Government Commissions, royal or otherwise, can be a good thing. Cynics might suggest that the only time we have commissions is when things go so wrong the “powers that be” don’t really know what to do, or that it is a way for the “powers that be” to stall. It makes it look like something is being done when nothing is being done. A more favourable viewpoint is that commissions are actually an important part of democracy, that people can get their say, that somehow collective wisdom makes it to the corridors of power. And lastly, there is the view that if you choose not to participate, you have no right to complain.
The Commission for the Review of Social Assistance in Ontario is coming to London on June 29, 2001 for two community consultations at the London Convention Centre.
There are bound to be many suggestions for the Commissioners. The caliber of leadership at the many social service agencies in London is impressive. I am convinced that there will be many useful suggestions and recommendations.
To get the ball rolling, here are 3 general areas that need improvement in the Ontario Works (OW) Program:
- Encourage financial stability and rethink the whole concept of eligibility.
- Increase benefits and close the gap between benefits and the cost of living.
- Remove disincentives and support the gaining and maintaining of employment.
To keep that ball rolling, here are 12 specific suggestions:
- Increase the dollar amount a person can have in savings and still be eligible for Ontario Works from $585 to $5,000.
- Allow people to save for retirement by exempting RRSPs and life insurance policies from the list of assets included in savings.
- Allow participants to have one vehicle, regardless of value.
- Establish an advisory board to review the cost of living in different parts of the province.
- Give people the maximum shelter benefits, allowing them to make their own decisions about how best to use the money to meet their needs.
- Provide a food supplement of up to $100 per month for participants.
- Add a mandatory milk allowance for children up to 2 years of age.
- Give all adults receiving OW a transportation allowance.
- Allow the discretion to deduct only the net amount (after tax) of other government payments, not the gross amount (pre-tax), from the OW benefit.
- Allow individuals who gain employment to keep 50% of what they earn in the first three months of being on OW.
- Allow people to keep 50% of what they earn from self employed earnings.
- Look at loans on a case by case basis, and treat loans as a liability instead of an asset.
These are all great ideas, and they are not mine. In fact, they are not new. They are taken from the City of London’s Child and Youth Network position paper recommending immediate policy changes to the Ontario Works program.
When were these immediate policy changes recommended you ask? Good question! They were submitted to Minister Laurel Broton, The Cabinet Committee on Poverty Reduction, in December 2009.
Contrary to my comments above, I cannot claim any credit for getting this ball rolling. This ball has been rolling for some time!
Peter Rozeluk, Executive Director