How much money does someone need to participate fully in community life? As health professionals, health researchers, and community members, this is a question we often contemplate. We are deeply concerned recent policy changes in Ontario have further eroded our already fragile safety net, with potentially devastating implications for some of our most vulnerable community members.
We know what we do every day has an impact on our health and well-being. However, poverty and limited access to resources can stymie opportunities to engage in meaningful activities. People living in poverty are often unable to purchase healthy food or get around their communities. These constraints have a significant impact on health and well-being.
Social assistance is often where people end up after they have exhausted all of their resources and have nowhere else to turn. There is widespread agreement that the current system is inefficient, that money is wasted on monitoring recipients and enforcing a multitude of rules that seem to serve no purpose except to make life difficult for those who are already struggling. Eligibility requirements are tough and once on the system, people often become trapped. The system is not designed to help recipients tackle their barriers to employment. As a result, transitioning off social assistance for employment can be difficult, leaving few avenues for people to break the cycle of poverty. The current system makes little sense if the goal is to help people become more self-sufficient. Furthermore, existing social assistance programs provide little support to the working poor or those trapped in precarious employment.
Clearly, innovative policy ideas are needed. Yet, social assistance is one of the few areas of social policy that has lacked real innovation in North America for over 50 years.
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