Policy Engagement for Systemic Change
Kiri Bird is Program Manager for the Local Economic Development Lab. In our third and final year, Kiri’s work is focused on institutional and government relations, knowledge mobilization, building capacity for social innovation and systems change, and overseeing the sunset of LEDlab in June 2018.
Recently, my role as Program Manager has been focused on ensuring that the research and system mapping work that the Local Economic Development Lab has led over the past three years is mobilized to create impact in the DTES community and beyond. In particular, we’re focused on sharing what we’ve learned about creating pathways out of poverty through changes to British Columbia’s income assistance and employment programs. Our interest in policy and legislative change stems from our analysis that all the low-barrier employment in the world isn’t going to reduce poverty unless we can move people more easily on and off of assistance, and address underlying fear and mistrust in government through steady improvements to social policy.
Back in May 2016, we held an event in partnership with Urban Core, where we brought together policymakers and social enterprise employers for an initial conversation about barriers to work for people on welfare and disability.
Some of the key takeaways from our May 2016 event were:
- There are substantial knowledge gaps, in terms of what benefits, supplements, services and programs are actually available through the Ministry, and how to navigate the complex and nuanced income assistance system.
- That ‘earnings exemptions’ (the amount of income that assistance recipients can earn from employment without affecting their benefits) might be unintentionally creating barriers to more frequent and stable employment, which employers suggested are factors that make people more employable.
- Overall people in the DTES want to work, but are not necessarily looking for a 40-hour per week job.
- That social enterprise employers are attempting to fill the gaps in Ministry service provision.
- It also became apparent that the Ministry had an interest in working with the community to enhance social impact hiring and labour market attachment in the DTES.
In the Summer of 2016, LEDlab and Potluck Café co-hired a public policy research assistant to dig deeper into the challenges of working on income assistance. From that work came our infographic and poster ‘On Income Assistance, Can Work’ and a ‘Challenge Brief’.
The Challenge Brief, which illustrates the nuanced and interrelated challenges of income assistance, suggests that:
- People who are on income assistance or disability assistance in the DTES need more support transitioning into employment because it is just too risky for them to lose their assistance.
- People that are deemed employable in the DTES need better and timelier recognition of Persons with Persistent Multiple Barriers status because many are struggling on basic social assistance and face multiple barriers to employment.
- Social enterprise employers need accessible and understandable information about income assistance policy and legislation because they are acting as advocates for their employees who struggle to access and navigate the system.
- Alternative models of employment services and training programs, including those offered by social enterprises, need flexible funding because the current funding model does not allow them to adequately provide services that meet the unique needs of the diverse DTES population.
- The Ministry of Social Development and [Poverty Reduction] must better recognize non-traditional, flexible and/or community-based employment and volunteer options for income assistance recipients of the DTES as part of continuum of employment strategies for people facing barriers to stability.
Since the Fall of 2016, equipped with a far deeper understanding about existing legislative barriers to working on income assistance, we have been engaging community and government around possible policy recommendations, primarily through Urban Core’s Legislative Change committee. In early November, LEDlab hosted two Directors from the policy and innovation branch of the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction for a meeting with social enterprise employers to give input into how income assistance programs might be redesigned to support and enhance low barrier labour force attachment. A transcript from that meeting is available here.
With the recent election of the NDP-Green government in BC, Minister Simpson has been mandated to complete a Poverty Reduction strategy in 2018, with legislated targets and timelines. Official consultations are beginning this month in Victoria with community meetings happening throughout the province in the first quarter of 2018. This important process owes in no small part to the work of advocacy groups across the province including the BC Poverty Reduction Strategy Coalition and Raise the Rates.
As the Poverty Reduction Strategy Coalition put it in their latest email communication ‘Now’s Our Chance’. LEDlab will be supporting our various community partners and networks to prepare for the Poverty Reduction Strategy Consultations, bringing forward our shared perspective on necessary changes to income assistance and employment programs. We also support and endorse the holistic approach and recommendations of the BC Poverty Reduction Strategy Coalition. As our three year initiative in Vancouver’s DTES prepares to sunset in June of 2018, we must do all that we can in the months ahead to ensure that the collaborative infrastructure and knowledge gained through our work can be translated and activated in this unique moment in time to achieve long-term systemic change.
For recommendations on how the Local Economic Development Lab can be of service to Poverty Reduction efforts in BC, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also, you can send a message directly to the BC government right now if you have something to say about poverty reduction in our province.
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