The Ministry of Social Development and Social Innovation long ago ceased to be a place where people living in poverty receive compassion and support in times of need. This is deeply unfortunate for the people who must access income assistance from this body and I do not believe we have to accept this.
Every day in the TAPS office we meet people struggling to access, or shut out from accessing, ministry services. People are required to apply for basic income assistance through a 90-page online process that is confusing and challenging to navigate for people without a computer or who experience low digital literacy; people are put on hold for great lengths of time and are often cut off when calling the ministry 1-866 number; ministry workers on the phone line work on a time-per-call basis and will often cut callers off before a matter is resolved, which is a massive hurdle for people who rely on pay-as-you-go phone plans; and increasingly, people are told, after waiting in line to see a worker at a ministry office, to use the phone line to access support, the phone line which, as mentioned, fails to provide effective access. More and more people are seeking our help for these basic access issues and we simply cannot keep up with the demand. We do not have the resources to provide consistent advocacy help to people just trying to access the ministry, and frankly that work does not coincide with the foundational social justice orientation of our organization.
So what can be done?
TAPS, along with the lead support of the BC Public Interest Advocacy Centre and eight other poverty advocacy organizations, compiled evidence of increasing barriers to service access at the ministry. This evidence formed the body for a complaint delivered to the Ombudsperson of BC on May 12, 2015. In this complaint, we are calling on the Ombudsperson to investigate the ministry’s shift toward inaccessibility through increased reliance on phone and internet service delivery models, office closures and a reduction in hours, as well as the dehumanising treatment that this system perpetuates as a public service. We are calling for this investigation to make recommendations to the ministry to restore access and compassion to services directed at people living in poverty in Victoria and across the province.
What can you do?
If you have difficulty or are unable to access services from the ministry, we strongly encourage you to contact the Office of the Ombudsperson directly to file a complaint. The Ombudsperson needs to be made aware of just how substantial the barriers to service are. We know it can be difficult to go into yet another office, but it may be easier than you think. You can file a complaint in person, about half a block up the street from the TAPS office, on the second floor at 947 Fort Street. You can call in and make a complaint by dialling (250) 387-5855, or you can file a complaint online at https://www.bcombudsperson.ca/how-to-make-a-complaint. The workers at the Office of the Ombudsperson have a reputation for being compassionate and effective. They are there to help you file your complain and make your voice heard.