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Ford attacks the poor with further cuts to social assistance

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Image: Mary Crandall/Flickr

Three recent Ford political maneuvers have put the poor at risk for an even deeper cut. While not in the Mike Harris range of cuts, Ford does seem to be channeling Harris' spirit of kicking people when they are already down.

While people were relatively happy with the three per cent increase in social assistance promised by the Liberal government -- happy in the way that desperate people get happy when table scraps are thrown their way -- with Wynne's defeat in the Ontario elections, that three per cent was never enshrined in gold, so Ford has cut the increase by half. Reducing social assistance to a mere 1.5 per cent meant ripping approximately $150 million out of the hands of the most vulnerable in Ontario.

Ford's government is also winding down the basic income pilot project, which was supposed to last for three years.

The program was launched in April 2017 and reached full enrollment with 4,000 participants a year later. Qualifying residents for this pilot project ranged from people in small towns to larger cities, including Thunder Bay, Hamilton, Lindsay, Brantford, and Brant County.

Basic income refers to a fixed income that people receive from the government and that applies to every resident, regardless of earned income.

In the Ontario basic income pilot, residents within the target areas could apply if they were between 18 and 64 years of old age, and lived on less than $34,000 individually or $48,000 as a couple. Single participants received up to $16,989 per year, and couples could recieve up to $24,027.

The program was different from Ontario Works, which serves as a bridge to help people between jobs and looking for work. Ontario's basic income pilot aimed to raise people to a living wage. The province says that 70 per cent of the participants have a job of some kind.

The Ford government's move to cancel the project, despite Ford's initial promise to maintain it, demonstrates just how little the current Ontario government cares about its citizens. The government does not plan to replace the pilot with an alternative. Social Services Minister Lisa MacLeod even admitted that her government broke their election promise not to end the pilot project.

Under Ford, there will be more sweeping changes to social assistance, which will be announced within the next 100 days, bringing more uncertainty and anxiety to Ontario's working class. Important reforms to meet the needs of Indigenous communities have also been put on hold.

According to Income Security Advocacy Centre (ISAC), the scheduled the per cent increase to social assistance passed by the former Liberal government was inadequate, but it would also have marked the second time in over 50 years that social assistance income would have risen above the rate of inflation. Ford's changes to the increase mean social assistance income will once again plunge below the rate of inflation, making social assistance recipients even poorer.

"People on social assistance continue to live well below the poverty line and would have used the additional much-needed money to pay for basic necessities," says Jackie Esmonde, a staff lawyer with ISAC.

Minister MacLeod also cut or canceled other changes that were slated for this fall, including reducing the amount of money that people on Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support Program can keep in their pockets while working. Minister MacLeod also made cuts to other allowances, including the guide dog benefit for people with vision impairments and the advanced age allowance for older Ontarians.

Other changes include: the cancellation of a change to the definition of "spouse" from three months of co-habitation to three years; the cancellation of full basic benefits to people who receive housing and food from the same provider, including many people living with disabilities; and the cancellation of increased support to people living in Northern Ontario, where daily living costs are higher.

Clearly, in order to give Ontario residents their promised "buck-a-beer", the government thinks it needs to trim spending in areas of social assistance where the most vulnerable people hang by a thread of decency.

While we don't know what other cuts Minister MacLeod will announce, communities need to brace themselves for the worst and unite in solidarity with others to defend against these attacks on the poor.

Image: Mary Crandall/Flickr

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