Our Commitment to Social Assistance Reform

Jan 25 2013

Poverty-Free Kitchener Waterloo has shared the following letter after the community forum "Resolution for 2013 - A Poverty Free Ontario" with candidates for Ontario Liberal leadership. We will be using it to set the tone of future conversations with partners and allies, in order to ensure a successful social assistance system transformation.

Our Commitment

The Ontario Social Assistance Reform is at a turning point for the future of the people in the province. It is important to eliminate conditions that create, or keep people in, poverty. A successfully reformed system will help us all, as justly observed by a participant in the Ending Poverty Projecti: “We need government to play their role addressing poverty, so that communities and individuals can then take steps to decrease poverty”.

Above all else, we stand firm that austerity agenda should not be driving social assistance reform – aim should be income adequacy and wellbeing of people, not targeted cost savings in government spending.

As a community, we support the short term recommendations of the Social Assistance Review Commission:

* A $100/month increase to all single adult recipients (however this should not be paid for by decreasing other benefits)

* Minimum wage to $12.50 so that all full-time, full-year workers earn income bringing them above the poverty line

* Raising the asset limits allowed for OW recipients to the same level as ODSP recipients, allowing recipients to keep more earnings before benefits are reduced

And, the following should be applied to the longer term recommendations:

1. Adequate rates - Social assistance rates to bring all recipients out of deep poverty (i.e. above 80% of the Ontario Low Income Measure) – this should be the key measure for poverty rates and tracking success on system outcomes

2. People are treated with dignity and respect – introducing a function of an Ombudsman, consistency in information and procedures, equal treatment of all service recipients, no focus on fraud

3. Fair labor market and employment policies - creating fair labour market conditions and job opportunities before making employment a focus of social assistance reform

4. Integrated system of supports
* To not burden municipalities with the administration of programs without necessary financial supports and clear guidelines of administering funds within the social assistance programs.
* Do not create a piecemeal system that makes it more difficult to see the total impact on people (from what appears to be small cuts in multiple areas) or to implement the reform
* Better integration of provincial and federal supports so these work better for people – e.g. increase EI levels and eligibility periods; implement a national drug care program

As a community, we will aim to do the following:

* Engage our community at a grass roots level to mobilize and advocate for system change

* Contribute to public education campaigns breaking prejudice and stereotypes about poverty that are entrenched in policy making and service delivery

* Advise and lobby at all orders of government against taking a counterproductive austerity approach and to continue to educate our political leaders about the growing economic inequality and its impact

* Work to disseminate information to individuals and develop supports to help people navigate support systems

* Monitor the implementation of reform and participate in local stakeholder advisory activities

i. Ending Poverty Project, 2008-2010, ISAC & Campaign 2000