Ducks and icebergs have a lot in common. To get a complete picture you have to look beneath the surface. Ducks, calmly gliding through the surface of the water, while busily paddling underneath. Icebergs, massive enough as they float, revealing their true nature (80%) underwater.
The same is true of our public service. There is a lot going on beneath the surface, within the federal and provincial public services, that we should pay attention to.
Public servants must respond to the issues of the day and the priorities of their political masters. At the same time the good ones keep an eye on the future, doing their best to anticipate changing demographics and economic circumstances and to prepare possible responses. It is wise to pay attention to what they are paying attention to. The potential to align our agenda with sympathetic and concerned public servants is huge.
Here are some of the challenges public servants are paying attention to.
1) Rising health care budgets. Currently health care costs eat up approximately 40% of provincial program spending and these continue to rise annually. Even with constraints, health budgets are rising faster than Gross Domestic Product.
2) Smaller tax base, again because the 'boomers' are retiring. In 2005 there were 44 children and seniors for every 100 Canadians of working age. By 2030 it is estimated there will be 61 children and seniors for every 100 Canadians of working age.
3) Increased costs related to the increased number of older people. In British Columbia there will be more people over 65 than under 15 by 2015.
4) Expected decrease in the size of the
public service when the 'boomers' retire. In British Columbia a 25% reduction has been projected. One plausible scenario is that these employees won't be
5) Future overall labour shortages which could mean a smaller social service labour force within 5 – 10 years.
6) The 'X' factor. There are other potential demands on government resources: debt repayment, environmental cleanup; unfunded pension liability; response to climate change; international responsibilities
Whether any or all these challenges come to fruition one conclusion seems certain – smaller government budgets and multiple demands equals less resources for the social care ministries and departments. The public servants I know are applying their talents to think through how to maintain supports while responding to emerging needs. For example, in the disability field people are living longer (fortunately) and may require increased supports as they age. At the same time a larger number of teenagers with disabilities than previously will be leaving school and looking for adult supports. This means larger numbers of adults with disabilities requiring support while government budgets and workforces gets smaller. It is imperative the public service engage individuals, families and communities differently and become more innovative about how we take care of each other and how we finance that care.
In my next post, Part Two of Ducks and Icebergs, I will summarize five trends public servants are exploring to respond to these challenges.