August 5, 2002
(Human Resources and Employment)
Ralph Wiseman, Minister of Human Resources
and Employment, released today the Report of a Consultation on the Social
Assistance Act. The report is a summary of the departmentís community
consultations concerning the review of the Social Assistance Act and
Regulations. The findings from these consultations will assist the
Department of Human Resources and Employment as it drafts the new
In January 2002, the Department of Human
Resources and Employment released Investing
in People: New Directions for Social Assistance Legislation. This
discussion paper represented the first ever public consultation on this
major social program that directly impacts a significant proportion of the
provinceís citizens. It contained information on the current income
support and employment and career programs and posed questions for
discussion. Public response from across the province was obtained through
focus groups, telephone calls, e-mails, letters and briefs.
"I would like to thank all participants
for not only their time, but also for their diverse views. This consultation
process underscores the fact that community partner and client participation
is fundamental to understanding the issues that need to be addressed. The
intent was to solicit views in order to help draft the new Social Assistance
Act, but we expected and received feedback on all aspects of the departmentís
programs," said Minister Wiseman. "The Department of Human
Resources and Employment will be taking this feedback very seriously when
drafting the new legislation and shaping programs in the future."
Over the past few years, the Department of
Human Resources and Employment has continued to make changes to income
support, in both the programs offered and the means of their delivery, to
better meet the needs of clients. These improvements include extending drug
benefits for clients entering into the workforce, having both social
assistance families and low income working families receive the Newfoundland
and Labrador Child Benefit and enabling support trusts to be set up for
persons with disabilities.
"These previous initiatives, together
with the proposed introduction of a new Social Assistance Act reinforces the
departmentís commitment to improve its responsiveness to the clients we
serve, subject to available resources. The consultation process confirmed
that we must continue addressing the issues surrounding income
support," said Minister Wiseman. "Both the department and
government remain committed to introducing legislation which incorporates
the concerns and priorities of those individuals who use our services."
The new legislation is expected to be
introduced in the fall session of the House of Assembly.
Those interested in viewing the Report of
a Consultation on the Social Assistance Act can do so by visiting the
departmentís Web site (www.gov.nl.ca/hre/).
Report of a Consultation on the Social Assistance Act
- The current Social Assistance Act and
Regulations was enacted in 1977; this is the first major review.
- The Department of Human Resources and
Employment was established in 1997 to place greater emphasis on
assisting people to prepare for, find and maintain employment, in
addition to ensuring dignified income support for those in need.
Legislation needs to be revised to reflect this goal.
- The departmentís income support program
has expanded in recent years to include supports for low income working
families, in addition to those who require social assistance, with such
initiatives as the Newfoundland and Labrador Child Benefit and the
Mother Baby Nutrition Supplement. These initiatives are key to reducing
barriers to work.
- The intent of this review was to seek
feedback regarding the drafting of new legislation that better reflects
the departmentís current goals and vision.
- The views presented during the
consultation process reflected a wide range of opinions. People most
closely affected by Human Resources and Employmentís programs
identified their major areas of concerns and priorities. A summary of
the key messages from the consultation process can be found in The
Report of a Consultation on the Social Assistance Act (pages 14-20).
- The key messages included:
Adequacy of the Income Support Program
While participants noted that
some improvements have been made for families who receive social
assistance, they stressed the need to adjust social assistance rates
to better reflect the cost of living.
Barriers to Work/Supports to Employment
The consultation process
confirmed that there continue to be significant barriers for clients
who wish to leave the social assistance program for employment.
Participants stressed the need to "make work pay" before
many people could make the move from social assistance to work.
Participants stressed the need
for the department to have a broad, long-term vision based on
assisting clients to participate fully in their communities, not
simply alleviating financial distress. Linkages with related services
and community agencies were identified as important to address the
root causes of poverty.
Meeting the Needs of Persons with
Equal rights for persons with
disabilities was identified as key, as was the promotion of inclusive
and accessible benefits, programs and services. The issue of
transportation and the need to address disability related expenses
associated with going to work were among the issues raised.
Provision of Income Support With
Easier access to information
about programs, services and benefits was a concern raised by
participants with general support for less intrusive and more
dignified ways of delivering social assistance. Participants cited
concerns about the quality of services and identified a need for
departmental workers to be sensitive to individual client needs;
clients must have a safe and secure means of giving feedback about
service and programs.
Mandatory or Voluntary Participation in
Employment and Career Planning
Participants were divided on
the issue of whether clients should have the option of choosing to
participate in employment and career planning as a requirement of
receiving social assistance. Strong arguments were put forward on both
sides of this issue.
Participants expressed a desire
for increased focus on the needs and concerns of youth to ensure their
successful transition to employment. There was a divergence of opinion
on the issue of requiring youth to participate in active training and
support measures to prepare for the labour market as a condition of
receiving social assistance.
Priority for Employment and Career
A majority stated that youth
and social assistance recipients should be a priority for employment
and career supports (as opposed to the general public) with other
groups identified for priority as single parents and persons with
A significant consensus emerged
on the rights and responsibilities on the part of the department
(privacy and confidentiality, providing service with dignity, meeting
basic needs, access to information in plain language and alternate
formats) and for the client (providing accurate information, respect
for staff, the pursuit of self-sufficiency).
Suggestions for improving the
departmentís appeals process included having a past or present
client on the appeal board, improving access to information about the
appeals process, and providing a client advocate for appellants.
Report of a Consultation on
the Social Assistance Act - Consultation Participants
- On January 7, 2002, the Minister of Human
Resources and Employment announced a review of the Social Assistance Act
and released a discussion guide, Investing in People.
- There were approximately 3,000 copies of Investing
in People distributed and the guide was posted on the departmental
Internet site as well.
- There were 650 copies sent directly to
community groups and delivery agencies and the remainder of copies was
distributed through district and provincial offices.
- Clients were advised of the review through
a cheque insert in mid-January.
- The guide was also made available on audio
- Some 50 sessions province-wide were
conducted with community agencies, clients, staff, youth and other
- Feedback from the guide was gathered from
a number of sources which included:
- Internet responses: 23
- Hits to Legislative Review website:
- E-mail responses:10
- Letters: 51
- Workbooks: 58
- Toll-free telephone: 106 total calls (20
responses to discussion paper or questions about the review, 86
requests for the document)
- Presentations: 3
- Briefs/Community Group Submissions: 26
- Regional Strategic Social Plan sessions:
- Client Focus Group participants: 64
- Community Focus Group participants: 125
from 75 organizations.
The new legislation is expected to be drafted
and introduced in late 2002.
Media contact: Simon Lono, Communications,