Ontario Works is a failing system

Ontario Liberal promises...
Ontario Liberal promises… (source)

by Mike Bryck, CUPE member and activist

For the last 4 years of my life I have been a cog in a broken system. I have been scared to speak too much about it because I worry about professional ramifications. I am tired, sick and tired, of staying quiet so I won’t be doing that anymore.

First off, I am not complaining, my job is good, my pay is fair, and my benefits are above average. I get a fair amount of vacation time and have a Union to fight for improvements to all of these things. My employer is good to my co-workers and I for the most part and its for all these reasons that I have kept quiet.

This isn’t about me and how my job effects me, but that is a part of the evil that is this system

This isn’t about me and how my job effects me, but that is a part of the evil that is this system. This also isn’t a selfless endeavor to better my clients by a front line worker who is without fault. I have my faults and I have been a part of this system that has caused suffering. For that I feel a lot of guilt. I can make excuses and say that I was just doing my job…. which I was, but that is lame and it doesn’t make up for my failings as a person. No, this is an opinion on what needs to change if our province is to attempt to eliminate poverty. This is my opinion, and mine alone.

Employment focused?
Ontario Works (OW) is a misnomer. The first line in the act states that OW is an “employment focused short term financial support program”.

More staff are devoted to financial eligibility and to compliance than there are to employment

In four years I have seen lots of attempts at the employment portion, but to say the program is employment focused, is just false. More staff are devoted to financial eligibility and to compliance than there are to employment. The province continues to attempt to push the employment portion out the door to outside agencies, harming the service clients get.

It’s also not short term. While many or even most clients are off OW pretty quickly, many are not. Many of those who are not, get lost in a lie that the politicians tell themselves about OW. That lie is this, “everyone who is on Ontario Works can be working or moved to the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP)”. Many people find themselves in a complex set of life situations, that make them either marginally employable, or unemployable. ODSP has made reducing their caseload a priority, so these people either never qualify for ODSP, or are pushed out after file reviews.

The Working Poor
OW ignores the working poor. Let’s use an example; Steve and Ben are both new graduates from College and they both have a hard time getting work. Steve applies for OW after he graduates but Ben doesn’t. Three months later they both find part time work which could lead to good full time work. They each earn $700(net) a month at this part time work. Steve reports his income to his worker and after deductions he is still eligible for a $376 cheque, a drug card and other employment supports. Ben on the other hand, has run out of family to support him, and the $700 a month isn’t enough to support him, considering his student loan payments have started, and his part time job has no benefits so his drugs cost him $150 a month. Ben applies for assistance and he isn’t eligible. Steve continues working and collecting a top up cheque and before long gets offered a full time job and exits the system. Ben on the other hand tried to survive on $700 a month but fell behind with his meds and missed work cause he got sick. He was fired and reapplied to assistance which he now qualifies for. He will spend 14 months receiving full assistance before he finds work again and it will not be as good as the work he could have had with the first employer.

OW rates need to be hiked at least 55% NOW. The current rates cause poverty and suffering

Last and most obvious. The rates are wrong. Harris cut them on the premise that if you make assistance uncomfortable people will get off of it…. this premise is absolutely nuts. OW rates need to be hiked at least 55% NOW. The current rates cause poverty and suffering. I’m not sure how to end this note because tomorrow I am going to get up and walk into a room with another client knowing full well that the system has already failed them before I open my mouth. Maybe one day it will change. I’ll be 30 in 2 weeks. Twenty five years and 2 weeks to go…..

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3 thoughts on “Ontario Works is a failing system

  1. This writer is very brave to stand up and say this in public. I commend him for that, he knows what he is talking about. I just wish we had welfare workers in Northumberland County that were more like Mike Bryck. Hats off to him.

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