Monday, January 30, 2006

Raise The Rates Op/Ed

Here is an op/ed by a social work academic writing on behalf of the Social Action Committee of the Ontario Association of Social Workers in support of an increase to social assistance rates:

Welfare rates need bolstering
By Sally Palmer, Chair, Social Action Committee, Ontario Association of Social Workers, Hamilton and District Branch
The Hamilton Spectator(Jan 30, 2006)

I am writing for the Social Action Committee of the Ontario Association of Social Workers about new restrictions on recipients of Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program.

Until recently, recipients who needed a more adequate diet could apply for a special diet supplement to their food budget.

Most were unaware of this program, according to an informal survey by some of our members, who canvassed about 50 people they met at food banks and elsewhere.

In the summer of 2005, the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty began a campaign to encourage all recipients to apply for the supplement on the basis that the low level of social assistance rates did not provide adequate food for a nutritious diet.

Hamilton's Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Elizabeth Richardson, confirmed this on Nov. 2, 2005, in a meeting with poverty activists when she said social assistance levels were "woefully inadequate."

In announcing the recent restrictions, Social Services Minister Sandra Pupatello alleged that many applicants were abusing a benefit intended for specific medical conditions.

She also pointed to a 3 per cent raise in social assistance rates granted by her government in 2004, but she did not acknowledge that there had been no raise in 2005.

The 2005 report, Incomes and Poverty in Hamilton by the Social Planning and Research Council documented that the buying power of social assistance has diminished by 35 to 40 per cent over the past decade -- a combination of the 1995 Conservative cutbacks and subsequent inflation.

Recipients who are now being called abusers of the system have every reason to feel betrayed by government cutbacks, and by not being informed about a program many of them could have accessed.

Most recipients are sole-support mothers, or people with disabilities. They seldom advocate on their own behalf because they feel the public is unsympathetic.

Pupatello herself told a public meeting in Waterdown on Sept. 12, 2005, that raising welfare rates was not on her government's political agenda because it did not attract

We should not let this important group of people continue to suffer on the shamefully inadequate incomes they are granted by our public programs.

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