Category Archives: Poverty

OCAP Says No to Welfare Merger/Cuts

by John Wilson
On New Year’s day 2014 there’s not much to celebrate for those who are unemployed, low-waged, who rely on welfare, or live on disability benefits in Ontario. To make matters worse, only 35 per cent of the unemployed even qualified for Employment Insurance benefits (which have been reduced), compared to 74 per cent eligible in 1990. Two priority campaigns of the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) highlight this reality.
The first is the campaign to “raise the rates”. The rates paid by Ontario Works (welfare) were brutally slashed by nearly 22% bywe're here for our$ the notorious regime of Mike Harris in the mid-90s. Since then, for single claimants, the payments have lost a staggering 56% of their spending power. These rates were frozen since 1995, until the advent of the present Liberal regime, but any increases have been miniscule – only 15% over the last ten years, far less than the rate of inflation.
OCAP demands an immediate 55% increase. It is common knowledge that welfare recipients have little left over after paying rent. They rely on food banks to survive and have almost nothing for other needs. Supplementary benefits have been under continuous attack, despite the laughable “poverty reduction” mantra of the austerity-mongering Wynne government. As OCAP organizer John Clarke wrote in the Bullet (May 2013): “The fundamental nature of the welfare system can be traced all the way back to its roots in the old English Poor Laws. The system has always been there to reluctantly provide enough assistance to stave off unrest and social dislocation, but to do so at levels and in forms that maximize the flow of labour into the lowest paying and most exploitative jobs on offer.” “Ontario Works” says it all.
DSCN1663The same approach to disability benefits leads into a second major campaign to prevent the merger of Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP). At a November 20 rally in Toronto, attended by over 120 people, speakers outlined their concerns. Historically, disability and welfare rates have been separate. If combined, from where will any increases for disability come? With downloading to municipalities, will ‘reassessment’ of disability claimants follow the notorious British model? Rally participants learned about the savage cuts to disability programs by the reactionary coalition government in Britain, which has handed this process over to ATOS, a private company.
Huge numbers of people there have been disqualified on incredibly specious grounds. A video showed a large field of flowers, each representing a disabled person who died within a short period of being disqualified, often by suicide. It is hardly ‘alarmist’ to think that the same could happen here, since the Ontario Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) has already privatized reassessment with a stupefying increase in disqualifications. The austerity agenda, which has particularly targeted disabled people, is international, as is the capitalist system, which promotes it in the interest of ever cheaper labour platforms.
These two campaigns by OCAP clearly merit the unqualified support of labour, the left and social movements. Attacks on welfare and disability benefits will not only further impoverish poor people, but everyone. The greater the number of people desperate enough to accept the most wretched jobs, the more downward pressure there will be on wage levels, and the more intense will be the attacks on unions.nov 5th cap is broken 2 PS

Inquiry Puts Ontario Premier Wynne on Trial

by Malu Baumgarten
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne ended 2013 nearly tied in popularity with her main opponent on the left, New Democratic Party Leader Andrea Horwath, according to a recent Abacus Data Poll. But 2014 may be the year when the public image of the self-proclaimed “social justice premier” Wynne will be forever changed.
On February 19, 2014 an event called A Poor People’s Inquiry will put the premier of Ontario on trial in the court of public opinion. Wynne will be charged with knowingly misleading the public by saying social justice is her top priority. Details of the Toronto trial location and agenda will be announced early in January.
  peoples_inquiry_logo_screenA Poor People’s Inquiry is an initiative of Put Food in the Budget (PFIB), “a grassroots activist group working to hold the Ontario Government’s feet to the fire on promises made – but not kept – to reduce poverty,” according to its website, www.putfoodinthebudget.ca. Starting in September 2013, PFIB held community hearings across Ontario and Toronto neighbourhoods. PFIB is known by campaigns like the Do the Math Challenge – inviting people to live on a “food bank diet” for one week, and the Dear Mr. Premier Tour, in which people in 25 communities in Ontario were video-taped telling a life-size mannequin of former Premier McGuinty what they thought of his austerity budget.
A Poor People’s Inquiry is very timely. People living on social assistance still have the recommendations of commissioners Frances Lankin and Munir Sheikh, of the Review of Social Assistance in Ontario, hanging over their heads. The report, ironically called Brighter Prospects, was released in October 2012. Among other changes, it proposed a merger of Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support Programme, both to be administered by the municipalities. The ODSP Action Coalition, a Toronto based advocacy group for people with disabilities Webcommented on the merger: “Combining the programs may mean that the unique needs of people with disabilities would stop being recognized by the program that is supposed to be there to help them; and delivering the programs locally could well result in greater inequity across the province, as local towns and cities get to decide who in their community would be eligible for which supports, and even which supports would be available.”
The Liberal government of Ontario seems to be big on promises, but not so good at keeping them. In 2008 former Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty promised a strategy to reduce poverty in the province. Instead he cut corporate taxes, increasing the size of the provincial deficit; and introduced an “austerity budget” that threatened to reduce spending on social assistance and vital community and public services. In 2012 his successor, Kathleen Wynne, acceded to the top job calling herself the “social justice Premier.” Since then the Liberal government has effectively cut social assistance, with rate increases lower than inflation.
Let’s remember that a worker, even a middle class worker, in times of such uncertainty may be only a step away from falling into the social assistance system, as many testified at the Inquiry.