Legislative Roundup and Recap 2018

The Federation’s focus on advocacy takes different forms at different times. But a big part of this work involves closely monitoring legislative changes and policy developments that affect the well-being of British Columbians.

That’s why we’re providing summaries of some of the changes that will affect our sector and the people we serve the most. A full listing of legislation introduced and enacted over the past year can be found here.

The changes detailed below are the result of years of advocacy by an array of different organizations, people, and partners. These are some of the areas we are seeing tangible policy changes as a result of tireless collaboration and advocacy by many, many people over many, many years.

Thank you for your playing your part in this important, ongoing work.

Rick FitzZaland
Federation Executive Director

 

Poverty Reduction Strategy Act (Bill 39)

The Poverty Reduction Strategy Act commits the provincial government to reducing BC’s overall poverty rate by 25% and BC’s child poverty rate by 50% over the next five years.

This new Act defines the scope of the BC Poverty Reduction Strategy and includes a few high-level targets and timelines. It also sets a deadline for the strategy’s completion (March 2019) and mandates the establishment of an independent advisory committee.

The Act requires both accountability (through annual progress reports) and a focus on key issues faced by people living in poverty (including housing, education, employment, income supports, and social inclusion).

 

Child, Family, and Community Service Amendment Act (Bill 26)

Amendments to the Child, Family and Community Service Act (CFCSA) are intended to reduce the over-representation of Indigenous children in the child-welfare system by increasing the involvement of Indigenous communities in child welfare decisions.

If approved by the legislature, the proposed changes will allow MCFD to share more information with Indigenous communities sooner in order to keep children from coming into care in the first place. It will also give the ministry more opportunities to work collaboratively on planning and caring for Indigenous children by:

  • Enabling greater information-sharing between MCFD and Indigenous communities.
  • Enabling MCFD to refer child-protection reports to an Indigenous government that has child protection laws.
  • Ensuring Indigenous communities receive ongoing notification of legal proceedings affecting their children.

The amendments also replace the term “Aboriginal” with “Indigenous” so as to include children and families who identify as First Nations, Inuit or Métis.

 

Employer Health Tax Act [Budget Measures Implementation Act] (Bill 44)

This Act, tabled in October 2018, creates a new health tax to be paid by employers which will replace the current Medical Service Plan (MSP) premiums which are often paid directly by individuals.

The Employer Health Tax (EHT) will come into effect January 1 2020 and provides some temporary exemptions for small business and charities and non-profits. The Federation and our partners are continuing to advocate with the government about the implementation and exemptions related to the EHT.

 

Employment Standards Act (Bill 6)

Changes to the Employment Standards Act will protect workers who are facing family tragedies and give parents access to extended and more flexible maternity and parental leaves.

New parents will have the option to take a longer unpaid parental leave to care for their new child (up to 18 months of leave for birth parents) without worrying about losing their jobs. These changes will also allow a mother to start their pregnancy leave, also known as maternity leave, as early as 13 weeks before the expected birth date, up from the current 11 weeks.

Additional changes address ensure job-protected leave in cases where children go missing, when children die, or when a family member requires lengthy compassionate care.

 

Community Care and Assisted Living Amendment Act (Bill 5)

The Community Care and Assisted Living Act regulates the licensing of community-care facilities, including child-care and residential-care facilities, which offer assistance for seniors, those with developmental disabilities, mental-health and substance-use disorders, and brain injuries.

These legislative changes will create transparency for individuals and facility operators and make sure consistent information is available so families can easily check to see if a facility or residence is operated legally—and whether there have been any substantiated complaints about the care they provide.

 

Human Rights Code Amendment Act (Bill 50)

This Act will allow the return of an independent human rights commission for BC (eliminated in 2002 leaving us the only province without one). The commissioner will have the key functions of educating British Columbians on human rights as well as examining and addressing issues of discrimination and will have the mandate to develop educational tools, policies and guidelines to promote human rights and combat widespread patterns of inequality and discrimination in society.

Once the legislation has passed, an all-party committee will be formed to unanimously recommend a commissioner who will then be subject to approval by the legislative assembly.

 

 

Research Bulletin November 2018: Income Supports and Services

This month’s research bulletin focuses on research and reports related to income and disability supports, poverty reduction, and welfare-related service delivery.

The articles and reports below discuss income supports for the working poor, asset-based poverty reduction, supporting employment and income assistance recipients, and the perils of downloading the cost of welfare reform. They also include a number of recommendations and implications valuable for a wide range of audiences—service providers, community leaders, policy makers, and politicians.

  1. Income Support Policies for the Working Poor (2017, GER)
  2. Case Study: Shifting from Needs to Assets in New Brunswick (2018, CAN)
  3. Paying the Price of Welfare Reform (2018, AUS)
  4. Working Within the Rules: Supporting Employment for Income Assistance Recipients (2018, CAN)
  5. Call Wait Times for Income and Disability Assistance (2018, CAN)

For more information, additional research, and/or if you have feedback about how we can make this service more useful, please contact The Federation’s Research and Policy Coordinator.

1. Income Support Policies for the Working Poor

This paper examines what governments in the EU (and some US states) are doing to support workers on low wages. The authors assess the policy measures currently in place to determine whether or not they guarantee an adequate disposable income to working families (taking into account minimum wages, social security contributions, taxes, and other benefits).

They find that, in spite of increased efforts over the past decade, disposable incomes of certain types of minimum wage workers still fall well below the EU at-risk-of-poverty thresholds in many countries. Single earners with dependent children are identified as a group especially at risk of poverty.

The report concludes with a number of options for improving policies and practices. While minimum wages still constitute an important foundation of income protection for workers, they argue that there are limits to what minimum wages can do to prevent in-work poverty. Together with policies that facilitate and support dual earners (particularly the employment of the caring partner in the household), child benefits, in-work benefits, and tax credits will need to be components of effective policy packages in the future.

2. Shifting from Needs to Assets in New Brunswick

This study highlights the benefits of a systemic shift from a needs-based framework to a strengths-focused, asset-based approach to poverty reduction. At its core, this unique initiative recognized that “poverty” is more complex than a lack of income—it is also about active participation. The report explored the way New Brunswick endeavoured to weave a more integrated social fabric as the foundation for addressing poverty.

This asset-based community development started with what’s strong, rather than what’s wrong. Instead of analyzing community deficits and seeking to solve problems by employing outside programs and services, the process began with the community. Residents were brought together to identify what they wanted done, to map the strengths that already existed, and then to determine how they could make changes based on where support was most desired.

An important factor in the success of these (and future) initiatives is identified as the ability and willingness to align both provincial and local strategies, skills, and resources.

3. Paying the Price of Welfare Reform

Australia is in the midst of a major reform to the way the income support system is delivered. This involves automation and a move towards self-sufficiency for citizens, as well as changes to eligibility criteria, assessment processes, and compliance frameworks.

This research examines in detail the impact of these changes on both clients and staff of community service organizations. The authors show that such welfare reform may very well be leading to cost savings for the Department of Human Services, but those costs are being shifted to vulnerable people and the community services that support them—it is they that are paying the price of welfare reform.

The report puts forth seven recommendations worth considering regardless of jurisdiction. These include (#4) considering the provision of specialist advocacy services to assist those who are struggling to navigate the system, (#6) examining the assumptions underpinning welfare reform to more accurately reflect the reality of peoples’ lives, and (#7) committing to an increase in payment levels to ensure people have a minimum acceptable standard of living.

4. Working Within the Rules: Supporting Employment for Income Assistance Recipients

In this report, BC’s Ombudsperson examines a case in which The Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction, in its administration of income assistance, favoured its own policy rather than following the law—even after it was told on two occasions that its decisions were not consistent with existing laws.

Given the power imbalance between government and individual citizens—including disparate expertise, access to information and legal advice—the authors argue that the onus is on government ministries and not service recipients to ensure that decisions are consistent with legal authority.

The examination results in a number of recommendations: that the ministry follow the law relating to earnings exemptions, that it amend the relevant policy to accord with the law, and that the ministry adopts new guidelines to respond effectively where and when its own staff identify recurring or systemic legal errors.

5. Holding Pattern: Call Wait Times for Income and Disability Assistance

This report examines how and why BC’s Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction has been struggling to provide timely and effective service to the public as it shifts its service from focusing on in-person delivery to telephone and online “service channels.”

According to the report, these service issues are compounded by the fact that income and disability assistance recipients face challenges arising from their life circumstances, including poverty, homelessness, health issues and disability. These issues have prompted questions to be asked as to whether the ministry’s shift to online and telephone service channels is appropriate.

It becomes apparent very quickly that the ministry has been under resource pressures that have restricted its options as it sought to manage the service crisis it found itself in. However, the report makes nine recommendations to address issues resulting from both those cost pressures and the response to them. These include new service standards, significant new staff positions, increased reporting, and the phasing out of certain practices and strategies.