Response to Ford’s Social Assistance Reforms
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.
Those presently on ODSP will be grand-parented into the new system but new eligibility rules will use the more narrow federal definition of disability. Many who could get onto ODSP under the existing rules will be forced to try to live on OW, including having to look for work even when they are too unwell to do so.
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.
People on OW will only be able to earn $300 monthly without claw backs, up from the current $200, but less than the $400 it was supposed to go up to this December. Earnings above $300 will be subject to a 75% claw back, which is worse than the current 50%. The earning exemption for ODSP changes to $6000 annually, but is again subject to the increased 75% claw back beyond that limit.
Over the next eighteen months the full viciousness of the Doug Ford Poor Laws will emerge but it is already clear that, for the Tories, social assistance is a weapon in their war on the poor.