Bridges out of Poverty – "AHA! Again!"

A day with Dr. Ruby Payne, the founder of Aha Process Inc. and the author of A Framework for Understanding Poverty, on 27th April at Lamplighter with 200 participants was another few Aha moments for me, even though this was my 5th Bridges out of Poverty session. The “Aha” moments were not exactly “new” but more of “I have forgotten to reframe my middle class mindset”.

At the session, one of the participants asked Dr. Payne of her thoughts in Basic Income Guarantee which is one of the 112 recommendations from the London Mayor’s Advisory Panel on Poverty. According to the provincial budget, a pilot project to test the Basic Income Guarantee is yet to come.

Dr. Payne’s response of, “it has to come with education” resonated with me deeply. In her book “A Framework for Understanding Poverty”, she pointed out that “interventions work because resources are there to make them work. If that basic concept is not understood, then any intervention will not be successful”.

When the London Ontario Works decided to provide eligible recipients their monthly bus pass of $81.00 on their monthly cheque in October 2014 rather than a code on their cheque stubs in exchange for a pass bus, we, at Leads did not see a decrease in number of request for bus tickets but what we did experience was an increase in cost. We no longer could claim for bus ticket expenses from Ontario Works against those recipients who have received the transportation allowance. We continued to provide the bus tickets with the assumption that attendance to skills development and employment sessions will decrease if we cease this practice. This is a barrier to our clients in gaining and retaining employment.  By October 2015, we recognized that we could no longer operate in a deficit position as the trend did not change.   A meeting with Ontario Works in December 2015 resulted a stronger working partnership with the Ontario Works caseworkers who immediately put more focus on supporting and reinforcing the clients to the use of their transportation allowance to attend training sessions and job development activities. At Leads, we put more focus on providing finance literacy, money management and decision making training sessions. By February 2016, Leads ceased the practice of providing bus tickets to the Ontario Works recipients who have the transportation allowance. This initial period of transition appeared to be stressful for some clients but they seemed to have accepted the new system with continued education and support. Many are purchasing bus tickets, not bus passes, to come to their sessions. Throughout the transition period, the overall client attendance did not dropped, it maintained its standard range of 53%-58%.  

So this experience bears the point that Dr. Payne made, “Money makes human capital development easier, but money alone does not develop human capital.”  The Basic Income Guarantee pilot must come with the elements of education and support through the transition for people to reframe and move to a knowledge base. People need the knowledge to understand and then make informed decisions. We all need tools to help us relate, reframe and repeat in learning to change. I am looking forward to June 4th   Bridges out of Poverty session for my next “AHA Again” moments. 

Wendy Lau is the CEO of Leads Employment Services and the Co-Chair of the Bridges out of Poverty Action Group