Rewriting welfare rules – Opinion/editorial – Rewriting welfare rules
December 07, 2008

Welfare is supposed to be the net that catches people when everything else in their life fails. It’s supposed to help set them back on their feet.

But what it often does is trap people with a sense of shame as deep as their poverty. That gives them yet another hurdle to overcome. “The rules shackle people,” says anti-poverty activist Pat Capponi.

That’s why it’s such welcome news that the province has committed to conducting a review of social assistance in an effort to remove barriers and increase opportunities for training programs and jobs.

We need a system that finds people’s strengths and reattaches them to society. The one we have – much of it left over from the Mike Harris days – treats welfare recipients like crooks. We need a fundamental shift away from this punitive approach.

Leaving more than 1 million Ontarians in poverty costs us all. Poverty drives up social service and health-care costs. It leads to children doing poorly in school and untrained adults stuck in low-paying jobs.

Children and Youth Minister Deb Matthews heard a lot about our rule-bound welfare system while consulting on poverty reduction over the past year. She says the system must be changed to make it work for those who need help.

If the province simply wanted to tinker with the rules, that could have been done in its poverty reduction strategy released last Thursday. That just a few rules were changed and the rest put off for a fuller review gives us hope the Liberals are serious about a major overhaul.

The poverty reduction plan says the rules are confusing, with programs operating in isolation and even at cross-purposes. In short: “The rules can at times inhibit the transition to independence.”

We can’t battle poverty with a system that undermines the very people it’s supposed to help.

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