New legislation won't mend B.C.'s frayed social safety net

Legislation introduced today by Minister of Social Development and Social Innovation Michele Stilwell is welcome and long overdue news. The changes will make it easier for some persons with disabilities to bypass the current long and overly complicated application process. By the government's own admission, only about 1,000 people will initially benefit from the change, mostly youth with developmental disabilities transitioning to services with Community Living BC.

"While the changes are an improvement, what we really need is a complete review of the ministry service delivery model," said Stephanie Smith, president of the B.C. Government and Service Employees' Union (BCGEU). “In recent years the welfare ministry has imposed an inappropriate electronic and phone service delivery model, creating barriers for the most marginalized people in the province to access basic services."

The government has closed 14 welfare offices around the province, and reduced services in 11 other welfare offices to just three hours a day. Call-in lines limit access and leave desperate people on hold for as long as an hour. The application for welfare must be completed online and involves 96 different screens.

"Staff in welfare offices are despondent about not being able to help people who need it in a timely way," said Doug Kinna, the BCGEU's vice president representing many staff in the ministry. "We are seeing rising frustration from the clients, sometimes leading to tension and even violence. People are getting desperate."

In addition to the flawed service delivery model, social assistance rates have not risen in over eight years and B.C. remains one of the only provinces in the country without a comprehensive poverty reduction plan.

"This vital part of B.C.'s social safety net is frayed" said Smith. “It's time for a complete review that's built on putting people's real needs at the core of the ministry's mission."