Statement on the changes to Ontario social assistance

The Ontario government’s announcement yesterday that they will discontinue the Basic Income Pilot Project and reduce social assistance rate increases set for the fall is a devastating blow for people living in poverty and a disturbing sign of this government’s priorities and approaches.

With this announcement, the provincial government is shifting away from fulfilling the human rights obligations placed on subnational governments in Canada, including the right to an adequate standard of living.

Canada Without Poverty (CWP) has been awaiting the evaluation of the Basic Income project in Ontario. As an anti-poverty organization, we believe that it is critical to explore and evaluate potential opportunities for improving the lives of people in poverty. Cutting short the three year project in its second year because of purported expense and failure to meet intention is senseless, given that an objective evaluation has not been allowed to take place. The Ontario government has provided no data to support their assertions that the program is unsustainable and not fulfilling its intended objectives.

This decision reflects an irresponsible and reckless indifference towards thousands of people who had been guaranteed this income for three years, even following the provincial election. Program participants made financial and life decisions around this program, including enrolling in school and starting businesses—activities which contribute to the long-term economic growth of the province, and now will be faced with avoidable financial strain.

Additionally, the plan to reduce an increase to social assistance rates from an already insufficient 3 percent to 1.5 percent will have negative impacts for nearly one million Ontario residents receiving assistance. Reducing rates from 3 percent to 1.5 percent means that social assistance will no longer keep pace with inflation. As housing costs in many urban Ontario markets continue to skyrocket, alongside rising childcare and food costs, these cuts ensure more households in the province will struggle to meet their basic needs.

Poverty costs Ontario billions of dollars and we know that eliminating poverty could save the province billions in added tax revenue and service savings. Eliminating $150 million directly from the pockets of the poorest people is counter-intuitive to ensuring economic growth.

More critically, this action by the government illustrates a troubling view of people living in poverty in the province. Proposing that these significant cuts that will harm Ontario’s most disadvantaged and marginalized people, particularly those living with a disability, are “compassionate” is offensive and absurd.