Canada's welfare system called 'utter disaster'

Canada's welfare system called 'utter disaster' By TERRY WEBER Tuesday, June 7, 2005 Updated at 11:30 AM EDT Globe and Mail Update Canada's welfare system has become an “utter disaster” with benefits in many provinces and territories hitting modern day lows, a new report said Tuesday. The study, released by the National Council of Welfare, said a total of 1.7 million Canadians lived on welfare benefits last year, with most attempting to exist on incomes “far below what most Canadians would consider reasonable.” “Total welfare incomes everywhere in Canada were well below poverty lines once again in 2004,” the report said. Adjusting for inflation, the report said, many provincial and territorial benefits in 2004 were at their lowest levels since the 1980s. Typical welfare incomes across Canada, it noted, were thousands of dollars below the poverty line. Single, employable recipients in New Brunswick were the worst off, with total incomes amounting to $3,388 – only 19 per cent of amount at the poverty line. “Single parents in Newfoundland and Labrador were in the best circumstances relatively speaking, but their total welfare incomes were still only 70 per cent of the poverty line,” the report said. The situation, the council said, has been compounded by the clawback of federal child benefits from families on welfare in provinces such as Prince Edward Island, Ontario, Saskatchewan and British Columbia as well as all three territories. The report said Ottawa pays the Canada Child Tax Benefit and National Child Benefit Supplement to low-income families everywhere in Canada. But the council also said Ottawa has “encouraged” provinces and territories to take back the supplement from welfare families by reducing their welfare and related benefits. The net result, Tuesday's report said, has been “a significant drop in purchasing power among some of Canada's poorest families.” “Canadian welfare policy over the past 15 years has been an utter disaster,” the report said. The council – a citizens' advisory group to the Minister of Social Development – also said federal and provincial governments need to come up with new fiscal arrangements for welfare to replace the current the current system, which it calls “complex” and “unintelligible.” “An acceptable new deal would include more realistic federal support earmarked specifically for welfare and minimal standards for provincial and territorial welfare and related programs,” the council said. “Among other things, welfare incomes should be based on the actual cost of a basket of goods and services rather than being set arbitrarily by government decree.”