories. I never have.
It took me a year and a half to get on the system, and when I finally did, the caseworker I had established took one look at my medical report and said, why the hell weren't you on this before? I said, got me! They didn't know where to put me. I have done my best not to be any more of a demand on the system than possible. I have tried to find adequate retraining so that I would not have to return to the system, yet I am still forced back into that situation.
A little over two months ago, I had a temporary place to live where I could pay the same rent that I was paying at my parents', so I didn't need an increase at that point, so I didn't ask for one. However, I warned them, at the beginning of January I was going to have to get an increase. I needed to know the maximum amount for shelter, things like that. I am fortunate to have found a place where I can board for $450, my food is separate. If my health goes down, they will make sure I get taken to the emergency department, and do things like basic cooking, stuff, afterwards, because the first week to three weeks I am out of a hospital, I can barely look after myself in terms of getting upstairs to a bathroom, let alone the more complicated functions of day-to-day life.
I still haven't seen it. Yet I was told it was authorized in mid-December. I have had a walking impairment for some time. I usually use a cane, although I am occasionally in a wheelchair. At the moment it is crutches, which I have only been using again for the last week or so, because of my left leg, which had all the bleeding in it. I am walking so off balance, I have tendinitis in my hip. When it flares, I go down, can't hold that on a cane. This is a further limiting factor. I can't do much about it.
Do you know that it costs the same amount to rent crutches as it does to buy them these days; $20. I mean $20 doesn't seem like a whole lot of money. That is more than I am allotted for transportation per month. Because of the blood thinner I take, I must do blood work twice a week, especially after what happened at the end of August, because to date, we don't know why my blood time spiked. It is the first time in 10 years of being on this medication, I ever had that kind of problem, so it is not because I am careless. I am very cautious about that. Both my grandparents are doctors and nurses, so I do have some background with understanding basic medicine, and the need to understand the type of medications you take and what they do. I don't enjoy the medication regimes I am stuck with. As I said, if I am repeating myself, I apologize, it is very hard to think clearly through this narcotic. It is not a pleasant experience to be here under such circumstances and in such shape.
I get $18 a month transportation. That is five and a half round trips on today's bus fare. I have to do a minimum of eight, just for blood work. I was not allowed an increase. I was sent to Community Services, Community Services sent me back. I did not qualify for any need for even bus tickets, let alone a bus pass. So I have been literally forced to buy a bus pass at the beginning of each month, part with money allotted for transportation and part for food. I had to go to a food bank in December because of that. This is a little bit extreme.
Some caseworkers are good, some are bad. You get the whole spectrum there. One thing that perhaps might be of some use is that once a year or once every two years, they get a sabbatical for one month, where they must live inside the system that they are working for. In fact, not to be disrespectful, but I honestly believe that any Legislative Assembly that is looking at fundamentally restructuring should do the same, because it is one thing to have
intellectual knowledge, it is another thing to have a gut-level knowledge. Ten years ago, I would have had no idea, not even a little over five years ago.
I come from a middle to upper middle-class family, and they have done their best to try to maintain and take care of me. However, there are costs and they have finally reached their limit. I have a mother who is a severe depressive, clinical depressive, also has major intestinal problems, so her health isn't good. My father has to choose between taking care of his wife and taking care of one of his kids. Hard choices. I am actually the one who is better able to look after himself, despite everything, so I am the one who has to. Can't fault that, my family has been doing their best. I had grand-aunts doing so from 1988 until 1992. Not aunts, grand-aunts, which only one is alive, and she has just turned 94.
I don't know what I am going to be doing long term. I have tried everything reasonable within my power to at least attempt to. If I were one of these people, I have been told, that I just like being in the system because it is a free ride. If I thought that, why the hell would I have gone to ITI? I could have gotten into community college, I could have gone to university and had the system pick up the budget. I decided I wanted to get the best value education that would give me the best long-term ability to provide for myself, so that I wouldn't be back on the system, so I would not have to look for other help. I don't find it comfortable, in fact at heart I am a fiscal conservative, so being in this position is very difficult for me. But it is a reality.
I know I am one of many. I hear, it is hard to come out to these things. People are scared. I know a lot of people who are on disability or who are on family benefits, single parents, who will not come and see you people because they are afraid that by putting their name on the record, they are going to get targeted, they are going to get singled out, they are going to get poorer treatment. As the lady from the social work field, the professor said, there is a certain degree of cynicism as well. Why should we believe you? Why should we believe there is going to be any difference? We haven't seen it spent, and usually when we hear the word restructuring, we end up getting the shaft as clients, as I believe is the currently used term for being on the system.
It is very hard to want to come forward. Then we have organizations that speak for us. These are great, but I have heard concepts like the community, the society, things like that. These are abstract concepts. They are not reality. Each individual person sitting around this table, from me to you, we are all real people. We all have our own lives. We all have to deal with that. You cannot make this amalgamation of saying, this is the society, this is community, and abstract it that far back. You can't do that with 100 people easily, you can't do that with thousands then. Yet, that is happening very often.
Very few people are willing to speak forward on that, because in part, they feel intimidated by these large names, large concepts about distraction. They either get confused by them or they are intimidated by them. They won't come out. Why has there been so much
disenfranchisement in the political system over the last 50 years? Why does voter turnout keep going down? Similar reasons. Lack of faith.
I guarantee you an awful lot of clients would feel a lot better if the standing committee, for example, had to once every two years spend one month living on the budget that the clients do for their various circumstances. Then they would at least have the sense of at least trying to understand what it is like from our side. That is not present. I have heard the same applied to caseworkers. I am not quite sure I believe that anymore, quite frankly from what I have seen, caseworker burn-out and overload is really high. I am inclined to think these days more often, a lot of the things people are finding irritating about dealing with their caseworkers more because that caseworker is over swamped, and trying their best just to keep their head above water, let alone be able to understand where each party is coming from.
You get drawn back into a level of abstraction again. People are not treated as individuals. Usually the case that happens when people are not treated as individuals, they get annoyed, they get frustrated, they feel like they are doing everything they can, running in place. Instead of managing to stay in place, they are still going backwards. No matter how hard they run. There is no incentive.
Which costs more? Somebody getting a minimum wage job and being able to keep partial assistance, say for their medical, just for their medical, for their kids and that, so that they can make sure they are doing that, because those costs can really whap you. My medication regime, I think, is over $100 a month and I am not on any fancy medications. All of mine are fairly common. What happens to these people? They don't have it. Allow for a better rate scale. You have people on family benefits, both on disability and single parents, who have clerical skills, secretarial skills. There is an overload to dealing with paperwork inside Community Services, family benefits.
Why not bring these people in as part-time apprentices? You don't even have to pay them. You give them the experience that makes them more marketable, and after all in the economy that is coming as well as what exists, the human resource is actually one of the pinnacle points, it is one of the primary. You want the experience, people's experiences to be current. People being familiar with the office environment. Why not kill two birds with one stone for example and try a program where you bring people in who are looking for experience in that. There has to be a certain percentage of them out on the system, and say, we need help with the clerical side of things. This will then in turn allow a certain amount of the trained human resource that you are paying for to be freed up to do more of what it is more qualified to do.
What does that cost the system? The last time I checked, it shouldn't. If anything, it should help enhance what resources are there, and here I am using another abstraction just as bad, the system, what is the system? It is a bunch of people with policy guidelines that initially start from you and work its way down. There is not this great mechanism where you
can say, well, if I tinker here, this is going to ripple down here and fix everything. We know the sin of that.
We are not machines. We are all people part of an organizational structure. Chaos theory has a tendency of applying far more to us than it does to hardware technology yet it is an abstraction I've heard all of us using here today. There are so many abstractions. The problem you are dealing with, the end users know abstraction, and each one usually to some degree is different. I don't really know what more to offer, but I mean those, just sitting here, the idea of having people who have skills who are looking to improve them. Instead of sending them to various aspects of vocational rehabilitation, put them in the non-sensitive areas of Community Services, helping them with their paperwork, doing data entry work that would otherwise have to be done by caseworkers. You are reducing the load on the caseworker. You are giving the person on the receiving end the ability to improve their skills and you're giving the system additional human resource which, I don't think anyone here would disagree with. The human resource side on family benefits is very much in need of help.
If you can't come up with all the extra money, there are other ways and options to be looked at. Apprenticeship programs are very big in Europe and they're being looked at very seriously in many industries in North America. Caseworkers need more time to get uptrained. In the field I am trained for, I think it is estimated you spend six to nine weeks per 50 weeks just doing upgrade, nothing but upgrade, just so you understand the network systems we're dealing with, that you understand all the new things coming down the pike, and I heard social workers have got 40 hours per year. I tend to wonder at how effective those 40 hours are going to be, whether they are sufficient, but if you're going to take people out of the system or take human resource out, you have to be able to do something to at least compensate to a degree or else you can't do it at all, fiscal constraints being the case.
These are all issues I believe you are dealing with and looking at. This is why this standing committee is having hearings. I am only one person. I represent no group but I have been born and bred here and I really don't like what I am seeing. It scares me.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you. Are there any comments or questions for the presenter? Thank you very much. I believe that's it then; everybody else here has presented, so we will adjourn. We will be scheduling a meeting to deal with where we go with a report. Thank you very much.
[The committee adjourned at 5:48 p.m.]