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April 28, 2000 Halifax Herald

Social assistance reform long overdue in NS

The April 11 budget made welfare rates uniform across the province, but failed to begin the process of addressing the shortcomings of the social assistance program itself. This is needed because the paternalism contained in it has created widespread dependence among a group of people who need motivation to rise above their unfortunate situations, not the opposite. Itís counterproductive to have government doing everything but eating for these people; it also encourages welfare cheating.

As can be expected when a system goes overboard, cheating is not rare. To give an inkling of how widespread it is, I'll cite a few of the incidents that I've heard about in the recent past:

A single mother gets a low paying job and places her child in a subsidized day-care centre. She quits and goes back on welfare, but keeps the child in day care while she lives it up.

A young lad and lass, both on welfare, decide to have a child. They do so and then live apart in order to collect maximum assistance.

A young girl living with her parents has a child and the welfare department begins to pay room and board to her parents for her and the child.

All this is going on while ads for skilled and unskilled job openings are everywhere.

Before proceeding, I'll make it very clear that this critique is not aimed at the unemployable and the needy elderly. If anything, assistance for these poor souls should be increased, not cut off or lowered. Nor is it aimed at those who are down on their luck and have need to access public assistance as a temporary measure. Itís aimed at those able-bodied individuals who are using the system as first resort (pension), not last. These need to be cut off without delay; they are causing the province millions.

When contemplating the dependency problems created by a program that has provisions so liberal that it encourages people to rip it off, one cannot help but ask why the government decided to displace personal and family responsibility with state paternalism in the first place? Simple: politics. This largely unwarranted intrusion into these matters has badly wounded personal initiative and responsibility, and is a key factor in creating and sustaining the financial mess the province wallows in.

The first step needed to begin the process of reversing the financial mess caused by state intervention is reinstilling personal responsibility in our society. To this end, the onus must be put back on the individual to take the lead role in fending for him/herself. This can be accomplished in many ways.

First and foremost, welfare cheats must be dealt with harshly. Blatant acts of fraud must result in jail terms, and any assets amassed must be seized and sold to repay the money ripped off. Afterwards, the perpetrator should be denied public assistance for a number of years.

Next, there must be a return to the practice of requiring able-bodied people to offer proof that they are out pounding the pavement looking for work, especially when work is plentiful. This is necessary because itís a rare occurrence when a prospective employer will knock on doors to make employment offers.

Then there is the matter of irresponsible parenthood. The foremost question that begs an answer in this regard is: Why is the taxpayer held liable for the cost of raising a child because young couples haven't got enough sense to practice birth control? The parents and the young people involved, not the taxpayer, are the responsible parties. When a pregnancy results from youthful shenanigans, they and their parents must be held personally and financially responsible, not the state. Sexual irresponsibility needs to be discouraged, not encouraged by having available public assistance options that make it painless for the irresponsible among us.

In any event, its essential for the well-being of all Nova Scotians that the cost of this program be brought under control. This is especially so if we want, as caring people, to be sound enough financially to be able to deal compassionately with the truly needy among us. That category, God forbid, is a possibility for any of us. The many former millionaires and other formerly well-off people who receive public assistance today in Canada is a stark reminder of this fact. Thus reform is essential.

However, effecting change won't be easy, because many special interest groups get up in arms when someone has the guts to suggest that it has to be done and then undertakes to do it. They go off the deep end and display their lack of knowledge about financial matters by advocating more reckless spending. These people must accept that there is no goose that lays golden eggs to finance such with; the overburdened taxpayer does it. For their own well-being, members of these groups must keep in mind that a bankrupt provincial treasury cannot provide essential services to anyone.

The provincial government, although many may not like it, is doing what needs to be done to bring the province back from the brink of financial disaster. Opposition parties, instead of just criticizing, should be forthcoming with offering viable, non-politically motivated solutions. This is so because if either had formed a government, circumstances would have mandated that it do almost exactly what both are now criticizing the Tories for!

Daniel N. Paul

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