By Diamond Wisdom
As various levels of government have moved forward with their austerity agenda, warning bells should be ringing in the ears of low-income people because they are most likely to shoulder the brunt of reforms designed to free up government money for redistribution to private business.
Social assistance “reform” can be defined as a movement that changes government responsibility for welfare policy and cuts benefits.
Previous attempts to “reform” the system failed miserably, since more money had to be spent on dealing with the health and social consequences of the “common sense” revolution.
According to the National Council on Welfare’s “The Dollars and Sense of Solving Poverty” Report:
We should be rethinking where we make our investments and spend existing funds more wisely to get better results, since the methods used over the past 40 years ago haven’t worked. 1.7 million Ontarians live below the poverty line. More than 830,000 Ontarians currently receive social assistance benefits through either Ontario Works or the Ontario Disability Support Program.
Most Ontarians aren’t aware of the Social Assistance Review or its potential impact their lives, but the long-awaited Social Assistance Review recommendations are scheduled to be released in September, 2012. So far reports about its process have marked it as being “disappointing”.
Poverty reduction became law in Ontario in 2009. The government’s pledge to poverty reduction was touted in a government of Ontario announcement of the review as being “key to our economic future and to harnessing the potential of people as our most important provincial resource.” The announcement of the Ontario Social Assistance Review pledged to “remove barriers and increase opportunity – with a particular focus on people trying to move into employment from social assistance.”
People living with disabilities and low incomes should be paying special attention to the Social Assistance Review Commission recommendations; as the labour market conditions and reform in other areas such as employment insurance eligibility are likely to have the most impact on their ability to fully participate in the labour market and to escape the cycle of poverty.
People with disabilities already face significant challenges in finding and maintaining employment. The second social assistance review discussion paper seemed to target them the most for employment reforms without addressing the key areas in which the Ontarians with Disabilities Act falls short in ensuring the education, housing and employment needs of those with disabilities. It is deeply concerning that the review process and terms of reference ignored the need to deal with the flaws in the Ontario Works legislation first. The very flaws designed to keep people trapped in the poverty cycle!
Addressing poverty is not only a matter of economics; it’s a matter of social justice. Poverty is poverty whether your income comes from social assistance or low-waged work. If you don’t have the income to meet the costs of living you are poor! Government and the corporate media will make divisions between poor people in order to suit their reform agenda.
Anti-poverty advocates and low-income Ontarians who are aware of the review are understandably angry that the McGuinty government has undermined the work of the Social Assistance Review Commission by moving ahead with new reforms before the review recommendations are released. This demonstrates a lack of good faith and sincerity on the government’s part. The Community Start-up and Maintenance Benefit and the Home Repairs Benefit were both eliminated in the 2012 budget. The cuts will come into force in January 2013.
Social assistance is the place of last resort that Ontarians turn to when employment insurance benefits have been exhausted and they have been unable to find work. The terms “fairness” and “fiscal reality” have been used to create divisions between higher income tax payers and those who rely on social assistance. This deflects discussion from political choices and structural issues of the current welfare system that undermines the economic, educational and labour market participation progress for recipients of social assistance.
The true “fiscal reality” is that repeating the mistakes of the past is both unacceptable and unaffordable. We can continue to live in denial or we can have an adult conversation about the economic and social justice impacts of growing levels of poverty, which seems to be the direction that the McGuinty crew are leading us in. Is this the kind of society that you would choose to live in?
The personal has no choice but to become political in this context. I want encourage you to respond to the review recommendations. They count on us to believe differently, but we are neither voiceless nor powerless. Don’t let others speak for you. Tell the media and your elected officials how these recommendations will impact your life. Pressure on elected officials works. Toronto saw that through the Core Service Review and 2012 budget process. If your elected officials are not representing you effectively, then collectively “we” have the power to help fire them on Election Day. Tap into what’s going on around you and push back. It’s your right.
Social Assistance Review info: http://www.socialassistancereview.ca/home
There are other groups that you can get involved in who are speaking to the matters that impact the lives of the poor and the community including Poverty Free Ontario
Poverty Free Ontario www.povertyfreeontario.ca
Income Security Advocacy Centre http://www.incomesecurity.org/
Centre for Policy Alternatives http://www.policyalternatives.ca/
Alliance for a Poverty Free Toronto http://www.povertyfreetoronto.org/
Wellesley Institute http://www.wellesleyinstitute.com/