Why do we need a social policy framework?
Social policy matters to everyone. Maybe you may want to ensure that Alberta remains one of the best places to live, work, and raise a family, and that everyone has the opportunity to fully develop their skills and participate in our communities. Perhaps you are concerned by the economic toll that homelessness, poverty, and illiteracy take on our health, education, and justice systems, or you see the need for a highly skilled, growing workforce to support long-term economic growth. Whatever your concern, social policy—and the cohesion and opportunities that it creates—is integral to describing and achieving the quality of life we want for ourselves, our families, and our communities.
There are challenges to achieving that quality of life, and many of the social problems we want to solve are complex. Some conditions, such as low literacy rates, can affect an individual’s overall well-being. When left unaddressed, these conditions can multiply: a person’s educational level can affect their ability to earn a stable, adequate income, which can lead to other health and social challenges that may, in turn, limit opportunities for their family.
Our system of social supports has been addressing challenges such as these, and there are many successes of which we can be proud. There are also areas, however, where we can do things better and where social challenges persist. We have an opportunity to build on our success by focusing our actions on these persistent social challenges.
Our current system of social supports is designed and operated based on assumptions that may no longer be true. Over the past decades, social policy efforts have tended to focus on addressing specific deficiencies and filling particular gaps; the result has been programs that address single issues or needs (e.g., specifically targeting child care, income support, labour shortages, or supports for seniors). Often, social supports were designed to lessen the negative impact of social problems rather than to prevent or reduce them, and the resulting supports didn’t always acknowledge the interconnected nature of the challenges that people faced. In order to achieve results that both reflect our current needs and solve persistent, complex social challenges, however, we need a new approach.
Forces of change in our society, communities, and families are driving the need for a new approach to social policy. (See Appendix B for more information on the drivers of change). The need for a common social policy framework will only be intensified by the following pressures:
- Complexity: The needs of individuals are becoming increasingly complex as the province’s population become more diverse. The system of supports required to serve these individuals has similarly grown in size and complexity, making it difficult for many Albertans to navigate and access services. For example, there are over 4,000 contracted agencies that deliver government social service within Alberta. This complexity requires a citizen-centered approach and collaboration among organizations.
- A Growing Gap: The gap between the rich and the poor is growing in Alberta, and certain populations are facing challenges resulting from this inequality. We now better understand the link between income inequality and health or social problems; we also know that rising income disparity diminishes social cohesion and challenges the idea that all Albertans have an equal opportunity to be successful.
- Changing Expectations: Rapid changes in information technologies have created expectations that services should be portable, user-driven, and simple to administer. There is also a growing demand for government to change how it does business—Albertans want an open government that shares and communicates data with the public, and a system that gives everyone a greater voice in the decision-making process.
- Sustainability Challenges: Significant demographic changes and challenges to sustainability are emerging as a result of population growth, changing immigration patterns, and an aging baby boomer generation. These challenges are placing pressure on the cost, diversity, and types of services required by Albertans.
Much like the Government of Alberta’s economic and environmental policy directions, the Social Policy Framework provides a cohesive picture of Alberta’s policy direction and the actions required to achieve success. This does not mean that it exists on its own— social, economic, and environmental development go hand-in-hand. For example, a strong economy is sustained by having communities that are attractive and welcoming to new people, and by having social policies that help Albertans maximize their full potential.