The social assistance reforms that the Ford Government announced today can well be described as the new Doug Ford Poor Laws. As expected, they’re making Ontario Works (OW) and the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) significantly more restrictive and precarious.
The basic intention is to refine the system as a tool to push people into the lowest paying and most exploitative jobs on offer. It is entirely in line with the attack they have already carried on the minimum wage, workers’ rights, and job protections. Forcing people off social assistance while depressing working conditions in the midst of a housing crisis won't move people out of poverty but will make the Progressive Conservative's bankrolling base of business executives and owners even richer.
The reforms will divide people on social assistance into those deemed the most severely disabled and those who must join the scramble for jobs. The kind of “compassion" that severely disabled can expect from this Government is made clear from the fact that the social services Minister, Lisa McLeod, would offer no comment on whether any increases in social assistance rates can be expected over the next three years.
All those who are deemed capable of working will be expected to comply with “individual action plans” and the Government’s “Open for Business” website will draw the most unscrupulous employers directly into the process. Local municipalities will be encouraged to compete with each other in the development of punitive and intrusive practices designed to hound people into scrambling for the worst jobs. The door is certainly open to the privatization of delivery and services.
The government also signalled that supplementary benefits accessed by people on social assistance will be moved from being mandatory to discretionary. These benefits will likely differ from municipality to municipality. So we’ll be left with a patchwork of benefits with no access to the Social Benefits Tribunal to appeal denials. Outright elimination of particular existing benefits remains a possibility.
Raise the Rates Coalition Response to Ford Government's Announcement on Changes to Social Assistance
The Ford Conservatives announced three significant changes to social assistance:
- They are cutting in half the 3% increase in social assistance rates that was scheduled to come into effect in September this year. Progressive changes to regulations scheduled to be implemented later this fall have also been "paused," and will likely be canceled.
- The 3 year basic income pilot program, which started last year, is now being canceled and “wound down.”
- A series of sweeping changes to social assistance are currently under review and will be announced within the next 100 days.
We have three things to say in response:
- The scheduled 3% increase passed by the Liberals was woefully inadequate, but it would have marked the second time in almost a quarter century that social assistance income would have risen above the rate of inflation. Instead, the 1.5% cut will now yet again plunge social assistance income below the rate of inflation, making social assistance recipients even poorer.
- We have been critical of the Basic Income pilot project, but canceling the pilot a year after it was underway demonstrates a reckless disregard for the lives of 2000 people on the pilot who planned their lives on the assurance of having a set income for 3 years, and who must now scramble.
- The sweeping changes to social assistance that are being ominously hinted at are likely to be the same brand of ruthless right-wing reforms we saw under Mike Harris. We can expect dramatic restructuring of social assistance that cuts supports, forces those on social assistance, including disabled people, into the most exploitative jobs, and increases punitive surveillance and “fraud” crackdowns of the poorest people in this province.
Clearly, this is the war on the poor component of the Doug Ford agenda of neoliberal austerity. The Tories are forging a punishing regime of social abandonment that creates misery and utter desperation. It is the cutting edge of their attack and a compelling reason why we must unite and build a movement to defeat this Government and all it stands for.
Raise the Rates is a campaign to fight poverty by raising social assistance rates in Ontario. Jointly organized by the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP), Put Food in the Budget, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Ontario, ODSP Action Coalition, Ontario Public Service Employees Union, Jane-Finch Action Against Poverty, Poverty Makes Us Sick Waterloo Region, Poverty Makes Us Sick Ottawa, Parkdale Community Legal Services and other grassroots anti-poverty organizers and trade union allies from across Ontario. We are a growing movement united in fighting for:
• Raising social assistance rates
• Stopping the erosion of social assistance benefits
• Demanding a living wage for all
Put Food in the Budget is a grassroots activist group working to hold the Ontario governments to their promises made - but not kept - to reduce poverty. Our broad goal is achieving social and economic justice for the growing numbers of poor people in this province.
For more information, contact:
Pauline Bryant, Put Food in the Budget, 647-761-5963
Yogi Acharya , Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, 647-764-0488
Carrie Lynn Poole-Cotnam, CUPE Ontario, 613-864-1061