An important change to our Citizen Support categories: Human Services

Earlier this year I wrote a blog about the Toronto budget from a functional point of view, pointing out that when looked at functionally, and at a high level, the Toronto budget isn’t actually that hard to understand.

Well, around the time of that blog, the City of Toronto announced that it had launched its Human Services site, a collaboration of Employment and Social Services, Shelter Support and Housing Administration, and Children’s Services. So to reflect that, we (budgetpedia.ca) moved Children’s Services from the group we had called Health and Education to the group we had called Income and Housing Support, and renamed those groups Health Services and Human Services respectively. This is the result:

Citizen Support Services as categorized by bugetpedia.ca

(See our revised charts to explore.)

This is really good for several reasons.

First, the City’s news release claims that 20% of Toronto residents need access to Human Services. That’s about 550,000 people, and a huge asset waiting to be fully released for everyone’s benefit, through support services. Given the collaboration of the three divisions involved, opportunities to innovate in this area, including active collaboration with the users of the services in self-organized groups, become more achievable. With that, the hope of improving social cohesion and equitable contributions to the city comes a bit closer.

Second, with this collaboration among City divisions, the creation of a finder tool for Human Services, and talk about a single City client identity for users, the services are becoming more accessible to the people who need them. These innovations can become life-changing.

Third, the change is easy to understand. In a techno-babble bureaucratic world, this can make an important difference in re-enfranchising the people with their government.

Human Services representatives have said at a Civic Tech Toronto presentation, that this City initiative is a reflection of a trend within the City of Toronto to break out of silos, and present City services in ways that are better understood by the public.

Good.

This change at Budgetpedia.ca makes the Human Services group (at $2.32B) the second largest City budget expense group in our categorization scheme, after Transport Services (TTC, Transportation Division, and Parking) at $2.44B, and before Emergency Services (Police, Fire, Paramedics) at $1.83B.

The collection of Human Services provides one other important opportunity: a reflection on the place for support services in our government. Since the 1980’s the term “customer” has unfortunately become the norm for describing the consumers of government services. This brings with it the connotation that people should only be responsible for paying for services that they get directly in return. With Mayor John Tory’s famous insistence that only higher orders of government (and not property tax payers) should be paying for increases in social assistance services, this message is (perhaps unintentionally) re-enforced. We need to come to terms with this, in my opinion. My own view is that we are all better off when we help those of us who are facing life challenges. Therefore having adequate social support programs is not only fair, it is also a wise investment.

Henrik Bechmann is the project lead of budgetpedia.ca. The opinions expressed here are his own.

For a related blog, see Functionally, the Toronto budget isn’t that hard to understand.

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