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Basic Income summary ignores ‘human touch’ in anti-poverty work

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Toronto – The Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) is expressing alarm over the Ontario government’s summary of its recent public consultation on Basic Income.

“The government’s report, What We Heard, clearly didn’t hear the voices of frontline social assistance workers,” said OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas. “In our submission to government, we made it crystal clear that no anti-poverty strategy, whether it’s Basic Income or something else, can succeed without the human touch. Yet yesterday’s report doesn’t even mention frontline social assistance staff at all.”

OPSEU represents more than 2,000 staff working in offices of the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP, in the Ontario Public Service) and Ontario Works (OW, in municipalities).

“If Basic Income raises incomes for people living in poverty, I’m all for it,” the OPSEU President said. “But people in poverty need more than money. They need employment counseling, housing supports, crisis intervention, and personal advocacy. And those things can only be provided by real live human beings who care for a living.”

The government continues to tout its Basic Income proposal as a potential money-saver for the province, but Thomas said even wiping out every social assistance worker in the province would only save pennies compared to the current cost of social assistance in dollars. Staffing costs for ODSP and OW amount to just 2.3 per cent of program costs, according to Ontario’s Public Accounts.

“Frontline social assistance staff are open to seeing their job descriptions evolve,” Thomas said, “but there is no way we will support any new model of social assistance delivery that doesn’t involve them.”

Thomas renewed his call to the government to raise social assistance rates across the board immediately.

“When this government wants to do something big like privatize Hydro One or put beer in grocery stores, it can whip together a plan and implement it in a matter of months,” he said. “But when it comes to reducing poverty, it’s all study, study, study. That’s not acceptable. People are poor now. People are hungry now. We need to raise the rates now.”

For more information: Warren (Smokey) Thomas, 613-329-1931