Improving social assistance programs and the lives of social assistance recipients, was the focus of a forum in Tillsonburg on Friday.
Community Living Tillsonburg hosted a meeting to discuss recommendations put forth in a final report on social assistance review. The report, entitled Brighter Prospects: Transforming Social Assistance in Ontario, came out last fall (October) and was lead by commissioners Frances Lankin and Munir Sheikh. The review was established as part of the Province’s Poverty Reduction Strategy. The main goal of the review was to identify ways to remove barriers and help people into employment.
In attendance at Friday’s meeting in Tillsonburg were Haldimand Norfolk MPP Toby Barrett, Tillsonburg Mayor John Lessif, community organizations, service providers, and recipients of social assistance.
“We’ve been holding these sessions to talk about the recommendations and try to share our issues and concerns from the perspective of people with disabilities and those on Ontario Works. To give them the opportunity as well to learn about the recommendations and discuss how they would like to see the recommendations either implemented or changed,” said Marty Graf, chief executive officer of Community Living Tillsonurg.
Haldimand Norfolk MPP Toby Barrett, the Progressive Conservative critic for the Ministry of Community and Social Services, presented his white paper and spoke to a crowd of approximately 35-40 people that included workers from Community Living Tillsonburg, the Multi-Service Centre, the Salvation Army Tillsonburg, Ontario Works and ODSP recipients.
“There was good discussion, people are concerned,” said Graf. “Their incomes are at the low end of the scale and there were expectations that they would benefit from these recommendations.
“We believe there will be improvements - once the recommendations are worked through. The government and all three parties recognize that we need all citizens to be able to participate in the economy.”
Tillsonburg Mayor, John Lessif thought it was an important meeting for service providers and residents on social assistance.
“It’s the citizens that live in Tillsonburg that are impacted on what the provincial government does in respect to assisting those in need in our community,” he said. “I attended to listen to the concerns, to listen to Mr. Barrett’s plan (on prospective changes). It’s good to know there’s a pro-activeness taking place at the provincial level to better the system that currently is in place. There are too many citizens living day to day and just surviving.”
Toby Barrett said the forum was productive and heard a cross section of concerns and questions regarding the recommendations in the final report.
“There’s been a number of papers that’s come out this year, the Don Drummond report, and certainly the Frances Lankin and Munir Sheikh report. Tim Hudak and I just brought out a report last week,” said Barrett. “All of the reports stress the importance of doing everything we can to get people who are either on welfare or disability, back into the workforce, working part-time or volunteering.”
In doing so, it would improve the lives of social assistance recipients in a number of ways and provide more opportunities.
“I think everyone agrees that the best social program is a job, prosperity defeats poverty,” said Barrett. “Much of that lies with training and with education. We feel the Ontario government could be working a lot more closely with the community college system, they have an excellent record in getting people back to the workforce.”
Barrett’s white paper, entitled Welfare to Work was released last week and as the PC critic for the Ministry of Community and Social Services, Barrett came to Tillsonburg to hear from area workers and recipients regarding recommendations in the final report.
“So we put it out there for discussion – probably the biggest discussion today was the proposal to integrate the disability program with the Ontario Works program at the municipal level,” explained Barrett. “I was very pleased that the mayor was here today, and of course municipalities want to make sure that things are planned out, that there’s lots of discussion about this and most importantly, it has to help recipients but also, it’s very important that this does not affect the property tax payer,” he added.
Barrett noted that they would like to see some of the recommendations from the Lankin/Sheikh report put in place, along with some changes noted in his white paper, Paths to Prosperity: Welfare to Work.
“So we’ve taken some of these recommendations where for example, ODSP programs are integrated with the welfare programs - that would be much more efficient,” said Barrett. “And it would provide more opportunities for people who are on disability or Ontario Works, to get a chance to plug into the job programs that are available at the local level, as well as other resources such as housing, child care, and of course, more opportunities for post secondary education.”
For more information on Toby Barrett’s white paper: Paths to Prosperity, visit www.ontariopc.com