Welfare reform: Breaking the cycle of poverty
TheStar.com – Opinion/Editorials
Published On Sat Dec 04 2010.
Right now in Ontario, there are more than 830,000 people who can’t get by without a monthly welfare or disability support cheque. And more than 15 per cent of our children live in poverty, despite the fact that many of their parents have full-time jobs.
Food bank use is up; affordable housing and subsidized daycare wait lists are growing; and good jobs are increasingly hard to find. Meanwhile, our existing social safety net has proved incapable of fixing these interconnected problems.
That is why the social assistance review, launched by the Liberal government at Queen’s Park on Tuesday, is so important. Munir Sheikh, former Statistics Canada chief, and Frances Lankin, former head of the United Way of Toronto and former provincial minister of health, will spend the next 18 months comprehensively reviewing Ontario’s social assistance programs.
The challenge ahead of them is enormous. They must do what the province has never done before: determine the real needs of poor Ontarians and design a successful program that fairly supports those who cannot work and helps those who can to get back on their feet.
What we have now is a punitive, rules-bound system that not only humiliates and demoralizes recipients but also impedes their transition to the workforce and self-sufficiency. It senselessly forces people into complete destitution before they can apply for benefits; restricts their access to educational opportunities once they are receiving assistance; and urges them to work but strips them of the financial benefits that come with employment.
Ultimately, this all costs taxpayers more, not less, and it undermines the province’s goal of breaking the cycle of poverty.
Importantly, the review panel will also look at how the welfare system connects to other government programs, including social housing, subsidized daycare and health and education programs. Currently, the rules of each program collide and operate at cross-purposes. This must change. Ontario cannot afford a system that undermines the very people it is supposed to help.
Though any government in power in 2012 when the review is complete will still be struggling with a substantial deficit and be reluctant to raise welfare rates, a comprehensive review of the system cannot ignore the fact that it is impossible to keep a decent roof overhead and buy food on a basic welfare cheque.
The Liberals deserve credit for sticking to their poverty reduction plans during difficult economic times and for launching a long overdue broad review of social assistance. But the government cannot rest on its laurels. It must keep the pressure on to give every Ontarian the chance to contribute and succeed.
< http://www.thestar.com/opinion/editorials/article/901232–welfare-reform-breaking-the-cycle-of-poverty >