WELFARE REFORM IN ONTARIO:
WHAT COULD AND SHOULD HEALTH PROMOTERS DO?
by Sherrie Tingley
On May 1st 1998, Bill 142 - (Social Assistance Reform Act or SARA) came into effect. SARA represents the most fundamental change in Ontario's social assistance programs since the Family Benefits Act and the General Welfare Assistance Act were introduced more than three decades ago. Except for a number of improvements targeted specifically at persons with disabilities, the overall impact of the new legislation is clearly intended to be a reduction of support to recipients, the
implementation of mandatory workfare throughout the Province, and much tighter policing of the system.
To see the full text of BILL 142 - SOCIAL ASSISTANCE REFORM ACT - go to the Ontario Government's Legislative Assembly Archives:
The Ontario Social Safety Net has done a lot of work on looking at Bill 142 and what it will mean to people. They have prepared a useful collection of resources that critically analyze the Act: :http://worldchat.com/public/tab/ossnmenu.htm
FOUR KEY AREAS
There are four key areas where health people should and could be working:
There is no way for the small number of advocates to be able to pass on information to people on welfare. People need to know what the changes are and what they are entitled to, what are the rules around workfare.
- You could order the CLEO resource (see below) and get on their mailing list,
- You could join the OW-WATCH E-mail list,
- You could demand from your local welfare offices the information the people you deal with need,
- You could set up a meeting with your local legal clinic.
And then you need to develop a way of sharing that information
- how about a welfare reform bulletin board,
- or a welfare reform feature in your August or September newsletter,
- how about a public forum.
*Remember that informing people is a critical part of health promotion When people do not understand what is happening to them, or how they can control things, they are stressed and powerless.
People on welfare feel under attack and powerless. Self help is a wonderful model to cope with the rapid changes. There are a number of organizations already working on this issue, and they will be at the community conference mentioned below. In addition, because of attitudes shown towards them, many people may not disclose that they are on welfare. Is your [work]space welfare friendly? Do you encourage and support people who are on social assistance?
Consider individual and systematic advocacy. Who do people turn to when their social worker tells them that they will be cut off if they miss their workfare placement, because a child is too ill to go to school? Municipal councils will need to be setting more policies like the recent policy by the city of Toronto to pay a pregnancy benefit to pregnant women on welfare.
Plan to join the Welfare Watch project to monitor the impacts of the changes in your communities. This could be a wonderful chance to take the "using stories model" and use it. Find out who else in your community is working on these issues. Could you lend resources? Plan to attend the Welfare Watch Conference.
If people have more ideas or comments on the above please feel free to share them with me, if you have information on things happening in your community please share it.
Barrie Action Committee for Women
Sherrie Tingley is an activist in Barrie, she is a member of the OPHA social determents of health work group and has been involved as a consumer in local health promotion initiatives. She is the volunteer
facilitator of the OW-Watch E-mail list. The above represents the BACW view and not the Workfare Watch Project.