‘Improved’ welfare policies won’t fix anything!

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Pontiac Perspective  Peter J. Gauthier

The Quebec government has introduced several pieces of legislation aimed at “improving” its financial status. One of these legislative proposals threatens major changes to the provincial welfare

Pontiac Perspective  Peter J. Gauthier

The Quebec government has introduced several pieces of legislation aimed at “improving” its financial status. One of these legislative proposals threatens major changes to the provincial welfare
system. This particular piece of legislation has not received much publicity but should be of concern to residents of MRC Pontiac ; our MRC holds the dubious record of being, on a per capita basis, the largest recipient of social assistance in the province.
The proposed changes to social assistance are, at least initially, aimed at
new applicants.  With the
intention of getting first-time recipients into a
job program as promptly
as possible, participants would be offered a few extra dollars every month if they are employed for more than a year. Those who do not participate could have their benefits cut in half. With this, the government hopes to break the cycle of poverty that afflicts many welfare recipients, and, from the government’s point of view, reduce welfare costs.
There are several
problems with the planned changes that must be addressed if there is to be any real progress in
welfare assistance. Under the new system, the participant would have to accept virtually any job offer that comes up anywhere in the province. Welfare is often a regional issue, so this could mean relocation with potential increases in living costs (especially transportation and housing). It would also mean accepting a job where remuneration is much lower that what the recipient would consider normal for their skill level. Further, these work obligations would interfere with potential employment in better paying and more permanent work.
The problem of social assistance will not be solved by reducing recipients’ allowances; something much more fundamental is needed. The
government needs to work more closely with private businesses to identify real job needs. Support for on-the-job training that will lead to a more permanent employment should be provided. Could a job training program where a participant spends two days a week at an academic institution improving his or her skills and three days a week in the workforce be possible? A variety of
solutions need to be considered to meet the varied and changing demands of today’s workplace. The idea that one solution fits all should be replaced by specific, individual opportunities and job placement.
Meaningful solutions to the issues of welfare
payments must involve all levels of government – federal, provincial and local – and be coordinated with the business and education communities. The limitations of our current social assistance systems mean that instantaneous fixes will not work. Penalizing the most vulnerable in our society is not a viable option. Answers should be community centered, not dictated by some political frenzy coming from our capital city.