LONDON, Ont. – Thousands of low-income children and their families on social assistance will be left with no money to buy back-to-school supplies this year because the provincial government has cut back-to-school and winter clothing allowances with the introduction of the new Ontario Child Benefit (OCB). The Income Security Advocacy Centre, poverty advocates and the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Ontario say that while some municipalities like London have stepped up to provide the allowances this year, many of the province’s 200,000 children on social assistance will report to school without the new shoes, clothes and supplies they need.
“It is inconceivable that the provincial Minister of Children and Youth Services could allow this inequity and leave some parents without the means to provide for their children,” said Sid Ryan, President of CUPE Ontario. “It has created ‘have’ and ‘have not’ communities for children, which is totally unacceptable for a government that says it’s committed to poverty reduction.”
Under new guidelines, both allowances will be rolled into the OCB monthly payments starting in July 2008 with parents expected to set aside the amounts necessary for school and winter clothing needs. That will leave parents scrambling to find money for next month’s back-to-school needs. The situation is so dire that municipalities like London, Toronto, Ottawa and Sudbury have stepped up to pay the allowances themselves. The government has said it will reimburse 80 per cent of these costs.
“Try telling your six-year old why you can’t buy him a back-pack, some new crayons or a scribbler,” said Maureen, a low-income mother who is struggling to provide for her children. “My social assistance rates are so low that I can barely cover rent and food for my children. I really counted on these allowances.”
Mike Laliberte of the London Community Advocates Network added that the province is restructuring social assistance at the same time as the OCB is introduced, resulting in lower monthly welfare cheques to parents. While no parents will be worse off under the new system, the majority will not receive the full amount of the OCB. “Removing these benefits before providing adequate incomes is no way for the province to begin its Poverty Reduction Strategy.”
While praising the City of London for providing the back-to-school allowance, Ryan said that once again the province is offloading its responsibilities to municipalities. “Reimbursing only 80 per cent of the costs continues the downloading of services to local government. Cities already pay at least $3 billion each year to cover downloaded services. This government must be held to account. These kids are our future. They deserve better.”
Detailed analysis of the OCB and related issues can be found at the Income Security Advocacy Centre website at www.incomesecurity.org.
For more information, contact: Mike Laliberte, London Community Advocates Network - 519-438-2890; Sid Ryan, CUPE Ontario President - 416-209-0066; Jennefer Laidley, Policy Analyst – ISAC - 416-523-5228 Valerie Dugale, CUPE Communications - 647-225-3685