Healing Gaia

OW/ODSP Clawbacks Hurt Abused Women

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.

Hard to Leave

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.

Move Beyond Victim Blaming

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.

OW, ODSP Clawbacks

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.

Help Vulnerable Members of Society

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.

Doreen Nicoll is a feminist and a member of several community organizations working diligently to end poverty, hunger and gendered violence.

10 Comments

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By Big D (anonymous) | Posted May 28, 2014 at 13:41:01

Well said, Ms Nicoll.
It will open some eyes.

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By Doreen (registered) | Posted May 28, 2014 at 16:49:49 in reply to Comment 101714

I'm hoping the provincial government will open its pocket book.

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By scrap (anonymous) | Posted May 28, 2014 at 16:06:52

Worthwhile words, however if you expect either of the three political parties who implemented austerity policies to be retracted, you are living on a world of false hope and denial.

Should not the messaging be on creating our own political system instead of propping up the old corrupt one?

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By Doreen (registered) | Posted May 28, 2014 at 16:48:42 in reply to Comment 101724

Dear Scrap,

My concern is that while we are creating and implementing an alternative political system women and children will be dying, or rather, being murdered.

Could we not raise our voices together to demand change?

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By scrap (anonymous) | Posted May 28, 2014 at 17:31:03

Demand change from those who do not listen? Look at the changes since 1995. Is it getting better or worse?

Come on Doreen, really think about things.

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By Time to lead (anonymous) | Posted May 28, 2014 at 18:13:02

Time to lead the country and create a citizens fund to assist women in need. Instead of relying on the government, show them that our community cares. Get every householder to donate $1,000.00 into a fund to be distributed to those in need. There are about 400,000 people in Hamilton who do not receive social assistance. That would raise $400,000,000.00 to be distributed. If only half the welfare recipient are women that would give them an additional 666 per month per person in each household.

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted May 29, 2014 at 01:32:35

"83 percent of all police reported domestic assaults in Canada are assaults against women."

Which, of course, includes all the false accusations. Why not report the statistic about convictions?

The answer to that question is that convictions require evidence. And since false accusations are a fairly common tool used by women in custody battles, the conviction rate does a much worse job of supporting the author's argument.

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By Doreen (registered) | Posted May 29, 2014 at 10:32:14 in reply to Comment 101752

Please share your statistics and sources regarding false accusations and conviction rates, Kevin.

I'd be interested in where you are sourcing these rumours.

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By Concerned Advocate (anonymous) | Posted May 29, 2014 at 12:10:38

My concern is especially for women on ODSP. If they live with a partner, abusive or not, his income, his resources, his retirement is counted against HER income, and in many cases, she loses her ODSP. I think that in ODSP situations, the benefit unit should be the individual. Even in non abusive situations, the woman is made to be almost wholly dependent on her husband, and many of them would not be pleased to report their own income and assets to the ODSP, because they are not on it. Further, if he has a retirement savings that is not locked in, or he is self-employed, his whole net worth is destroyed and could actually exacerbate a situation to become abusive. I've seen this happen in my practice, as well as learned of suicides of people whose lives and life savings have been trashed as a result of getting into a relationship with a person on ODSP, also while the person is in that relationship they have no funds usually to escape the abuse, and are often trapped.

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By scrap (anonymous) | Posted May 31, 2014 at 18:00:58

Sorry Doreen, but you forget the past. You should not be speakiing for those who know the truth of things.

Ask those who know the sytem before 1995, which you seem not to know, honey.

Stop your BS.You you know not what you should be fighting for!

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