Raise the Rates. The ‘Put Food in the Budget’ Campaign seeks to put crucial dollars in the hands of social assistance recipients.
Ahead of Provincial Minister Chris Ballard’s ‘Basic Income Pilot Project’ consultations in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, ‘Put Food in the Budget’ and the Algoma Legal Aid Clinic, invited participants to attend a free workshop to consider the issue of basic income and social assistance rates in Ontario.
Two interactive and participatory sessions were held at The Delta Waterfront on Wednesday, Jan. 18th, 2017. Both the morning and afternoon sessions were very well attended, with extra chairs being added.
Mike Balkwill, Provincial Organizer, ‘Put Food in the Budget’ Campaign invited participants to consider the complex issues around designing a basic income model as well as the current state of social assistance in Ontario.
Balkwill would like to see social assistance rates raised across the province immediately. While a basic income pilot project would increase social assistance rates for a small group of people, in a demography and geography yet to be decided, Balkwill and others, including Legal Aid Clinics of Ontario are concerned that the provincial Liberal government of the present day is not serious about raising basic income for all of Ontarians struggling through poverty.
“The Ontario Liberal government did not restore the cuts (former Ontario Premier) Mike Harris made to social assistance, and every year the increase to social assistance has been less than the rate of inflation.” stated Balkwill.
“The ‘Put Food in the Budget’ Campaign has been working on the issue of raising social assistance rates in Ontario for the past 8 years.” he said. “Our campaign is made up of a steering committee, based in Toronto, and includes individuals receiving social assistance.” Balkwill stated that the campaign is active in 40 communities across Ontario.
“The Ontario Liberal government approved two poverty reduction strategies in the past 8 years, neither of which increased social assistance rates. It is time to end years of stalling, and break the cycle of consultation on poverty reduction.”
“In the (basic income) pilot project that could be done in various yet-to-be determined communities, the Minister (MPP Chris Ballard, Housing & Poverty Reduction Strategy) is recommending that the project start in June, 2017. We are looking at 3-5 years before the project would be rolled out to the rest of the province; And that is based on the success of the pilot project.” Balkwill added “There will be some trickiness to designing a basic income model.”
Workshop participants represented a broad cross section of individuals in the community. Social justice advocates, Ontario Works employees, social assistance recipients, through both ODSP and Ontario Works, university and college students, legal aid workers, food bank staff, and a whole host of other interested residents in Sault Ste. Marie, engaged in thought-provoking and meaningful dialogue about social assistance rates in Ontario and potential basic income models.
“It is important for us to say to the Minister, whatever you do with the pilot project, we need to see that social assistance rates for all are raised now, significantly. We can’t wait 5 years or even 1 year. The budget coming out in March is the last budget for this Liberal (provincial) government. The next election is in June 2018.”
Balkwill stated, “Whatever increases they pass in this budget, will happen, and whatever is proposed in a future budget, we won’t know.” Balkwill stated that the Sault is in a unique opportunity, with an impending by-election to make poverty reduction an election issue.
“We are a wealthy society. Two families (the Weston’s and The Thompsons) own as much wealth as 11 million Canadians.” A reently released ‘Oxfam’ report says the wealth of billionaire businessmen David Thomson and Galen Weston Sr. equals that of about 11 million Canadians.
“In Toronto, for example, there are 115,000 millionaires with over 145,000 children living in poverty. Our tax structure has been all about taxing the middle and working class. Taxing the rich and redistributing resources to the poor would go a long way to reducing poverty in our society.”
There were approximately 80 people in attendance for the Basic Income Pilot Project Consultations, which took place in the evening, Wed. Jan.18th, 2017, The Delta Waterfront’s main ballroom.
An emergency resolution was read by ‘Put Food in the Budget’ Campaign advocates during the consultations, and can be found here: http://www.putfoodinthebudget.ca/
‘Whereas Senator Hugh Segal said: “It is hard to conclude that the income support that is now available for those living in poverty is adequate in any meaningful way”; Be it resolved that the Government of Ontario immediately raise the Ontario works rate for a single individual to $1,320 per month and raise ODSP rates by a least $500.00 per month.’