Monthly income for a single person on Ontario Works: $585
I get to see first hand how the people in our fair City of London Ontario deal with poverty and Ontario Works. Now here is my main issue with public perception, Ontario Works, and dignity. If If you are poor and on OW the current system does not allow you to have any dignity. This is because the current system is set up on the following principles:
1. In order to receive Ontario Works you must have spent every dime and liquidated every asset you have.
2. You must justify everything you do with any money you have all of the time.
3. You cannot have any savings over 2000.00
4. You must get off Ontario Works ASAP
Point 1 You must liquidate your RRSPs, your savings, sell assets, before you can qualify for OW. This makes no sense at all because if you liquidate your assets and live of them you put yourself closer to the bottom of the hole that is poverty. Assets mean stability and stability is something that doesn’t happen for many people in poverty.
On to point 2 “You must justify everything you do with any money you have all of the time”. This means that no matter how small or large an amount you come into that is not derived from Ontario Works it is highly likely that this will be deducted and in some cases deducted months after the fact. Now you may be thinking “ well those people should have to justify this. They’re getting a free ride after all”.
Why do we think of it as a free ride? Why is there an attitude of “Why should they get this and I don’t?” like it’s a 2 year old crying because they didn’t get the same thing the other 2 year old got at Christmas. Think about this, every month you must go down to an Ontario Works office and justify how you spend your money. All of your money. You have to provide receipts for your hydro, your clothing, your transit or gas, provide your banking balances,anything at all that is considered income. How many of you if I asked would open up your banking accounts to my scrutiny? You would be outraged. But if your on OW it’s a regular occurrence.This was recently in the Globe and Mail “There are hundreds of rules. She has been sent away because she was missing one document. She has had to justify a no-contact order against her son’s father and had a caseworker scrutinize every detail of her bank account. Every interrogation “makes you feel very low to the ground,” she says. And the worst, she says, is that you learn quickly “that you can’t count on anything.”
Point 3. You cannot have any savings over 2000.00. Now this may not look like a big deal but if your trying to get off OW 2 grand does not go along way. Just take into account moving expenses, first and last months rent, clothing, and and average of rent of $560.00 for a bachelor apartment then 2 grand isn’t so much. There was an a woman on OW who received a small inheritance of 5000.00 . Now normally that would be great news but because she was on OW she had to spend all that within the month, provide the receipts on what she spent it on, or lose her benefits. She wanted to put that into an RESP for her children but the rules of OW would not allow it. This makes no sense at all but is not untypical.
Point 4 “ You must get off Ontario Works ASAP” . So this means that you are expected to get off OW as soon as possible. A good thing right? Yes it is a good thing but remember the previous point of not having more than 2 grand in assets. This makes it difficult to get off. Also if you do something like get a student loan, highly unlikely because your credit is likely in the toilet, it would be deducted from your OW. So your essentially stuck.
In Manitoba the federal and provincial governments came together in the 70’s to do a minimum income experiment. The trail was stopped in 1978 for political reasons but recently a professor in Manitoba has a look at the program and again and found some interesting conclusions.From the CBC: “”We found that, overall, hospitalizations in Dauphin declined relative to the control group,” said Evelyn Forget, professor of community health science at the University of Manitoba. “We also looked at accidents and injuries, and they also declined. You can argue that accident and injury hospitalizations are strongly related to poverty.” and further “”Hospitalizations for mental health issues were down significantly,” she said, adding that teenagers stayed in school longer as a result of the initiative.”
We should do this nation wide and eliminate the inefficient and dehumanizing system we currently have. We should offer a no strings attached, that means you don’t have to divulge or justify everything in your bank account our house, minimum income guarantee for everyone in Canada and it should be enough that families and individuals do not have to got to the food bank and other charities every month. This will have a direct economic benefit to local economies, provide stability for our most fragile and at risk community members and raise more people out of poverty. From the Globe and Mail:”In general, people spend the money on food and their children, and invest a portion of what remains toward improving their incomes. In a region in Namibia with an unconditional basic income grant, child malnutrition dropped from 42 per cent to 10, and school dropouts dropped to almost zero”
I know some Ontario Works workers and they are good people on the whole. They are over worked and the case load has gone up in London by a huge amount in the last couple of years. : From Ontario Works 2010 Participant Profile for London:
• 2010 caseload expected to be
11% bigger than the 2009
• Almost half are single individuals
and 36% are families with children
• Average time on assistance is
almost two years with half being
on assistance 15 months or
• The average age of the applicant
is 35 years old, with half of
applicants being 33 years or older
• 54% report having obtained
grade 12 or higher
• 86% rent from the private
• Three quarters are
• Most live in postal code area
N5V, N5W, N5Y and N5Z
which correspond roughly to
Carling, Glen Cairn, East
London, and Argyle planning
Over the past four years, the caseload has grown by 47%
What I know from working with some of the most disadvantaged in our city is that they are asked to justify what they spend their money on day in and day our. I think we need to be led by our better angels and decide that if people need the help then we as a society are obliged to provide that help. We need to do this not only for their benefit but for the benefit of the entire community so we don’t have something as shameful as 1 in 4 children in London living in poverty and we no longer have to treat the poor like they are a burden but treat them with the same respect we expected to be treated ourselves.