TORONTO, Oct. 24, 2012 /CNW/ - Today the recommendations from the Commission for the Review of Social Assistance in Ontario were released. This is the first review of the system in 20 years.
"The current social assistance system is focused on surveillance and punishment. It rarely provides people in need with meaningful support or recognizes the specific barriers particular groups, including women, face," says Heather McGregor, YWCA Toronto CEO. "There are many good recommendations that, if implemented, will allow us to create a system that helps people succeed and live with dignity."
Leagh Pagel, a single mother currently in receipt of social assistance, says, "I am pleased that the Commissioners have put a strong emphasis on transforming the system so people can get real support. We need a system in which workers are not policing people, but rather supporting us. We want brighter futures."
YWCA Toronto is pleased that some recommendations address the particular needs and realities of women. "The recommendation that would allow women to maintain some of their child support payments and make the pursuit of child support voluntary is something for which we advocated. This would allow mothers to determine what is in the best interest of their children," says McGregor. "We work with women who are sometimes hesitant to pursue child support because the stress and strain on the relationship with the father is great; pursuing child support might jeopardize the relationship the children have with the father. Giving women the choice and an incentive is the right way to go."
Under the current rules, a couple is deemed to be in a spousal relationship after only three months. The Commissioners have recommended that a spousal relationship be defined once the couple has been living together for one year, which is consistent with the Income Tax Act. "This is another important change, and one for which we advocated, because it does not force women into a spousal relationship after only three months of cohabitation. We work with women who are shocked to find out that Ontario Works defines their casual relationship with their boyfriend as a spousal relationship. And many women find that once they are forced into that spousal relationship, their boyfriends start exerting a lot of financial and other control. This recommendation better allows women to maintain autonomy," says McGregor.
The Commission made a number of recommendations regarding income adequacy and benefit structure. "I am glad the Commissioners have recognized that people need enough money to have a decent standard of living. I am always choosing between paying the rent or eating," says Pagel. "And I have to be able to afford the basic tools I need to find work. Before I got my current job, I spent so much of my time looking for work, but didn't have a phone to call or receive calls from potential employers."
"We are also very encouraged by the Commissioners' emphasis on improving the quality of training and employment services available to people on social assistance," says McGregor. "Allowing people to keep more of their employment income is key. Equally important is giving people individualized support that addresses their particular challenges and realities so that may secure decent and appropriate employment."
"There are a number of steps that can and should be taken immediately," stresses McGregor. "Social assistance cuts across ministries. It's about income, it's about training, it's about health. We need a way to institutionalize social assistance reform and are very interested in the potential role of a permanent Commissioner."
"The need for reform is so great that all political parties and Ontarians needs to carefully consider this report," says McGregor.
SOURCE: YWCA Toronto
For further information:
Sarah Blackstock, Director of Advocacy & Communications, 416-892-6845