This June 27 article in the Toronto Star (see here
) reveals a lot about the attitudes of Kathleen Wynne’s Ontario Liberal government towards people who are poor. Let’s break down just two of the comments the Social Services Minister makes in this recent interview.
“As long as I’m here there are no losers” - Jaczek says she is determined to “create only winners”. People who are poor are not ‘losers’ – however poor people are losing out in an economy that is designed to keep them poor and they are being shortchanged on their human rights and entitlement to a life of health and dignity in the process.
What does Helena Jaczek intend by forbidding the use of the term ‘loser’ on her shift as Minister of Social Services? Jaczek gives no hint in the interview as to what she thinks causes poverty. Her comment implies she thinks it is a game with both winners and losers. Why doesn’t Minister Jaczek focus on changing the ‘rules’ of a ‘game’ that creates poverty and inequality by transferring wealth to the 1%, rather than focusing on ‘improving client service’ to people who receive social assistance?
Poverty in Ontario is deep and persistent because the transfer of wealth to the 1% is intentional – it is built in the design. In the capitalist economy vast numbers of poor people are required in order to keep wages low and to ‘discipline’ workers to accept low wages. The economy is designed to transfer wealth to the 1% creating prosperity for the wealthy and austerity for almost everyone else.
Helena Jaczek’s condescending reference to poor people as ‘winners’ is the equivalent of putting a smiley face on the Band-Aid of current social assistance rates. Maybe new and improved Band-Aids is the kind of recommendations for ‘improved client service for those receiving income supports’ that she hopes to receive from her newly appointed Income Security Reform Working Group (See here
“We aren’t going to call it social assistance reform. Because when we say income security, we are talking about all low-income people, not just the welfare wall and the disincentives to getting off social assistance.”
A debate about the policy nuances of ‘social assistance reform’ or ‘income security’ distracts the public from a discussion about the inequality creating the impoverishment of one million people in Ontario. Debating the finer points of policy reform makes invisible the poverty of people who receive social assistance and also focuses attention away from the extraordinary wealth of the 1%. (118,000 millionaires in Toronto
Poverty intersects with many factors – gender, race, age, ability, sexual orientation, status – and lumping all people who are poor into the one category of low income – ignores the important and specific impacts of poverty on diverse groups of people.
This insistence in talking about ‘all low-income people’ reminds one of the people who refuse to recognize the demands of the Black Lives Matter movement by saying ‘all lives matter’. Talking about ‘all low income people’ is a deliberate strategy to deny the legitimate claims and specific injustices of diverse groups of people who receive social assistance. All poor people suffer, but they do not suffer equally.
The Ontario Liberal government has consistently ignored the needs of people who receive social assistance since they began poverty reduction discussions in Ontario in 2007. In fact social assistance rates have lost purchasing power since the Liberals came to power in 2003 under Dalton McGuinty.
Classifying all people who are poor into a category of ‘all low income people’ is also a veiled attempt to appear to address the situation of the ‘working poor’ while continuing to ignore the situation of people who receive social assistance and who may never be able to work or have the opportunity to be employed.
Minister Jaczek’s concern for the working poor is hypocritical given that the Ontario government could immediately lift hundreds of thousands of working people out of poverty by increasing the minimum wage to $15. (See here
Neither an advisory group nor a consultation process is required to make those immediate changes. There is no point to participate in the consultation merry-go-round. Let’s continue to demand that Jaczek and Wynne put food in the budget now!
Sign up here
to receive information on actions the Put Food in the Budget campaign is planning that will challenge the fraudulent consultations of Social Services Minister Helena Jaczek.
Tomorrow’s bulletin describes how the Liberal government has planned their retreat on ‘income security reforms’ before they even begin!