The Ford government has backed down from its plan to eliminate the Transition Child Benefit. The benefit, which provides food and clothing allowance for 32,000 of Ontario’s poorest children, was scheduled to be cut on November 1. Families surviving on social assistance and struggling to put food on the table were set to lose up to 30% of their income. The attempted cut was widely condemned by municipalities, faced a legal challenge, and triggered a community mobilization.
The government’s last minute decision to cancel the cut is a welcome reprieve, but it comes after months of subjecting poor families to brutal anxiety over their ability to take care of their children. The government is reportedly also cancelling its plan to increase the clawback of the earned income of people on social assistance, and is fuelling speculation about whether it will go through with its promised tightening of the definition of disability in January.
Ford is following a troubling pattern with changes to social assistance. Upon coming to power, the Conservatives immediately cut a planned increase in rates by half, cancelled a series of scheduled positive reforms, and announced a 100-day review of social assistance. The move sent chills through poor communities. The distressing months that followed were full of wild speculations about the extent of cuts that could be implemented.
More than 400 days later, the government still hasn’t revealed the results of its review. Instead, in late 2018, it signalled that social assistance would increasingly become more restrictive, but offered few details, and said changes would be implemented over an 18 month period. The move offered short-term relief to some, but prolonged the agony for most. A year later, he has suddenly cancelled two planned regressive changes, but has effectively shifted attention away from the fact that for the first time in years, people on social assistance will not receive any increase to their sub-poverty incomes this year.
Ford’s record makes clear he intends to gut income and social services further and create a climate of desperation where people scramble for the lowest paid jobs. But the populist premier’s approval ratings have plummeted and he has become a liability for the federal Conservatives vying for power. In this context, the rollback of some of the cuts to social assistance is evidence that his austerity measures can be beaten back. But given there won’t always be the spectre of a federal election in the background, we must build a serious social mobilization capable of haunting his administration and grinding its austerity measures to a halt. We are committed to doing so and fighting to raise social assistance rates, join us.