Myriad of Social Problems

Today is Let’s Talk Day – a day set aside for individuals to talk about their mental health issues. Reducing the stigma around mental health is the primary goal of the campaign. A report in the Richmond News today addresses the new face of homelessness in the city: seniors and families.  The article tells the story of a senior, a former social worker, who was homeless and now pays $880 a month for a ‘subsidized’ bachelor unit. Today, the BC Coroner Service released the number of opioid overdoses in the province for 2017, 1422 people died. The article notes that this number will likely grow as new test results are released. Elsewhere in Canada, Maclean’s addresses the cases of 2 families who have been failed by child welfare authorities. The opinion piece asks how it’s possible for good-hearted individuals, who go into social services as a way to help others, can continue to fail so many of the families with whom they work.

What do all of these issues have in common? They are all address by social policy. Currently, social policy is not delivered in a coordinated way in most Canadian provinces. Instead, we have legislation that creates systems like child welfare, income assistance and health care. Delivered by provincial governments, almost all social services are provided by stand-alone ministries that, for the most part, do not talk to one another. For example in BC, a position funded by one ministry will likely pay a different wage than another ministry for the same job. To further complicate the wage issue, some employees are unionized, and they earn a higher wage than their non-union counterparts.

The most significant failure of social policy is the lack of an over-arching framework, based on the social determinants of health. A framework that eliminates government silos stabilizes funding to community benefit organizations and has accountability structures that will assess policy directions and priorities. In the current environment, governments respond to social crises with new ministries and funding without understanding whether the policy will be effective. In the meantime, we continue to have a patchwork of social service policies that generate unforeseen consequences.

Board Voice has been advocating that the province adopt a social policy framework or a framework for well being. In 2017 we undertook a province-wide consultation to understand what’s important to British Columbians. What became clear to us is that British Columbians want to talk about social policy – it’s important to many of us that the less fortunate among us receive appropriate and effective services that enhance their lives. In talking to community-benefit organizations, we realized how ineffective and unstable the current model of fee-for-service contracts had become and, in fact, this model was a barrier to community innovation.

Want to learn more? Check out the report here.