Abused women need our support

Posted on in Child & Family Debates

TheSpec.com – Opinion – Overhaul social assistance policies to lift single-parent families from poverty
June 20, 2014.   By Doreen Nicoll

Did you know that 70 per cent of women receiving social assistance benefits have experienced gendered abuse?

It’s important to clarify that gendered violence is about power and control, period. Overwhelmingly, it’s the domination of a woman by her male partner. Eighty three per cent of all police-reported domestic assaults in Canada are assaults against women. This violence includes physical, sexual, emotional, psychological, financial, social and spiritual abuse.

If things are so bad then why not leave? It’s not that simple if children are involved and the difficulty is compounded if the woman has been out of the workforce or has precarious employment. A further complication is that most abusers don’t like losing their power and control, so the likelihood of an abused woman being murdered increases nine fold when she leaves the abusive relationship.

In Ontario an average of 30 women are killed each year by intimate partners. Eighty-one per cent of these homicides occur during an actual or pending separation; 66 per cent of these murders happen in the first six months after separation.

There’s also a disturbing trend of more children being murdered by their fathers because that’s the ultimate punishment for a mother who’s leaving her abusive partner.

For a woman to be safe she needs to leave her abuser, but by leaving she puts herself and her children at even greater risk of being killed. We blame her for staying with her abuser and we blame her for leaving. It’s time to move beyond victim blaming and support women when they leave abusive relationships.

We need to change the current social assistance policy so that women on Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support Program are no longer required to pursue child support from their abusive ex-partners in order to keep their benefits. The provincial government should enable the Family Responsibility Office (FRO) to pay the court-ordered child support up front and then go after the payor for payments in arrears. This ensures children are taken care of and women remain safe.

I suggest the FRO present the negligent payor with a bill for costs incurred by the province for collecting court-ordered child support. Perhaps this would be incentive enough to ensure that the payor doesn’t fall into arrears.

Currently, women on OW or ODSP who collect their child support have the provincial government claw back 100 per cent of those payments. In situations where both parents are on social assistance, the child support paid from the non-custodial parent’s benefits is deducted from the custodial parent’s benefits. Children don’t benefit from these financial arrangements.

Reviews of the social assistance policy have suggested the current situation be modified to treat child support as income. This translates into women being able to keep the first $200 of their child support with the remainder being subject to a 50 per cent claw back.

A mother and child on social assistance have to survive on $19,380 a year, which is 30 per cent below the poverty line of $27,000 a year for a working poor parent and child. I suggest that 100 per cent of the child support be given to the mother with no claw back because this is the father’s contribution to supporting his offspring. This money would go a long way to helping women break free of the cycle of violence as well as giving them a helping hand to raise their children out of extreme poverty.

To add insult to injury, the provincial government’s social assistance policy discourages women from sharing housing costs by clawing back the shelter allowance when they share space to save money. The provincial government is also discontinuing the special diet allowance of $100 a month, which was implemented to help recipients and their children requiring dietary modifications due to lactose intolerance, gluten intolerance and the like.

Lessening or eliminating lost productivity at work, emergency room visits, police involvement, funeral costs, counselling for family members, care for children left without parents, coroner’s inquests, court costs, incarceration and so on, makes my solution very cost effective even to the most conservative taxpayer.

Doreen Nicoll is program co-ordinator for Women at the Centre. doreen@womenatthecentre.com

< http://www.thespec.com/opinion-story/4587551-abused-women-need-our-support/ >

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2 Responses to “Abused women need our support”

  1. Aa a single parent of three children, I applaud you for bringing this issue to the forefront. Women, especially women in abusive relationships, do need extra support. It is easy for someone to say to the abused woman “just leave” but they often do not understand the repercussions of this choice. Women are not able to just “pick up and leave” as finding safe and affordable housing is becoming increasingly difficult. In addition to housing, how is a single mother expected to support her children, provided safe and adequate daycare, and put healthy food on the table, when todays minimum wage does not align with todays standard of living. Women leaving an abusive relationship are often faced with little other choice but to go on some type of social assistance, only to be policed and treated with indignity. And then there is the other alternative, return to their abuser as they find it nearly impossible to care for their children. Society should not ask “why doesn’t she just leave?”; society should ask, “what can we do to solve this problem of violence against women?” It begins by raising the minimum wage, by providing safe and affordable housing, by loosening the stringent criteria so more women are able to get legal aid. Neo-liberalism has made an attack on women’s rights, by closing down women’s shelters, cutting funding, and making it increasingly difficult to qualify for social assistance. The children belonging to these women are our future and it is societies problem, after all, it takes a village to raise our children. You provide some sound suggestions, such as removing the claw back rule when receiving social assistance, and having FRO go after the paying parent, rather than making the custodial parent carry out this task. I also support your suggestion for raising the poverty line and by doing this alone may help women leave their abusive partners as they know that they will have the means to support their children. Its easy to make suggestions and point fingers, but unless you’re in that situation, you will never really understand how hard it is to make the decision to leave. Lets hope that the phenomenon of violence against women is soon a thing of the past….

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