Ontario will take a deeper look at a major revamping of its welfare system after a report called for broad changes to help the disadvantaged into jobs, Community and Social Services Minister Madeleine Meilleur said Monday.
The review will take 12 to 18 months, she said, with the NDP noting that means the issues of helping the poor are effectively on hold until after the October 2011 election.
“The government is going to spin this for 16 months until the election,” warned New Democrat MPP Michael Prue (Beaches-East York).
If the Liberals were serious about revamping welfare, Prue added, they would just get on with the job after Monday’s report from the government-appointed Social Assistance Review Advisory Counsel, including Gail Nyberg of the Daily Bread Food Bank.
The panel headed by Nyberg said Ontario needs “bold” welfare reforms because the current system “traps people in poverty” and doesn’t do enough to help recipients into the workplace. One solution could be offering dental and pharmacare to all low-income Ontarians, because people on welfare get that aid and are reluctant to leave it for jobs without benefits, the panel said.
“All of it has been said and said and said again . . . it’s been the subject of debate for years,” Prue told reporters.
Meilleur said she was “impressed” by the report and said it’s worth taking a year or more to delve deeper into the problems with welfare and possible solutions, as the panel recommended.
“At one point a major program like social assistance has to go through a complete review,” she added, praising the focus on helping welfare recipients find work. “That’s what I want, too.”
Some social welfare groups said the report didn’t do enough to help people feeling the welfare cash crunch now.
“A bold vision for tomorrow does not put food on the table today,” said Marvyn Novick, a retired social policy professor at Ryerson University, of the Social Planning Network of Ontario.
He accused the government of ignoring the disadvantaged despite its much-touted anti-poverty strategy, which has already put on hold a promised plan giving dental care to low-income adults.
“People who do not know where their next meal is coming from do not have the luxury of time,” said Peter Clutterbuck of the Social Planning Network of Ontario, which is calling for a $100 monthly “healthy food” supplement for people on social assistance.