It's election time. Which candidates are willing to help the most vulnerable members of our society by implementing necessary changes to our social assistance programs?
By Doreen Nicoll
Published May 28, 2014
Did you know that 70 percent of the women receiving social assistance benefits through Ontario Works (OW) and Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) have experienced gendered abuse?
It's important to clarify that gendered violence is about power and control, period. Overwhelmingly, it's the domination of a woman by her male partner.
83 percent of all police reported domestic assaults in Canada are assaults against women. This violence includes physical, sexual, emotional, psychological, financial, social, and spiritual abuse.
So if things are so bad, why not leave?
It's not that simple if children are involved and the difficulty is compounded if the woman has been out of the work force or has precarious employment.
A further complication is that most abusers don't like losing the power and control that they have over another person, so the likelihood of an abused woman being murdered increases nine fold when she leaves the abusive relationship.
In Ontario, an average of 30 women are killed each year by intimate partners (Domestic Violence Death Review Committee of Ontario). 81 percent these homicides occur during an actual or pending separation. 66 percent of these murders happen in the first 6 months after separation.
There's also a disturbing trend of children being murdered by their fathers because that's the ultimate punishment for a mother and the woman who is leaving him.
Here's the dilemma: for a woman to be safe she needs to leave her abuser, but by leaving she puts herself and her children at even greater risk of being killed.
We blame her staying with her abuser and we also blame her for leaving because if she hadn't left him then he wouldn't have become so desperate that he had to kill her.
It's time to move beyond victim blaming. As a caring society, it's time to support women when they finally decide to leave abusive relationships.
To do this, we need to change the current social assistance policy so that women on OW and ODSP are no longer required to pursue child support from their abusive ex-partners in order to keep their benefits.
The provincial government should enable the Family Responsibility Office (FRO) to pay the court ordered child support up front and then the FRO should go after the payor for payments in arrears.
This way, the children are taken care of and the woman remains 'safe' because she is not required to interact with her abusive ex-partner.
I would also suggest that the FRO present the negligent payor with a bill for the costs incurred by the province for collecting court-ordered child support. Perhaps this would be incentive enough to ensure that the payor does not fall into arrears again.
Currently, if women on OW or ODSP successfully collect their child support, the provincial government claws back 100 percent of those payments.
In situations where both parents are on social assistance, child support paid from the non-custodial parent's benefits is deducted from the custodial parent's benefits. Children do not benefit from these financial arrangements.
Reviews of the social assistance policy have suggested that the current situation could be modified to enable child support to be treated as income. This translates into women being able to keep the first $200 of their child support with the remainder being subject to a 50 percent clawback.
Keep in mind that a mother and child on social assistance have to survive on $19,380/year which is 30 percent below the poverty line for a working poor parent and child of $27,000/year.
I suggest that 100 percent of the child support be given to the mother and none of it clawed back, because this is the father's contribution to supporting his offspring.
This money would go a long way to helping women break free of the cycle of violence, as well as giving them a helping hand to raise their children out of extreme poverty.
To add insult to injury, the provincial government's social assistance policy discourages women from sharing housing costs by clawing back the shelter allowance when they share space to save money.
The provincial government is also discontinuing the special diet allowance of $100/month, which was implemented to help recipients and their children requiring dietary modifications due to lactose intolerance, gluten intolerance and the like.
It's election time. Ask candidates whether they are willing to help the most vulnerable members of our society by implementing these changes to our social assistance programs?
If they tell you that they're all for cutting taxes and ending the free ride on the gravy train, then point out to them that the cost to society each time a woman is murdered by her partner exceeds $1 million dollars.
When you consider lost productivity at work, emergency room visits, police involvement, funeral costs, counselling for family members, care for children left without parents, coroner's inquests, court costs, incarceration, and so on, this solution becomes very cost-effective even to the most conservative candidate and taxpayer.
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