News

Councillor says skills, work ethic lacking

By Monte Sonnenberg, Simcoe Reformer

Poverty

Poverty

SIMCOE - 

A senior social worker in Haldimand and Norfolk provided a clue this week as to why the Ontario government is determined to increase Ontario’s minimum wage to $15 an hour.

Heidy Van Dyk-Ellis, manager of social services and housing for the two counties, says many local welfare recipients have jobs.

Trouble is, they aren’t earning enough to wean themselves from the Ontario Works program. That means some welfare recipients – despite having jobs – continue to draw on the resources of the province and local municipalities.

Van Dyk-Ellis told Norfolk councillors this week that it is too early to speculate as to whether $15 an hour is enough to foster self-sufficiency. The current minimum wage is $11.40 an hour. Despite objections from the business community, this is scheduled to rise to $15 an hour by 2019.

“They’re working,” Van Dyk-Ellis said. “They’re just not making enough money to fully exit the Ontario Works program.

“We don’t yet know whether $15 an hour is above or below a living wage for our area.”

Through 2016, an average of 1,381 families in Haldimand and Norfolk were collecting welfare each month. Of these 63 per cent resided in Norfolk, while 37 per cent resided in Haldimand.

Also, in 2016, 1,743 people applied for welfare in the two counties, an average of 145 a month.

The situation has improved somewhat in 2017. In her report, Van Dyk-Ellis said that the monthly family caseload in Haldimand and Norfolk has averaged 1,344 so far this year – a drop of 2.67 per cent a month compared to 2016.

Challenges for local welfare recipients include the fact that many of the jobs available to them are part-time, have no benefits, and do not provide enough income to meet basic expenses.

Norfolk and Haldimand are also rural areas where a reliable vehicle is usually essential to holding down a steady job.

In her report, Van Dyk-Ellis said that the Norfolk Ride shuttle service doesn’t meet everyone’s needs. As well, travelling by taxi is cost-prohibitive for the marginally employed.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Waterford Coun. Harold Sonnenberg suggested the local job market isn’t entirely to blame for precarious employment.

Somewhere along the way, Sonnenberg said, parents forgot to instil a work ethic in their children. And the education system, he added, has lost the ability or the inclination to impart basic skills.

Many good entry-level positions go wanting, Sonnenberg said, because young people don’t have the discipline to perform repetitive tasks or the basic skills needed to work unsupervised.

“There are people out there who can’t drive a nail, read a tape measure or push a wheel barrow,” he said. “Local plants can’t keep people on the job. This is too boring; it is too repetitious.

“A few skills and a work ethic and you’ll make it in life. But we’re failing in these basic concepts. We’re really losing the battle.”

In her report, Van Dyk-Ellis suggested an aging population will present serious support challenges in both Haldimand and Norfolk.

The first of the baby boomers – those born between 1945 and 1963 – are 72 years of age and counting. They represent an enormous cohort and will make serious demands on health care, housing and social services as the average life expectancy in Ontario for both men and women surpasses the 80-year mark.

Those aged 65 and older traditionally have represented 10 per cent of the waiting list in Haldimand and Norfolk for social and subsidized housing.

By the end of 2012, this had risen to 24 per cent. The rate for seniors has remained in this range since then, at times spiking as high as 30 per cent.

“As people age, their support needs increase,” Van Dyk-Ellis said in her report.

MSonnenberg@postmedia.com