Understanding the Ontario backlash against Canada’s first poverty reduction strategy

On the afternoon of August 17, 2018, the advisory committee on poverty reduction to federal Minister Jean Yves Duclos received an hour long briefing from the Minister on the soon to be released poverty reduction strategy. It was a key opportunity for the 17 of us to discover how much influence we had in the drafting of the final report. I was returning to Scarborough from the Queens International Institute on Social Policy (QIISP) and had pulled off the 401, west of Deseronto and parked in a verdant cul de sac on the lands of the Mohawk people, the Tyendinaga First Nation. It was a good setting to listen and respond to the Minister. As Minister Duclos briefed us, a slow smile formed on my face as I began to…
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The hierarchy of deservedness continues

In July 1974, The GAINS program began in Ontario that guaranteed a single senior and a single person with a disability of $50 a week or $216.67 a month “Ontario’s Guaranteed Annual Income System (GAINS). I am proposing a new Guaranteed Annual Income System, to be known as GAINS, for the elderly, blind and disabled in Ontario. The GAINS program will guarantee an income of $50 a week for all single persons and $100 a week for all married couples who are aged 65 and over, and for those who are blind or disabled and receive Family Benefits. This represents a guaranteed annual cash income of $5,200 a year for a married couple and $2,600 for a single person. In future, the guaranteed income levels will be increased periodically in order…
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Almost forever PC: David Croll & Mitch Hepburn were the only Liberals to ever enact social assistance legislation in Ontario

This past week, I have been reflecting on my 50th year of working in social services in Ontario. I started as a summer student washing walls in an old age home in the first week of July 1968. This was the Department of Social and Family Services and the Minister was John Yaremko (who I later interviewed at the age of 90 in 2005). The place was Lachlan Lodge on Elm Street in Toronto (now the YWCA) and it turned out to have been re-purposed many times from one of Toronto’s earliest poorhouses to a House of Industry, then a House of Refuge for the aged, to its ‘modern’ incarnation as a Home for the Aged in the late 1940’s. When I was there, there were still bars on the…
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The App Gap[1]

At home and in the community, it has become almost impossible for people of modest means to apply for basic benefits.   For many people with disabilities, advanced age, or who have been out of work, they need basic income security to survive. Fifty years ago, there was no ‘online’ and the cost of applying for benefits was the cost of a postage stamp or a visit to an office. Fast forward to 2018 and we have moved to a supposedly more efficient and accessible online approach. In reality, online applications multiply barriers, rather than remove them. This “App Gap” speaks to the inequities that lie in these systems, and that prevent almost a quarter million Canadians on low-income from accessing resource they are eligible for. This past December, Wellesley…
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Apple: You’ve lost your way!

I seldom if ever blog about a personal consumer experience. However, I have been very much moved by a recent customer service experience with the world’s largest company: Apple. Like many who own the iPhone 6, I experienced a huge loss in loading speeds for applications and email a couple of months ago. Like others. I blamed slow speeds on my WIFI internet or on my phone company. But the loading speed was bad wherever I went and I started to suspect something. It turned out that everyone was suspecting something. Applications that used to take seconds were taking upwards of a minute. I personally experienced loading times of 30 times what they had been just a week before. Facebook, Marketwatch, email; you name it. Customer service failure #1: Apple…
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Ontario’s Roadmap for Income Security Reform: Can a slow start win the race?

Last year, I joined a group of experts to draw up a roadmap for income security reform in the province of Ontario. Some were knowledgeable in a field of inquiry or a profession: executives, advocates, lawyers, professors, administrators and a doctor. Others were experts in their lived experience of poverty. We came together to provide Minister Helena Jaczek and the government a way forward using the wider lens of income security. This was not a review narrowly focused on social assistance or welfare. We generated a ten year plan - together with staff of the Ministry -  to improve program outcomes while paying attention to human rights, adequacy of benefits and work incentives. We knew that it would be a long time before a basic income or guaranteed annual income…
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Out of the business after 125 years: Ontario municipalities no longer sharing costs of public assistance to the poor

  In 1793, no poor law was introduced into Upper Canada with the settlement of Muddy York. After all, it was supposed to be a Utopia. Forty Four years later in 1836, two years after the reform of the British Poor Law, the first declaration of public responsibility for poverty was made, 2 years after the incorporation of Toronto as a city. Toronto continued to pay for relief but only by subsidizing charities. The façade of Lachlan Lodge at 87 Elm Street (now the YWCA) records the date of the establishment of the first large Poor House in the City: 1837. In 1848, it was re-branded as a House of Industry or “Work House” also recorded on the façade. Nineteen years later, Confederation clarified nothing for municipalities on the social welfare…
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How long does advocacy take? The only haul is the ‘long haul’ and there is no such thing as ‘drive-by’ advocacy  

  SOURCE: YouTube.com (watch the video) STATION: n/a PROGRAM: n/a TIME: 3:00 p.m. REFERENCE: Speech Toronto Housing Network DATE: July 18, 2009 LENGTH: 00:09:35 TRANSCRIPT: Stapleton Speech Toronto Housing Network Forum Margaret Hancock: John Stapleton from the Metcalf Foundation and St. Christopher House. JOHN STAPLETON: What I'd like to do is have you think of yourself going into a time machine, and you're going to go back 77 years to 1932. And if you could go in that time machine and think of what Toronto looked like in 1932, about five blocks from here, right at this time of year - there was during the month of July of 1932 a Royal Commission on Direct Relief run by Ontario's top businessman. At that time, it was a fellow by the…
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Ontario Roadmap for Income Security Reform proposes redress in first 3 years

Just 29 years ago, the Social Assistance Review Committee delivered its 674 page report called Transitions on September 6, 1988. It was groundbreaking as it devised other programs that would replace the role of welfare. That only partially came to pass with child benefits and the small Working Income Tax Benefit. In the years from 1988 and 2012, there were five other significant reports to provincial governments concerning social assistance reform concentrating on the 40% of the poor living on social assistance: Back on Track: 1991 Time for Action: 1992 Turning Point: 1993 Deb Matthews Report: 2004 Brighter Prospects: 2012 On November 2, 2017, the Income Security Reform Working Group released its 188 page report named A Roadmap for Income Security Reform. We propose social assistance rate increases that will…
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New social assistance asset test welcome news

The 50 year experiment forcing welfare recipients and low income persons with disabilities into financial destitution finally appears to be over. In Charles Sousa’s Budget 2017, asset limits for single welfare recipients will be raised from $2,500 to $10,000 for a single person and to $11,000 for a lone parent with two children. Persons with disabilities will have their asset limits raised from $5,000 to $40,000 for singles and from $7,500 to $50,000 for couples. The amount families will be able to donate to family members receiving assistance will go from $6,000 a year to $10,000. This is welcome news after the initial moves in 2013 that quadrupled asset limits for single welfare recipients from the equivalent of one month’s assistance (about $650) and allowed families to donate money to…
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