It has been a busy spring for presenting to governments. Here’s the presentation that Board Voice Co-Chair Leslie Welin made to BC’s Fair Wages Commission on May 31. Commission members showed much interest in Leslie’s presentation, and spent another half-hour with her after she presented asking follow-up questions.
Presentation to Fair Wages Commission
May 31, 2019
Good morning, and thank you for the opportunity to present to the Commission. My name is Leslie Welin and I am co-chair of Board Voice Society of BC. I’d like to open by acknowledging that we meet today on the unceded Coast Salish territory of the Lekwungen and W_SÁNE? nations.
Board Voice represents the collective voices of more than 700 volunteer board directors and senior staff of community-based non-profits providing social care in BC – from childcare to immigrant and refugee settlement, from social housing to people living with addictions and mental health issues, to vulnerable children, to lifelong support for people living with developmental disabilities and more. The work of our organizations is foundational to the determinants of health and the wellbeing of British Columbians.
Our members range from large, urban service providers like the Vancouver Aboriginal Friendship Centre and Family Services of Greater Vancouver to small organizations like the Kootenay Boundary Community Services Co-op and my home Board of Clements Centre Society in Duncan.
Board Voice believes we all benefit when everyone reaches their potential and contributes to our communities. We have been advocating for the province to undertake a BC-wide public discussion on social care and the development of a plan.1 The plan goes beyond a narrow definition of social services and supports; it is about how we work, live and spend our time, and it helps determine how we come together to meet human needs like housing, employment, education, recreation, leisure, health, safety and the care of children. In 2017, we engaged with folks in 16 communities across the province in conversations about quality of life. In virtually every community surveyed, people highlighted the need for income to match the cost of living.
According to the World Health Organization, the social determinants of health are a set of conditions that affect an individual’s life socially and economically to foster an environment to sustain life. Income plays a significant role in determining the health of individuals, and a lack of stable and adequate income has considerable physical and mental health implications for individuals, their social support systems and communities in which they live. Board Voice recognizes that inadequate income has several implications on other determinants of health such as education, housing, childcare and food insecurity.
1 Board Voice Society of BC (2017). There is a Better Way: A BC Framework for Wellbeing
As reported by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, BC Office, recent investments in childcare have improved affordability for some families with young children, with a resulting decrease in the living wage in BC.
While the Commission, of course, understands the basis of the living wage, I am emphasizing some points to enhance the importance of our thoughts.
The living wage is based upon a calculation of the amount needed for a family of four with two parents working full-time to pay for necessities, support the healthy development of their children, escape financial stress and participate in the social, civil and cultural lives of their communities. This is a bare-bones budget.
However, many folks in our province earn less than a living wage and are struggling. Housing, food and transportation costs are climbing. The living wage calculator does not include seniors, single people and families with teenagers who still face challenges in making ends meet.
The gap between BC minimum wage and a “living wage” in much of the province is roughly $4-6 an hour. The only way it can be closed is if people either earn more, or spend less on their basic needs.
Making a minimum wage impacts British Columbian’s ability to purchase nutritious food, access safe housing and engage in community activities – all determinants of health.
The Social Care Sector
The diverse services that make up social care in BC are mostly the work of community-based non-profits funded by government. It’s vital work, as foundational as health and educational services, for ensuring the best quality of life for BC’s citizens, communities and economy.
Unlike health and education, the social care “system” is made up of terrific but tenuous services. There is no overarching strategic plan; no sustained funding; and no framework establishing social care goals for BC, or how to achieve them.
It is here, where our “soup to nuts” services are the foundation for social health and community wellbeing. Social services in BC are relied on by families and individuals at all income levels, but obviously most critical to those at lower income levels.
Our sector employs tens of thousands of hard working, engaged professionals providing support to folks who face issues of poverty and barriers to employment. Yet, we are funded at, and employ, our staff at pay rates (for some roles) that are below a living wage rate. For example, starting wages for an early childhood assistant, child and youth care transition house worker, and group facilitators range from $15.77 – $19.06 an hour – less than the living wage for many areas in BC. This makes it difficult to recruit and retain employees.
That gap in a high-cost community such as Metro Vancouver amounts to more than $20,000 of lost purchasing power a year. But it’s not just our urban centres that experience this. In my home community of Duncan, where I’m the board chair for the Clements Centre Society supporting children with special needs, adults with developmental disabilities and their families, a living wage is just over $19 an hour, more than $5 an hour higher than what the minimum wage will be tomorrow when it increases to $13.85.
This community social service sector also experiences the effects of differential wages/benefits paid to workers doing similar work, but in different sectors: the education and health sectors. Low wage redress meant to address these differences is helping to close this gap, but has created other inequities due to funding models.
Inequitable wages mean that staff hired and trained by our organizations is recruited away to do the same or other work elsewhere in sectors like health and education. This is a drain on already precarious agency resources and creates potential for service disruptions.
Closing the Gap
Board Voice recommends that:
- The provincial government pays a living wage to its employees and contracted community-based social service agencies (would need some calculations to account for differences in community living wages).
- The provincial government supports the business case for a living wage
A Big Idea
Income is one of the most important determinants of health and impacts British Columbians ability to purchase nutritious food, access safe housing, engage in activities that promote health, access childcare and education – each of which is a determinant of health, in itself.
This demonstrates the need to knit the threads of health and wellbeing together. To close the gap between a minimum and living wage, and to ensure that people don’t fall between the cracks requires coordination and collaboration.
A shift in how the province responds to social care issues, such as poverty, calls out for a systemic approach that recognizes all government ministries, local governments, community based social service organizations, businesses and individuals are connected.
The development of a social policy framework is a tool that can guide decision making, set future direction, identify important connections and support the alignment of policies and practices both inside and outside of government.
Board Voice encourages the Commission to urge the provincial government to engage with community based social service non-profits, businesses, funders, corporations, other levels of government and individual British Columbians to develop a social policy framework that will guide thinking and will provide a structured method and tools to assist decision-makers in assessing how well an existing or new policy, program or practice – like a living wage – is working or might work.
Thank you for the opportunity to share our perspective with the Commission.