“Get a haircut and get a real job.”

June 21, 2013

It’s a good song, but is the advice valid nowadays??  Just how easy/difficult is it to get off of social assistance and “get a real job”?? Are people who are “on” social assistance      staying on it because they are lazy and don’t want to work? After 25 years in the working world, I had need of “social   assistance”.  Wow!  What a wake up call.  It’s not fun at all and in fact it’s a trap! Unless you have good credit (loan or credit card) or have a rich relative to cover your costs until your first paycheck, you are out of luck.  You can’t count on so called “social assistance” for help with this.  Most people I’ve spoken with have all tried to get off of social assistance.  Those that did succeed said it was without or minimal help from Social Assistance and those that didn’t succeed said it was from lack of help.  One such person sat down with me and told me his story.

He has been on and off social assistance over the last few years.  Two and a half years ago he was advised by an Ontario Works business advisor that his best course of action was to get his bachelor of education.  Finally, after extraordinary effort on his part, he is registered at Tyndale University.  He applied to four different collages,   accumulating application costs of approximately $400 (which social assistance paid).  He currently receives the maximum amount for a single ($606) which does not entirely cover his rent let alone pay for anything else. The college required a registration fee of $500.00 which he couldn’t afford.  He asked for help from Social                 Assistance. 

His worker (client rep) had him running around for a week and a half gathering paperwork (OSAP application, school application, etc..) and attending meetings before they would consider funding the costs.  Thinking this was a good sign (they would help), he did as they asked and provided all the paperwork required.  His worker then advised him they would not cover the cost.  He asked for a refusal letter, so that he could approach other parties for help.  He was dealing with the supervisor at this point.  They refused to give him this letter!  He       actually had to employ the help of his MPP to get this letter.  After waiting longer than the due date for the      registration fee, he finally begged and borrowed from several friends to register.  He was extremely lucky       because if he hadn’t of registered by the following week, they would have refused him entry.  Why do they have to make it so difficult to get your life moving again?  Makes you think that social assistance is trying to keep people on the system, so that they keep their jobs.   

His story is just one of many I could write to show you just how inept our social assistance program is.  Simply put, changes need to be made.  More funds should be allocated to transportation costs, re-education costs and finally exit costs (start up money/daycare costs to cover you until your first pay).  When clients ask for         transportation now they are told to come to their local assistance office and pick up two tokens (one of which you spend getting home)!!  Most people said if they had guaranteed income, health benefits and daycare while awaiting their first pay they would feel more encouraged to get a job. The system is also completely inadequate for part time employment.  If you work, you are only allowed to make up to $50/month before the system claw’s back off of your cheque.  This means that for the first $570.00 dollars you’re working for nothing because you could have made that by sitting on your butt!!  There’s no incentive!!  Now let’s talk about the rates!  The amount a single person receives on Ontario Works currently is less than the amount received in 1993 ($663). Inflation has risen to such an amount that it would take a 56% increase to bring the rate back to where it was (in relation to inflation) in 1993!  Raise the amount of asset’s a person is allowed to keep while on assistance.  The current amount is less than half the amount allowed in 1993!!  If they had these asset’s they could easily help            themselves to get off the system.  It’s time to bring down the barrier’s to gainful re-employment!

The system can’t take the buildup of pressure from the growing amount of people moving onto assistance and not getting off of it. We need to put the “assist” back into social assistance and provide a seamless way for  people to move into the working world, that would allow people to keep their dignity. Half the battle to getting the job is self confidence, but who can have that with all the battles you have to fight.  Since I began writing this article, I have been checking out a website that offers a forum for people on social assistance to tell “their story” and to make suggestions on how to fix “the system”.  The    website is “sareview.ca/tell-your-story/”.  The stories told here are not for the faint of heart.  Total reform is necessary!



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