Society can afford to care for least fortunate

ThePeterboroughExaminer.com – Opinion/Editorial
September 24, 2013.   Editorial

Poverty reduction was in the news here again last week when the provincial government heard from 31 people on what needs to be done to give the poor a better chance at no longer being poor.

The event was one of 18 similar sessions being held across the province, part of an update of the Liberal government’s Poverty Reduction Strategy. It’s a wide-ranging set of policies aimed at every low-income earner in Ontario.

That’s a very big, complex initiative. Within it there is a simpler solution for a smaller group that could and should be adopted right away.

That group is people with long-term medical conditions or mental or physical disabilities that prevent them from holding a job. The proper response is a guaranteed annual income.

It’s not a new idea. A federal House of Commons committee recommended a much broader version of the solution in 2010. It called for a guaranteed $20,000 annual income for all Canadians.

The recommendations didn’t get much attention from the day they were released, in part because guaranteed incomes are seen by many as too expensive and too “liberal” with taxpayers money.

The alternative is our current mishmash of welfare and disability payments and specialty programs that are so complex it is difficult to calculate what they cost and more difficult to figure out who gets what, and sometimes why they get it.

The muddiness was never more apparent than when Ontario cut its “discretionary benefits” last year. Welfare and disability payment recipients would have less money for things like dental care and baby carriages, as well as many other items most of us don’t think of as discretionary. The cuts were actually made to payments to municipalities, which in turn had to decide if they would make up some or all of the difference. Payments for rent, heating and other less-than-discretionary emergency costs were also involved.

Simplifying the entire welfare system and making it fair for both recipients and taxpayers is, as we said, a complex issue that Ontario’s government is picking away at.

Those who simply aren’t capable of working for a living should not be caught up in that debate. Canada has a guaranteed income for seniors and Ontario tops it up further. At the moment the annual payment is $16,542 for singles and $27,050 for couples. A single person on Ontario Disability Support Payments gets $10,584, a couple $14,268.

Whether the right number is $16,500 or $20,000 can be debated, but a simple guaranteed income for the disabled is the minimum requirement for a social safety net in a wealthy society.

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