From Geneva

Monday, May 01, 2006

Committee Member 'dismayed' at Canada's lack of progress on social assistance rates

Today is the day that the Canadian Non-Governmental Organizations ("NGOs") had an opportunity to make short presentations to the UN Committee on Economic, Social, & Cultural Rights. After checking in with the security station this morning, myself and Chantal Tie, a lawyer who is here representing the Canadian Council for Refugees, headed over to the Committee room to deliver a collection of Canadian NGO reports, and to introduce ourselves to a number of Committee members by way of inviting them to an NGO luncheon this Thursday.

At 3pm Canadian NGOS began their presentations. Presentations today included Doreen Silversmith who spoke about the standoff in Six Nations/Caledonia to the Committee. Information on this 36th session of the UN Committee, including written submissions of Canadian NGOs, can be found at the CESCR website. There were many other great speakers from Canada. Committee members were attentive and interested in a number of issues.

Since we were only given approximately 5 minutes to make our presentation, I focused my presentation on the issue of social assistance benefits. Persons on social assistance largely represent the most economically disadvantaged members of our community, and thus represent a bellweather group of individuals and families for whom the right to an adequate standard of living is clearly not being protected.

Currently, social assistance rates are arbitrary numbers that are not related in any way to the actual cost of basic necessities in the community. As an example, the shelter allowance portion of social assistance rates falls hundreds of dollars below the actual cost of average rents for all family size. Thus those individuals and families face a shortfall every month. This compounded by the fact that the other portion of Ontario Works benefits in particular is much less than the other required needs, i.e. a healthy food basket, utilities, transportation, clothing, etc.

The Portuguese representative asked myself and others about the issue of social assistance rates and she was dismayed that this area of concern had gotten worse since Canada last appeared in front of the Committee in 1998. Hopefully, the Committee will ask some hard questions of the Canadian government delegation on this critical issue.

As a kudo to the Income Security Working Group and my co-authors, our liason with the UN Committee came up to personally thank us for providing such a useful and well-oraganized report after the session today.

Tomorrow is a slow day for the Committee, but the Canadian NGOs will be working on a concise list of issues and questions for the Committee to ask the government delegation when they begin looking at Canada on Friday.


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