Open letter to NS legislature: NSCSW policy goals

October 12, 2021

The Honourable Tim Houston
Premier of Nova Scotia 
One Government Place
1713 Barrington St
Halifax, NS
B3J 2A4 

Sent Via Email: PREMIER@novascotia.ca

Re: Open letter – NSCSW policy goals for the new legislature of Nova Scotia

Dear Premier Houston,

Congratulations on your election and the successful transition of government. Your message of hope for health care was well received by social workers, and we look forward to working with you on our shared goals for a fairer, more just, equitable Nova Scotia. As the first sitting of the legislature with your majority government begins, I would like to share the Nova Scotia College of Social Workers policy goals with your government, and all members of the Legislative Assembly, so that we can productively work together towards a better Nova Scotia. 

At the root of the challenges faced by Nova Scotians (including the housing crisis, climate crisis, health care crisis, substance use and mental health crisis, and crisis in the provision of child welfare) is growing economic inequality which has entrenched inequity and injustice. 

Nova Scotia has seen a steady trend of widening income inequality. In 1988, the income shares of the wealthiest ten percent in Nova Scotia were 11.1 times the income share of the bottom ten percent. Three decades later, top incomes in Nova Scotia grew to 16.3 times the income share of the bottom. This should be of great concern to any political leader, particularly during a global pandemic, as rising inequality and the continued class divide between the rich and the poor has allowed the voices of the most vulnerable, particularly those of our racialized communities and children and youth, to go unnoticed; has eroded trust, and has increased anxiety and illness for all. 

This lack of trust appears to be growing. Engage Nova Scotia recently produced data demonstrating only 27.1% of Nova Scotians trust the provincial government. This corrodes the social solidarity required to tackle these large issues as it pits Nova Scotians against one another, fighting for resources perceived to be scarce rather than working together in solidarity towards the common good. 

To address rising inequality we recommend that your government adopt the social policy framework that we developed in collaboration with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives-Nova Scotia (CCPA-NS): Creating the future we all deserve: A Social Policy Framework for Nova Scotia. This evidence-based report lays out what is required for a transformative social policy agenda in our province that will eliminate poverty and decrease inequality achieve greater equity and justice and create the social solidarity required to tackle these large issues.

On healthcare, there is no doubt that the current crisis has been brewing for years contributed to by various governments perpetually enacting austerity policies (expanding corporate influence in the process) to cut the cost of care, institutionalize new management systems, and centralize health services, leading to top-down bureaucratic systems. This has led to increasing managerialism which devalues and deskills professional competence and creates a management framework that is focused on liability and constantly searching for efficiencies rather than facilitating human connection. To address health care there must be a strong integration of social care and a focus on social determinants of health. As the Canadian Medical Association has mapped out, there is a direct correlation between stress on the health care system and lack of spending in social care. It is recommended that your government work to repair the social safety net in Nova Scotia. Childcare, labour standards like paid sick days, low wages, precarious work, and devastatingly low-income assistance rates must all be addressed.

On mental health and substance use, the NSCSW produced a compressive study in January of 2021. Repositioning Social Work in Mental Health found that both NSH and the IWK have implemented top-down decision-making, coupled with a limited understanding of the devastating impact Nova Scotia’s social safety net has on mental health and substance use; this has resulted in policy and programming that views substance use and mental health primarily as a biological concern and negates the social and political impact on prevention and healing. The paper provides 29 recommendations rooted through a Bio-Psycho-Social lens that will lead to more comprehensive and robust mental health and substance use policy and programming.

On housing, the crisis is not simply a lack of supply. Over the last twenty-five years plus, there has been very little non-market (public, social, co-operative) affordable housing built because of a lack of funding and leadership from all levels of government. The housing crisis is marked by gentrification and displacement, fueled by the financialization of the housing market. The financialization of housing occurs when housing is treated as a commodity—a vehicle for wealth and investment rather than a social good. The gaps in our social safety net have left many Nova Scotians living in deep poverty, whether because the income supports provided to them by the government are intentionally below the poverty line, or because labour laws including the regulated minimum wage are low. As a partner on the Housing for All Working Group we support the call for your government to commit to an investment of $531 million each year for the next 10 years to ensure that 33,000 units of permanent affordable housing can be built or acquired and maintained. We urge you to commit an average of an additional $161 million per year to operating spending over those 10 years to patch the social safety net to ensure folks can stay housed.

Child welfare in Nova Scotia is also in a state of crisis. The crisis is rooted in the colonial policies that sought to separate Indigenous children from their families, to control and surveil Black families, and the legacy of intergenerational trauma and poverty. As a result, Anti-Black racism, colonialism, trauma, and poverty continue to impact children and families today. Current fiscal and social policy has failed to address structural inequalities that undermine the well-being of families. Unfortunately changes to the Child and Family Services Act in 2017 have not improved outcomes for children youth and families. Instead, it has led to a more intrusive system embedded in social control and surveillance rather than a commitment to eradicating child and family poverty or providing culturally relevant trauma-focused mental health and substance use services, and robust disability supports. This has negatively impacted the well-being of Nova Scotia’s most vulnerable population. To tackle this crisis key areas your government should focus on:

  • Ensure that all the calls to action regarding provincial child welfare from Truth and Reconciliation Commission report are completed.
  • Develop a coherent framework for social policy that leads to greater family and child well-being, such as making sure that the family doesn’t lose the Canada Child Tax Benefit when a child is brought into care.
  • Create a Child and Youth Advocate Office.
  • Complete a formal in-depth review of the Children and Family Services Act, regulations, and policy, that includes substantive input from community as well as children and families who have experienced the current system.

Your Progressive Conservative party campaigned on a platform of common-sense solutions for all Nova Scotians. You pledged to work with organizations to ensure high standards of care and develop best practices. The Nova Scotia College of Social Workers would like to join you in creating a brighter future for all Nova Scotia through these policy goals.

Kind regards, 

Alec Stratford MSW, RSW
Executive Director/Registrar
Nova Scotia College of Social Workers 

CC:     

Iain Rankin, Leader of the Liberal Party of Nova Scotia
Gary Burrill Leader of the New Democratic Party of Nova Scotia

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