1-866 YOU LOSE – Welfare puts people on hold: By Jean Swanson

welfare-phone_greyI’m imagining a discussion happening in the BC government between Premier Christy Clark and Social Development Minister Michelle Stilwell:

“How do we keep from spending so much money on welfare?” asks Christy. “I know,” says Michelle. “Welfare rates are already so low that people can’t afford phones so we’ll simply close or reduce the hours in our offices and make people phone when they need help.”

“What a great idea,” says Christy. “Even if they do have phones, most of them only have a few minutes per month so if we put them on hold for a long time, they’ll run out of minutes or give up because they’re using up their minutes.”

“Right,” says Michelle, “Or if they have to go to a community place and use a free phone, everyone in the lineup will get mad at them if they wait too long, and they’ll have to give up again.”

“Brilliant,” says Christy. “This will make it really hard for people to get crisis grants or disability applications, or find out what happened to their cheque if it doesn’t show up.”

“Right,” says Michelle, “This will save the taxpayers a bundle. And we can put up big posters in our offices advertising this new service. ‘Did you know? Telephone services offer flexible options.’”* People will think we’re actually trying to help them. Ha ha.”

“This is great,” says Christy, “We can offer to call them back on the phone that they don’t have so they don’t have to wait.”

“Puuurfect,” says Michelle. “Our poster can say, ‘Instead of waiting on the phone leave a call back number and keep your place in line.”*

“We can say, ‘Information at your fingertips, access information and services that matter to you,’* as though we are really trying to help.”

That little conversation might be funny if it weren’t so true. All the quotes with an * beside them are actually on a Ministry of Social Development poster. The Ministry is now making people phone to deal with lots of issues. Sometimes when people go to the office they are told they can’t deal with a worker there; they have to go and phone the 1-866 number. At least 10 people have told me that when they phone this number they have to wait 40 minutes or more and then sometimes they get cut off. They have told me about people at community centers getting mad at them because they are taking so long on the phone, about not having enough minutes on their phone, about their phone batteries running down while they wait, about not having a phone so they have to go to a friend’s place.

The Ministry cheated one person I know out of hundreds of dollars because it took so long to get a disability application because of having to use the phone. If she had got the application when she first tried, the pension might have come through earlier, and she would have had an extra $300 per month for two months.

The Ministry tries to ignore all the hardship it causes with statements like this one in its latest annual report: “A key focus for the Ministry was to improve services to clients to ensure they had access to the range of services that met their diverse needs.” Right. I thought this was 2015, not 1984.

The new phone system is a poor bashing system that degrades, humiliates and frustrates people. It’s past time for the Ministry of Social Development to start treating people with respect.

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