Report calls for increase in welfare rates

  • December 17, 2008
{mosimage}TORONTO  - One way to stimulate the economy, according to some poverty advocacy groups, would be to increase welfare rates.

Clarence Lochhead, executive director of the Vanier Institute of the Family , said as politicians and economists consider ways of dealing with the economic crisis, they should take a look at increasing social assistance payments.

“Every marginal dollar that people receive generally does get spent and put back into the economy,” Lochhead told The Catholic Register from Ottawa.

The Vanier Institute, established in 1965 under the patronage of Governor General Georges Vanier and his wife, Pauline, is a charitable organization dedicated to promoting the well-being of Canadian families.

Jim Paddon, vice-president of St. Vincent de Paul Society's Ontario Regional Council , said higher welfare payments would not only be good for the economy, but it would also bring to light the human aspect of Canada's social welfare program.

“We're there to see Christ in the poor. We understand that folks living in poverty deserve the same respect that any of us do,” said Paddon from Chatham, Ont.

According to a Dec. 10 National Council of Welfare report, welfare incomes for most of the 1.7-million recipients across Canada have dropped significantly over the past 20 years and currently fall far below the poverty line. A single individual's welfare income in Ontario fell from $11,140 in 1992 to $7,204 last year. Meanwhile, a lone parent with one child saw his or her welfare income cut by about $6,400 from a high of $21,931 in 1992 to a low of $16,439 last year. In Canada, the poverty line last year for a single person was at $15,179 and $21,251 for one parent with one child.

The report studied provincial and federal assistance for people on welfare from 1986 to 2007. It said welfare incomes are increasingly inadequate to meet basic needs.

“Welfare recipients are among the poorest of the poor and have to subsist on incomes far below what most people would consider reasonable,” it said.

“They are so  impoverished that they cannot access the resources that many of us take for granted — resources such as adequate housing, employment and recreational opportunities.”  

So far, at least one province is re-thinking welfare incomes. On Dec. 4, the Ontario government unveiled its poverty reduction plan with a pledge to review the social assistance program. The Ontario Child Benefit will be increased from $600 to $1,100 by 2011. And people who are on welfare who attend college or university can keep their part-time earnings.

But on a national scale, it has yet to be seen if this plan will have political resonance in Ottawa. The federal government has not stated whether poverty reduction will form part of its economic stimulus plan. The much-anticipated federal budget is set to be released on Jan. 26, a day that the Conservative government could fall if the Opposition votes against the budget. Opposition leaders say they have lost confidence in the Harper government because Finance Minister Jim Flaherty failed to include an economic stimulus plan in his Nov. 27 economic statement.

Meanwhile, Jill Carr-Harris of the national ecumenical social justice group KAIROS said the recent national welfare report shows how Canada's welfare system has become “dehumanized” by not putting people as its central focus. Raising welfare incomes up to at least the poverty line could help pull children out of poverty, she said.

“There needs to be a wake-up call on welfare incomes.”

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