In the dog days of summer, the new provincial government made three significant changes to social assistance programs that will directly impact more than one million Ontario citizens.
First, they cut in half a 3% increase to social assistance rates that was due to come into effect in September of this year. There were a number of changes to regulations that were also scheduled to come into force this fall and they have been “paused.” Many experts believe that the word “paused” really is a less direct way to say “cancelled.”
Certainly, the scheduled increase, which had been passed by the previous government, was inadequate. However, according to the Income Security Advocacy Centre (ISAC), it would have been only the second time in almost a quarter century that social assistance income would have risen above the rate of inflation.
A second change involved the 3-year basic income pilot program, which started last year. It has been cancelled and will be “wound down.”
Lisa MacLeod, Minister of Children, Community and Social Services said that “the program isn’t doing what it’s intended to be doing.”
Many readers will be aware that this program is operating in just three areas in Ontario. Hamilton is one of them. As we write at North End Breezes’ deadline, we don’t know and, more importantly, program participants don’t know what exactly “wound down” means.
Macleod’s comments run counter to anecdotal evidence that the program is making a difference in people’s lives.
“It is not just about eliminating poverty. It is about thriving. I have thrived since I’ve been on it,” Hamilton’s James Cullier said in a Queen’s Park press conference on August 8th.
Pilot projects are initiated to test ideas and provide empirical evidence. A Hamilton based research group had been contracted to do the program evaluation. That won’t happen now.
And, as Sheila Regehr, Chair of the Basic Income Canada Network, pointed out in that Queen’s Park press conference, “it is too early for follow up surveys so there can be no evidence to base a decision on to say that this program is not working.”
The third announcement had to do with a review of the whole social assistance system which, we are told, will be completed in 100 days.
Two comprehensive examinations of the income security system have been done in recent years. A Roadmap for Change put together last year was well received and had many of its recommendations adopted.
That all changed with the June 7th election and Minister MacLeod’s summer announcements.
Bob Wood is a Community Worker at the Hamilton Community Legal Clinic.