Mac social work students urge welfare reform

Taking research, recommendations to Queen’s Park

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McMaster University students will be taking their message to Queen’s Park that the current welfare system is keeping people in poverty rather than helping them out.

Third- and fourth-year social work students prepared the report and presented it to Hamilton Mountain Liberal MPP Sophia Aggelonitis last week.

Tom Cooper, director of the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction, who helped the students present the report, said the recommendations accurately reflect the problems and obstacles that welfare recipients face.

Premier Dalton McGuinty promised last spring to review both the Ontario Works program and the Ontario Disability Support Program.

The Mac students met with focus groups and community leaders and interviewed social assistance recipients.

Among their key recommendations is to change the rule that requires applicants to cash in almost all of their savings, including RRSPs.

Cooper said if welfare recipients are forced to divest their life savings they will require more government support when they turn 65. Some only require social assistance for a few months.

“We either pay a little bit now or we pay later,” Cooper said.

Other recommendations in the report include allowing ODSP recipients to earn an income up to the low-income cut-off line, creating scholarship opportunities for people on OW and excluding RRSPs from the assets list.

The report also recommends that loans or credit card advancements used to help cover household costs not be considered income.

Under the current rules, they can be deducted dollar for dollar from benefits.

Student Kaitlin Kellogg said working on the report was an eye-opener.

“Most people have barely enough money for food, especially at the end of the month,” said Kellogg, who is in third year.

Aggelonitis said she will be helping the students work with the appropriate ministry to deliver their findings and recommendations.

“There is no question that these issues are very important to our community.”

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