Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Reforming Social Assistance in Ontario


Earlier this month Tim Hudak’s Ontario Conservative Party released a White Paper on Social Assistance called Paths to Prosperity – Welfare to Work.

If I had to assign it a grade I’d give it an “E” for effort.  It recalled the mark I received (and deserved) for a paper for a university geography course where I relied exclusively on the Book of Knowledge for my “research.”

In its thin twenty-three pages Paths to Prosperity – Welfare to Work manages to squeeze in two full page photos of the Leader of the Opposition, very little analysis but lots of clich├ęs:

Like:

     “The best social program is a job.”
      “It is time to wake up Ontario’s welfare system.”

And a call for:
               
      “Fresh ideas” …“to cut through the cobweb of complicated and complex social service system."                  

That cobweb is, of course, the 800 plus idiotic rules and regulations that govern the system.  The McGuinty government should be justifiably criticized for the slow pace with which it has got around to doing something about those rules.  But the Harris/Eves government of which Mr. Hudak was a proud member created them.  That’s not mentioned in Paths to Prosperity – Welfare to Work.

There is little about the impact the current changes to the system are having/will have on municipalities either other than dangling a carrot that property tax payers will share in the savings that will inevitably come when the Conservatives get power and start kicking welfare recipients around like they did in the nineties.

I’d say that the most important change we can make to the welfare system is to create rates that reflect the real cost of living.

That is talked about in the report of the Commission for the Review of Social Assistance in Ontario. This report, called Brighter Prospects: Transforming Social Assistance in Ontario, charts “a new course for social assistance towards a simpler, more effective, and more accountable system....”

There are controversial aspects to the report, to be sure. One issue, though, that is not contentious is that a new system must be established that incorporates an evidence based method to determine the rates.

The Hamilton Community Legal Clinic/Clinique juridique communautaire de Hamilton has done a lot of work over the years in developing such a method.

The Clinic, where I work, has advocated for an arm’s length body to recommend evidence-based social assistance rates on an annual basis. Those rates should be based on an analysis of the actual costs of rent, a healthy food basket, and other basic necessities in communities across Ontario, and should provide a level of assistance that will allow individuals and families to live with dignity.... 

In Brighter Prospects which came out in October there is a recommendation (#27) which calls for a “rational methodology” to set social assistance rates. But such a methodology has already been articulated. So why reinvent the well.

Legislation Introduced in 2007

Many years ago the Clinic worked with Liberal MPP Ted McMeekin and put together a bill to establish an Ontario Social Assistance Rates Board. The former Bill 235 was introduced in the legislature in June of 2007 but “died” when the legislature was adjourned.

You can look at the legislation here on our Fast Facts page at http://www.hamiltonjustice.ca/did-you-know.cfm

This legislation makes as much sense now as it did in 2007 and if passed would make a far more significant impact on Ontario’s prosperity and welfare of its citizens than anything in Hudak’s’ White Paper.