Time to put Ontario’s social welfare back to work

“Labour is the universal lot of Man,
but he who is willing to work will get by.” ~ Hesiod 700 B.C.

By MPP Toby Barrett
People in Ontario are hard-wired to work – we all like to work, we know how to work and want to work, whether in a formalized work setting or not. Short sighted government policy can be to blame for some people becoming lackadaisical and spending time finding ways to not work.

While, I often hear complaints and see evidence highlighting the continued development of a generous, cradle-to-grave welfare state, the truth is, there is no compassion in fostering dependence instead of building self-respect and self-reliance; there is no fairness in wasting human potential by not acting to fix what we know is not working.

As Opposition Critic for the Ministry of Community and Social Services for the past year. I’ve had the opportunity to consider the future of our necessary support services and the need for transformation and revitalization for cost-effective and more efficient use of scarce resources.

Through meetings and conversations with Ministry staff, service providers and clients alike there is a clear need to refocus and concentrate provincial social welfare services on effective support of the old, the sick, the disabled and those in real need. As must be done in all areas of a government rife with wasteful spending, any required reform should be based on the principles of eliminating waste and unnecessary bureaucracy, better service delivery, accountability, and asking more of recipients.

As many know, social assistance in Ontario is dominated by two programs: Ontario Works (OW) is intended for those who need temporary financial assistance; and, the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) intended to help people with disabilities live as independently as possible and to reduce or eliminate disability-related barriers to employment.

Ontario’s welfare caseload has increased by 35 per cent since 2008. Meanwhile, the number of people on ODSP (Ontario Disability Support Program) has been increasing steadily over the past 10 years and is currently growing by about five per cent a year.

It is time to rebuild Ontario’s social welfare system around work and security. Work for those who can; security for those who cannot – not government security for all.

We have traditional values of ingenuity, individual responsibility, thrift and living within ones means. It’s time to tap Ontario’s inherent social, economic and fiscal conservatism and work ethic.

The best social program is a job and any reforms must guarantee a situation where recipients are better off working, contributing their full potential, and helping to lift themselves and their families out of poverty. Any job is a good job.

The vision remains – an effective and affordable service system which supports and invests in families and communities to be one that is accountable, where adults are as independent as possible, and a society where children are safe and where support is provided to people most in need.