Ontario welfare reforms to be unveiled Nov. 22

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Ontario welfare reforms to be unveiled Nov. 22


Almost 1 million Ontarians struggling to survive on social assistance will have to wait another two weeks to learn how the Ford government plans to revamp the system.

Social Services Minister Lisa MacLeod announced the 100-day review on July 31 when she scrapped the previous Liberal government’s basic income pilot project, “paused” 19 regulatory reforms, and halved a planned 3-per-cent rate increase to 1.5 per cent.

Claude Wittmann, 54, who receives Ontario Disability Support Program, said delays to changes to social assistance are adding to the “alienation” he already feels. “I am really scared and exhausted from waiting and from not being heard,” he said
Claude Wittmann, 54, who receives Ontario Disability Support Program, said delays to changes to social assistance are adding to the “alienation” he already feels. “I am really scared and exhausted from waiting and from not being heard,” he said  (Richard Lautens / Toronto Star)

But instead of unveiling the reforms Nov. 8, as promised, MacLeod issued a statement Wednesday afternoon saying she looks forward to “sharing our plan” on Nov. 22.

Claude Wittmann, 54, who receives Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) benefits and works part-time as a bicycle mechanic, said the delay is just adding to the “alienation” he already feels on the system.

“I am really scared and exhausted from waiting and from not being heard,” he said in an interview. “I am afraid of workfare and more surveillance.”

Liberal MPP Marie-France Lalonde (Orléans) said people on social assistance “need answers.”

“We consulted for over two years on comprehensive reforms to social assistance, which MacLeod has scrapped,” Lalonde said. “She made a promise to come forward within 100 days, saying all the while that the best social program is a job, and now has delayed that announcement.”

“Social assistance cannot be taken lightly, and we need to know the plan now.”

The delay comes in the wake of news conferences, open letters and other public appeals urging the government to treat people who rely on social assistance with fairness, respect and dignity.

But despite MacLeod’s assurance her government is not planning to return to “workfare” programs like those implemented by the former Progressive Conservative government under premier Mike Harris in the late 1990s, people like Wittmann are worried.

Dr. Jonathon Herriot, co-chair of Health Providers Against Poverty, which submitted an open letter signed by more than 800 health-care providers, said he sees the worry in his patients.

“Just last week, I had a patient who suffers from mental health challenges, insomnia and anxiety who told me she hasn’t been sleeping because she was waiting for Nov. 8,” said Herriot a family doctor in Toronto. “Now it is going to be another two weeks of uncertainty, likely uncontrolled anxiety and poor sleep.”

MacLeod has criticized the previous Liberal government for perpetuating a system that traps people in a cycle of financial insecurity noting half of those who leave Ontario Works return, often within a year.

“Ontarians deserve a system where those with disabilities are treated with dignity and where hard work and commitment by recipients is met by empowerment and trust from their government,” she said in the statement Wednesday. “The best social circumstances are when those who are able, actively participate in the workforce.”

Laurie Monsebraaten is a Toronto-based reporter covering social justice. Follow her on Twitter: @lmonseb





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