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To be bold, Doug Ford should eliminate – not tighten – social assistance rules in Ontario

From a Globe and Mail opinion piece: Michael Mendelson has written extensively on social and fiscal policy. He is a former deputy minister in Ontario and Manitoba and is currently a fellow of Maytree. 

Along with terminating Ontario’s Basic Income experiment and reducing planned increases in social assistance rates, the Ford government has announced plans to develop a transformed approach to social assistance in the next 100 days, one that “would be focused on jobs.” A “focus on jobs” usually translates into harsher conditions for social assistance recipients, more hoops, more tests and inevitably more degradation.

This would be no innovation. For more than the last hundred years – from Victorian workhouses for the poor to today’s efforts by U.S. Republicans to make work a condition of Medicare, housing assistance and food stamps – politicians have fretted about indolent work-shirkers collecting welfare and have piled on disincentives and barriers.

Social assistance rules for people without disabilities in Ontario already demands that the recipients be actively engaged in searching for work. The expectation is that the Ford government plans on making this requirement even tougher and perhaps plans to impose similar requirements on those with disabilities.

The problem with that approach is there is no evidence that layering on greater conditions actually gets more people into work. Tougher rules may instead encourage recipients to prove they cannot work. Rather than getting applicants to think about what they can do, it’s an incentive for recipients to focus on what they can’t do.

Then, an expensive and invasive bureaucracy must expand to police increasingly complex rules. It’s a costly and stigmatizing strategy which a century of practice has not shown to be effective.

What if the Ontario Conservatives surprised everyone by breaking the mould? Do the opposite of what’s expected. Don’t add on more rules, Instead, eliminate all employment-related requirements as a condition for social assistance, so that the only requirement is the (still stringent) test of financial need.

Read more: To be bold, Doug Ford should eliminate – not tighten – social assistance rules in Ontario

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