In the summer of 1996 the Halton Social Planning Council and Volunteer Centre began a program initiative to research and understand the impact of policies of financial restraint and deficit reduction on Halton agencies, services and people in need. We are concluding the initial phase of this work with the report, “Meeting Human Need: The Impact of Funding Restraints on Halton Agencies”. While our results are preliminary, the information suggests that the agencies of Halton and the people in our community served by these agencies are under duress.
A chain of events, namely, recession, inadequate funding and, at best, a limited national and provincial vision and plan of the social supports needed to build viable and healthy communities, is systematically weakening community-based human service agencies. Thus, the ability of Halton’s agencies to reach out and provide a wide range of services that protect vulnerable people, that prevent further dependency and that create integration rather than social marginalization is seriously diminished. As our report shows, policies that reduce a financial deficit have a social impact, albeit infrequently discussed and addressed, and that creates a social deficit – long term social and financial costs of poverty, of high rates of under employment and unemployment.
Our network of community-based human service agencies and the many services they provide is part of our social fabric, nurturers and builders of a better quality of life in Canada, Ontario and Halton. These services are viewed today as the “social rights” of residents in our communities, integrally linked to, yet an evolution of, our human and our political rights.
The Situation of Community-Based Human Service Agencies
As Halton’s population changes in both size and composition, so will the demand for human services. In particular, the aging population will have a significant impact on the range and delivery of services. The Halton Social Profile 1994 outlined the following:
- The current recession and reduction in funding for service is accompanied by an increased need for service and need for subsidization. Current emphasis on user fees may create a two tiered system of ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’. This has the potential to limit access to people or their ability to pay for service.
- The impact of increased demand and reduced funds, leads to slower service, longer waiting periods, increased stress on providers, increased demand for volunteers with fewer resources allocated to their management and increased expectations of families to provide care.
These observations have not changed in the past two years and the pressures on community-based services have increased as the current Ontario government examines further ways to manage its fiscal debt.
While our survey of this past summer profiled all human service organizations, the focus of the report is on community-based human service agencies. There were 59 community-based agencies that responded out of 146, for a return rate of 40%. Most of the agencies responding to the survey provide a service to the entire Halton Region and serve such client groups as persons with disabilities, children and youth, seniors, women and adults.
The reduced funding over the past few years and the process of restructuring that has been going on over the 1990’s has produced lean organizations. As the first chart shows, the responding agencies have small administration and program staff complements compared to their reliance on volunteers to supplement their activities. A total of 75% of the agencies activities are carried out by volunteers. We have a situation where for every paid person delivering a program, there are 3.2 volunteers assisting in those tasks. From the 59 responding agencies, we have a volunteer force of just over 4,000 persons.
Based on National Volunteer week material, volunteers average 120 hours per year. With the 4,030 volunteers reported in our survey, their contribution in hours was 483,600. Based on an average wage rate of $15.84 per hour for the human service sector, this contributes approximately $7.7 million to Halton. Without agencies in place, there will be fewer places to channel this volunteer effort.
Of the agencies responding to the survey, we had 43 agencies that provided financial information for 1995-96 and 1996-97. As the chart shows, community-based agencies receive about 60% of their funding from provincial sources. As the province continues its battle to balance the deficit and changes the system of governance and responsibility for services, this percentage will likely shrink, placing organizations in the situation of seeking and securing other funding sources or scaling back the level of service offered. The net loss of dollars between the two fiscal years is nearly a half million dollars.
Of the 132 programs that were reported by the agencies, there were 5 programs closing in 1996. One example is a Shelter Service agency which indicated that its program was under review at the time of the survey, but as the summer progressed it was learned that this program would be cancelled as of August 31, 1996 because funds would be eliminated. The loss of this program will be felt largely throughout the low income sector of the community. It will also affect tenants and new families to Halton who are in need of shelter information. Currently, no other agency can currently fill this void in Halton.
Another program eliminated was a Counselling and Crisis Intervention program affecting the client group of men. The loss of funding for this program means that fully subsidized counselling is no longer available for abusive men. However, they can participate in counselling if they pay a fee.
Results from the survey around the impacts of these types of changes affected all areas of the agencies.
Impacts on service and programs reported included:
- reduced professional service consultations
- increased demand for service and decreased funding
- fewer programs, less availability of paid staff, backlogs in file maintenance
- increased pressure for volunteers to pick up tasks and hours performed by paid staff
- less client and staff one-on-one time
- more group programs
Impacts on staff included:
- reduction of staff by attrition
- increased workloads with decreased hours of work
- reduction of full-time to part-time staff or the elimination of staff
- lowered staff morale, staff demoralization, and increased anxiety
- great staff insecurity and stress due to future uncertainty with government funding
- more fundraising activity
- greater reliance on volunteers and volunteer hours by staff
Impacts on clients:
- increased waiting period due to high demand
- slower service, longer lineups, fewer materials
- increased user fees for programs and services
- stress whether the service will continue
- less individual time with staff and an increase in group programs
- less direct counselling
- no service
Copies of the report Meeting Human Needs: The Impact of Funding Restraint on Halton Agencies, is available from the Council at the cost of $15.00 (plus $5.00 postage and handling).
Produced by the Community Development Halton
860 Harrington Court
Burlington, Ontario L7N 3N4
(905) 632-1975, (905) 878-0955; Fax: (905) 632-0778; E-mail: email@example.com