The Bloch report, a 2017 report authored by St. Michael’s Hospital family physician and researcher Dr. Gary Bloch, included a series of measures to simplify getting welfare and remove barriers to welfare recipients working while receiving benefits. Photo by Michael Swan

ISARC makes their case for welfare reform

By 
  • November 5, 2018

As Ontario Minister of Children, Community and Social Services Lisa MacLeod gets set to reveal her welfare reform package on Nov. 8, the people who run Ontario’s food banks, shelters and volunteer supports for poor families are urging the provincial government to restore the basic income pilot project.

They also want MacLeod to keep the welfare streamlining recommendations of a 2017 report authored by St. Michael’s Hospital family physician and researcher Dr. Gary Bloch.

“We cannot avert our eyes, to become unseeing, and later claim that we did not know about the dire circumstances in which so many Ontarians live,” said a letter to MacLeod from the Interfaith Social Assistance Reform Coalition. “A crisis of marginalization is upon us and we need to respond, not only with compassion, but also with policy and programs.”

ISARC, which includes representatives from Ontario’s bishops, Catholic Charities of Toronto, the Sisters of Providence and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, are urging MacLeod to “give heed to the wise counsel of those citizens who produced the report, Income Security: A Roadmap for Change.” Bolstered by research at St. Michael’s Hospital, the report endorsed the basic income pilot launched in April 2017 by the previous Liberal government, but cancelled March this year by the incoming Progressive Conservative government.

The Bloch report included a series of measures to simplify getting welfare and remove barriers to welfare recipients working while receiving benefits.

“Constant reliance on emergency supports and stop-gap measures not only destroys dignity for those who must live with that instability, but costs all of us financially as a community,” said the ISARC letter to MacLeod. “Fractured families, health consequences, lost productivity and lost opportunities to participate in civic society are just some of the costs.”

There are 960,000 Ontarians who rely on Ontario Works, the Ontario Disability Support Program and other provincial programs. The total bill is now just north of $10 billion. There is a wide expectation that MacLeod’s announcement on Thursday will seek to cut those costs.

"I think people will be pleasantly surprised next week," MacLeod told the CBC in an interview. "Our government is very compassionate and understands that the services we provide are for Ontario's most vulnerable." 

Parallel to ISARC’s letter to MacLeod, the faith leaders of ISARC launched a letter writing campaign to oppose Conservative legislation that rolls back Liberal labour reforms. The government’s bill, already through its second reading, cancels plans to raise the minimum wage to $15 in January,  cuts the minimum number of sick days, scales back health and safety enforcement and makes it harder for smaller businesses to be unionized.

“Failing to increase the minimum wage means many workers will have less money to spend in their local communities, adversely affecting their families and local businesses,” reads a sample letter to MPPs provided by ISARC.

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