This ugly incident on a Winnipeg bus in which a woman with an intellectual disability was sexually assaulted on public transit without her government funded caregiver even noticing should be part of Alberta’s ongoing PDD conversation. In Alberta, too, front line workers providing services for people with disabilities are employed by private enterprises. Those workers have a high turnover, are often paid minimum or slightly above minimum wage and often have minimal training. They report to a number of layers of (higher paid) management within those private enterprises. The private enterprises, in turn, report to social workers employed by the government. These social workers have a number of managers, etc. above them all the way up to the Minister. When the Government talks about all the money it is spending on services for people with disabilities, the only money it is really spending on the clients is the small amount that goes to the low wages of the front line workers.
Don’t get me wrong. The workers I’ve known, both on the front lines and back a bit in the trenches are dedicated, hard working people — but woefully underpaid. My quarrel is not with the workers at any level, privately or publicly employed. My quarrel is with the absurd multiplication of administration and the pay imbalance between administration and actual service delivery, and with the apparent inverted pyramid structure of the whole system, with vast numbers of higher level managers with job security, and a desperate scramble at the bottom to get the actual work done by a small, rapidly changing cohort of low paid, sometimes minimally trained workers. And my quarrel is with the fundamentally and tragically flawed but very popular notion that private enterprise will in every situation do things more cheaply, more efficiently, and simply better than government.
I’ve vented my spleen about PDD before, here and here, but, I feel compelled to continue. If I were running the circus, the front line workers would work directly for the government, be unionized, paid well, and the private “not for profits” with their well-paid directors would be cut out of the loop. The fact that a load of administrators and managers, who never actually have even to meet their clients, get paid relatively big bucks, while the people who actually provide the services get paid a pittance is a disgusting insult, and shows exactly who the government thinks is worth the most money. As long as the monetary emphasis of PDD is on administration rather than on providing care and services to actual people with disabilities, those with disabilities will remain horribly vulnerable. Change is desperately needed.