Applying for financial assistance of last resort is never easy: the law is complex, there are many administrative obstacles, and social judgment is a heavy burden for people living in poverty.
When, moreover, public services are no longer there to welcome, inform and support people in their relations with the State, it literally becomes an obstacle course.
The quality of services offered by the Ministry of Labour, Employment and Social Solidarity (MTESS) is declining. Reforms in recent years have resulted in fewer contacts between applicants and their agent.
overloaded call centers
The local service personnel at the MTESS offices have melted like snow in the sun. As it is often impossible for citizens to get answers to their queries on the spot, they must go through the call center, which is overloaded. The ministry, insensitive to the phenomenon of digital divide that affects a large number of people living in poverty, is developing online services and reducing access to face-to-face services. Next step: welfare recipients will soon no longer have an agent assigned to their file.
In fact, a major “administrative” transformation is in the pipeline. Obsessed with reducing staff and reducing costs, the department was seduced by a technological solution that is based, among other things, on automating file processing. Eventually, MTESS beneficiaries and staff will be treated as interchangeable numbers in a completely dehumanized system of “shared management” of financial aid files.
Neither organizations defending the rights of service providers nor MTESS public officials were consulted about this important reform, piloted by IT developers. It goes exactly against the needs and demands expressed on the ground in terms of access to services. In their relationship with the State, beneficiaries of social assistance mainly want to be able to speak with the person responsible for their case, describe their situation to him and receive clear explanations from him.
For their part, the agents know very well that the new way of operating could lead to a multiplication of errors in the handling of cases, as experience in other public services has demonstrated. The spiral of dehumanization of services has been observed for years in social assistance, but it risks reaching an unprecedented peak in the coming months with this reform.
How many people abandon their procedures due to administrative, bureaucratic or technological obstacles? How many are in an even more precarious situation or are frankly homeless because they were not welcomed and supported with humanity within public services? It’s time for the MTESS to orient itself.
In a single voice, MTESS rescuers, groups defending the rights of people in social assistance and their allies denounce the dehumanization of public services and call for a change of direction.
Christian Daigle, President of the Union of Public and Parapublic Services of Quebec (SFPQ)
Collective for a Quebec without poverty
Common front of people in social assistance (FCPASQ)
Coalition for Access to Services in CLEs (CASC)
Association of Popular Literacy Groups of the QC (RGPAQ)
Regional advocacy groups:
LASTUSE du Saguenay
ADD South Coast
Sherbrooke Action Plus
Welfare Rights Committee (WRC)
Popular Action of the Mills
Pointe-St-Charles Social Assistance Committee (CPAS)
Access Lac-St-Jean Living conditions
Unemployed Committee (CSE)
Lanaudière Dignity Action
Clinic rights ahead
Regrouping of Social Assistance and Social Assistance of Témiscouata (RASST)
Plateau Mont-Royal Resource Group (GRPMR)
BRAS Villeray Common People’s Front for Social Assistance in Quebec (FCPASQ)
Popular action Rimouski-Neigette
Céline Bellot, Director of the Profiling Observatory, University of Montreal
Véronique Fortin, Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Sherbrooke
Nadia Giguère, researcher at the Montreal Research Center on Social Inequalities, Discrimination and Alternative Citizenship Practices (CREMIS)
Janie Houle, Chair of Research on Reducing Social Inequalities in Health, UQÀM
Manuel Johnson, lawyer
Christopher McAll, professor of sociology at the University of Montreal
Yanick Noiseux, principal investigator of the Inter-University and Interdisciplinary Research Group on Employment, Poverty and Social Protection (GIREPS)
Julie Paquette, Professor, School of Ethics, Social Justice and Public Service, Saint Paul University
Andréane Sabourin Laflamme, professor of philosophy at Cégep André-Laurendeau and doctoral student in the department of legal sciences at UQAM.