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April 19, 2016

Government of Ontario lies about Welfare

Reuel S. Amdur

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"Ontario Works helps people who are in temporary financial need." That is a lie. It is a lie that the Ontario Ministry of Community and Social Services (COMSOC) has on its website now and that it has been promoting for as long as the program has been in existence.

As well it put out the same line of crap in its predecessor program of General Assistance and Family Benefits.  It is a lie that has been put forward by Tory, Liberal, and NDP governments, but it is nevertheless a lie. 

Let’s look at the facts.

COMSOC knows they are lying.  They have the statistics.  For the 2014-15 fiscal year, the average time an individual or family was in receipt of Ontario Works (OW) was 27 months—two years three months. Temporary?  Half the cases closed after 15 months and half were on for a longer period of time.  What about the second half?

When I was a welfare supervisor in Ottawa in the 1990’s, I saw a couple cases with a history going back 25 years.  Those with 20 year histories were of course more numerous, and there were even more on for five or ten years.  Temporary my eye.  And things have not changed much since my time.

The government pretends that OW is for those who are able to work, while the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) serves the disabled who are less able to work.  In fact, the system is simply incapable of determining disability.

After compulsory retirement as a welfare supervisor in 1999, I began assisting people appeal denial of eligibility for ODSP which pays substantially more, almost twice as much for a single person.  The normal maximum for a single person on OW is $681 a month, on ODSP, $1110.  People who are clearly disabled get turned down regularly for ODSP.

Case in point: A is in her 50’s.  She speaks little English, less French.  I found a woman to tutor her in English, but the task proved hopeless.  Her only work in Canada was in a janitorial capacity.  When a bus stopped suddenly, she fell and was injured.  She can no longer do that kind of work.  Her disabled condition was documented by a chiropractor and a physiotherapist.  A was turned down twice by the Medical Advisory Board and twice by the Social Assistance Review Board.  She is so discouraged that she refuses to apply again.  A will be on OW till she turns 65 or dies, whichever comes first.

So what is the solution to this problem? 

The obvious one is for the Ontario government to eliminate the distinction between OW and ODSP and to have a single social assistance program.  It is incapable in any case of making a valid distinction between those who are work ready and those not, considering the large welfare worker caseloads (upwards of 100) and the limited educational requirements for staff in many municipalities.  And education may be in the wrong fields.  The head of welfare in Ottawa is a dentist.

The implicit justification for the different levels of assistance is the old-fashioned distinction between the worthy poor (ODSP) and the unworthy (OW).  We need someone to discriminate against.  Instead of this prejudiced approach, assistance should be on the basis of need, not artificially determined status. 

As an alternative to simply merging the two categories, Ontario could follow a recommendation from the 1988 Transition report on social assistance: transfer all cases after two years to the higher level.

Unfortunately, some of the important social assistance advocacy organizations play the government’s game.  Organizations such as the ARCH Disability Law Centre and the ODSP Action Coalition call for increases in ODSP rates and simply ignore the needs of the many disabled people on OW.  They should know better, and they should have sounder humanitarian values.

In any case, 25 years temporary?  That’s a lie!  20 years?  That’s a lie!  Five years?  That’s a lie!  27 months? That’s a lie!  15 months?  That’s a lie!

Let’s hear it for a guaranteed annual income, at a level allowing people to live in conditions of dignity and decency.

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