Local anti-poverty advocates react to Social Assistance reform

The Ford government has announced a plan to reform Ontario’s social assistance program. The government says within 100 days, it will come up with a strategy to keep break the cycle of poverty and get people working.

The first part of the plan means an anticipated 3% hike in social assistance rates won't happen this fall.  Instead, that increase will be cut in half to 1.5%. And the basic income pilot project will be cancelled.

The Ford government says the number of people on Social Assistance has skyrocketed over the years.  Their plan is to end that cycle of poverty but those working with the poor say cutting rate increases is not the way to do it.

“It's about lifting people up, offering people a way out,” Lisa MacLeod, Ontario’s Minister of Children, Community and Social Services said at a news conference in Toronto today, “and helping people get their lives back on track.”

Ontario's Social Services Minister announced plans to overhaul the Social Assistance Program with a 100-day deadline.  Part of that overhaul starts now with an end to a pilot project called Ontario’s Basic Income research project that offered a basic income of about $17,000 to participants. Several cities, including Lindsay, Thunder Bay and Hamilton were involved in the project with the idea that people with a secure income could head back to school or start a business. The Ford government said the program cost too much and didn't work.

“We have decided to wind it down but we want to ensure Ontarians currently on the project that we will do it ethically,” MacLeod added.

In addition, a Liberal promise to hike welfare rates by 3% this fall has now been cut to 1.5%.  Those working with the poor say that hit will hurt.

“Most people on social assistance aren't living high off the hog to begin with,” says Linda Lalonde, the Chair of the Poverty Reduction Network, “and they still haven't recovered from the 21% cut that the previous Tory government brought in in 1995.”

Volunteers at the Gloucester Emergency Food Cupboard worry what these changes will mean for families already living on the edge.

“There are times we have 70 to 80 families through in one night,” says volunteer Elizabeth Jenner, “and some of the families have 9 to 10 members of the family. I just feel they don't know what the poor are going through.”

The Tories maintain the current system is broken with the number of people on social assistance skyrocketing by 55% over 15 years. 

“A government for the people must be for all the people,” says MacLeod.

“Which people, that's my question,” quips Linda Lalonde, “which people?”