No Details on Welfare Deaths

Monday Magazine | January 5, 2006
A spokesperson for the ministry of employment and income assistance says the ministry will not provide details on the cause of death for 6,065 people whose welfare files were closed between June, 2002, and January, 2005, because they died.

After receiving the information about the number of deaths in August, 2005, as part of the response to a freedom of information request, Monday asked MEIA assistant deputy minister Andrew Wharton to provide the cause-of-death information.

In December, a spokesperson for the ministry, Richard Chambers, responded by e-mail. "Your request for cause-of-death data was discussed with the B.C. Vital Statistics Agency who informed the ministry that this information would be of limited value unless it was produced in comparison with age-standardized population data and with consideration to any relevant geographical population issues," he writes. "This research is beyond the expertise of ministry staff."

"Vital Statistics has also informed us that the cost of matching the file close code data from 1997 with Vital Statistics data, alone, would be at least $20,000. The actual cost would be higher if there are problems with the consistency of data between the ministry datasets and the Vital Statistics data."

He also expresses concerns about inadvertently breaching client confidentiality by releasing the numbers, and concludes, "Due to the considerable cost of the data match and analysis necessary to provide meaningful context, the ministry is unable to provide the information you requested."

The e-mail did provide more detail on the kind of assistance people were receiving when they died. Twenty-nine percent were clients receiving medical services only, Chambers writes, "most of whom are seniors, [and] may receive assistance for dental, optical, and medical equipment and supplies." Another 13 percent were clients living in long term care facilities who receive a small amount of money for support and comforts from the ministry.

The majority, however, were part of the growing number of people with disabilities who depend on the ministry for support. They accounted for 44 percent of the closures, representing about 2,670 people. A further six percent "or 364 people" were closures for people classified as having persistent multiple barriers to employment.

"Many individuals apply for income assistance as persons with disabilities because they have a progressive and deteriorating medical condition such as the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), hepatitis C, multiple sclerosis, or cancer," writes Chambers.

The information provided does not indicate how many of the people who died had each condition. Nor does it indicate how many committed suicide or froze to death like Butch Mather.

Based on this, one can only conclude the ministry and the politicians simply don’t want to know.

Monday Magazine

Founded in 1975 to provide a critical voice in Victoria's political and cultural communities, Monday Magazine continues to shake British Columbia's conservative capital city with tell-it- like-it-is features and reviews. Targeting educated, active adults and Victoria's growing youth market, Monday...
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