Lack of access, tech know-how hurts poor applying for help: advocates

B.C. expects applicants for social services to access what they need by phone or computer, when many can afford neither and lack technological and literacy skills, says a Victoria anti-poverty group.


The result is a denial of services by the Ministry of Social Development to people who need them most and are legally entitled to them, says Together Against Poverty Society and eight other anti-poverty organizations, which are calling on the B.C. Office of the Ombudsperson to investigate.


“When you have a ministry whose purpose is to serve the most challenged people in our community, that ministry has to design their services with the users in mind,” said Stephen Portman, interim executive director of TAPS.


Yet to apply for social assistance, people must use an online application that requires 90 computer page views, literacy, typing skills and Internet access, he said. If they go to the ministry office and line up to apply in person, staff will tell them to go find a computer, he said.


If they go to a public library, they would likely need to seek a librarian’s assistance for parts they don’t understand, he said.


“People have pride — it’s difficult to go sit in a public space surrounded by other people and apply for welfare,” Portman said.


A single person with no dependents receives $610 in monthly social assistance from B.C., or $906 in disability benefits.


The move toward automated phone service means applicants must deal with a different ministry staffer by phone or Internet “every single time,” Portman said. “It dehumanizes the process, for sure.”


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