Hot! Changes to social assistance

WindsorStar.com – news – Re: Welfare for horses, opinion column, by Chris Vander Doelen, May 23.
Jun 13, 2013.   Laura Tucker, Gemma Smyth and Catharine Shanahan

In his May 23 column, Chris Vander Doelen critiques the Ontario government’s recent decision to allow Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) recipients to retain up to $200 in earnings beyond their entitlement.

This change would help ODSP recipients maintain connections to the workforce while supplementing, rather than diminishing, their benefits. As such, it is unclear how these policy changes support “failure and welfare” rather than “workers and success” as Vander Doelen claims.

Vander Doelen’s argument relies on outdated notions, suggesting that improving social assistance will “lure new social assistance recipients onto welfare rolls.” The number of social assistance recipients has been repeatedly demonstrated to correlate with labour market health and job availability, not social assistance rates.

As many in Windsor-Essex can attest, running out of employment-related benefits such as Employment Insurance leaves few options other than to apply for Ontario Works.

What Vander Doelen does not mention are the many other potential changes to social assistance that the Liberals did not pursue. For instance, increasing the basic allowance for Ontario Works beyond the meagre one to three per cent proposed, indexing Ontario Works and ODSP to the cost of living and maximizing the Ontario Child Benefit have all been proven as effective ways to reduce poverty rates, changes not implemented in the new budget.

As Pathway to Potential and many other groups have noted, Ontario often treats the symptoms of poverty rather than tackling causes. A CBC report featuring interviews with Ontario physicians stated that “Treating people at low income with a higher income will have at least as big an impact on their health as any other drugs …” (May 26, 2013).

A reactive approach to medical interventions alone costs approximately $2.9 billion in Ontario. Pathway to Potential, along with partner advocacy groups across Ontario, have heralded some of the Ontario government’s changes to social assistance as a step forward. We still have a long way to go.

LAURA TUCKER, interim director, GEMMA SMYTH, co-chair, CATHARINE SHANAHAN, co-chair, Pathway to Potential, Windsor

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