Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Recommendations for an Alternative Policy

Our policy alternative will be developed through an anti-oppressive lens in which attention will be directed towards the structural causes of poverty. Through this perspective we have addressed the differing needs of social assistance recipients that the initial Workfare policy did not take into account. We have argued that structural causes of poverty have been overlooked because of the overarching neo-conservative framework behind the implementation of Workfare. This neo-conservative framework individualizes the causes of poverty, and therefore creates a deviantization of the poor, placing the blame on individual qualities while removing the responsibility of the state. Our hope is to shift attention from individualization and draw it back to structural issues including that of the feminization of poverty, inequalities in wealth, barriers to employment. Our policy alternatives will account for these systemic issues by addressing the provision of child care, the development of meaningful education and job training as well as the development of a policy that acknowledges the transition from social assistance to a meaningful job of all workfare recipients.

The short term recommendations include providing those receiving social assistance with a 390/month/child childcare allowance that is not included in that individuals calculation of earnings. This will be provided regardless of working status, family member status, or provision of receipts and will be covered for a 1 year period, with the possibility of extension under extenuating circumstances. Long term recommendations include the beginnings of a national child care system in which federal funding will account for 80% of the cost of regulated child care services. By implementing these policy initiatives, the gendered nature of poverty, as well as the current child care expectations for women, will be taken into consideration, allowing women more freedom from the childcare role if they so choose. This policy will increase the quality of care for children living in low income situations, while positively affecting the labour force participation of women, allowing for a more livable balance of labour force and child care responsibilities.

In terms of job training and education, it is recommended that a humanistic perspective that focuses on individual differences is used to empower program participants. This can be accomplished through collaborative job training which includes regular focus group-styled meetings with employers and employees to address each worker's individual needs and issues. By incorporating each person's needs and opinion into job training, what needs to improve will become evident. This means that job training will look different to each individual person. To each person as he or she needs. Some aspects of improved job training will include things like resume and cover letter writing, professional behaviour and appearance, and punctuality and time management skills in order to help them prepare for future careers. Not only will this improve job training quality, it will also improve employer-employee relations and workplace morale. Education levels will be properly assessed as well. Strengths will be noted, and areas for development will be addressed. It will be required that participants have a minimum of high school level education with a recommendation for higher education. Plans will be set up to help interested participants pay for higher education by providing loans and deducting amounts from their pay cheques, if possible. Empowerment of individuals and encouragement for healthy growth and development will motivate individuals to enjoy their work and look forward to the future. These recommendations intend to remove the force that Workfare participants have felt to work and move towards instilling an internal motivation by helping individuals become successful employees.

The failure of Ontario Works to acknowledge the transition from social assistance to work will also be addressed with recommendations for policies and practices that actually support this process in contrast to the conservative lens that people on workfare are deviants who refuse to work, and that they will favourably comply with the program "reaping the benefits" of an immediate transformation into permanent, low paid labour. Developing a policy acknowledging the need for a meaningful transition plan within Ontario works requires both short and long term recommendations, and an action plan to change public opinion and obtain government support through client-centred, agency-guided focus groups. Short term recommendations in favour of policies acknowledging the transition between social assistance and work include reducing clawback rates for the majority of recipients who need to work not only for additional job experience, but because the benefits aren't adequate, remove punitive measures against those who do not meet pre-set goals despite genuine efforts to attain them, and to develop individual schedules for each client on their own directed path to success. Long term recommendations in favour of policies acknowledging the transition between social assistance and work include developing a new government responsibility centre where authorities of social services work to establish identical definitions for defining criteria for clients to reduce overlap that creates barriers for clients on Ontario Works that are in need of more than one form of assistance, and raising asset levels to allow recipients of Ontario Works to save money month to month to cover expenses incurred when looking for a job, and facing lapses between jobs that occur due to no fault of their own (i.e. company lay-offs). The action plan to change public opinion and obtain government support of recommendations requires client-centred, agency-guided focus groups to identify short and long term changes, re-frame the public conservative ideology with language changing the deviantizing "welfare cheat" lens to an anti-oppressive "achieving self sufficiency" lens. Government action to set forth policies in Ontario Works that acknowledges the transition from social assistance to work takes place with buy in from finance ministers and the Premier of the publicly championed anti-oppressive lens of recipients of social assistance thanks to the efforts of the client-agency focus groups.

The workfare program has a multitude of issues associated with its implementation. The impact the policy has had on health is significant, as it means those who are addicted to drugs or alcohol have much more working against them if they are going to be successful in the program. However, health related issues as well as others are being explored and challenged by several grass-roots organizations so that workfare policies are changed in ways that are beneficial to all. While taking these factors into account, it must be remembered that there are a number of opinions which mark a sharp digression from the belief that workfare is “a violation of human rights” or that it’s not fair. Provincial taxpayers are the ones that contribute a great deal into welfare, and thus, the workfare program, so in understanding this perspective it becomes readily visible why many would think there should be a “workfare level of responsibility.” Many feel that people should be required to work for their financial assistance so that the recipients can be integrated back into the workforce. Again, this is only a single opinion, and it doesn’t take into account all the complex issues associated with the policy (disability, access to childcare). What it DOES is highlight the need for a program where resources such as childcare, counseling and skill upgrading are given to the workfare recipient so that there is a much higher probability of successful re-integration into the workforce.

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