Sudbury - Testifying on the 25th day of the coroners inquest into the death of Kimberly Rogers, welfare law expert Ian Morrison suggested Ontario Works case workers and administrators are not entirely reliable experts on the issue of welfare fraud a statement he later backtracked on somewhat under cross-examination.
Rogers, 40, died of an overdose of anti-depressants in her apartment in August 2001 during a heat wave. At the time of her death, she was eight months pregnant and under house arrest for welfare fraud.
Morrison talked at length about the immensely complicated rules that govern Ontario Works, and suggested many welfare recipients do not completely understand those rules, which are frequently changed.
Morrison said there is a huge gray area (among recipients) of activities that may or may not be fraudulent in a legal sense, adding he does not feel that imposing a welfare ban of any length of time on an individual for fraud is justifiable.
Morrisons testimony comes a short time after Harold Duff, Sudburys local Ontario Works administrator, claimed fraud occurs in five to 10 per cent of Sudburys caseload.
Morrison said he would not give a give a great deal of credence to such a statistic, since attitudes toward fraud among social assistance workers is highly subjective.
Fraud, he argued, is difficult to ascertain, and the only substantial study in Ontario was conducted in 1987, with a report by KPMG that put fraud levels in the ballpark of three per cent, yet the company has admitted the study was of limited value, said Morrison.
Under cross-examination by the City of Greater Sudburys lawyer Martin James, however, Morrison admitted he has not worked as a front-line caseworker in the delivery of social services, or studied welfare fraud in Sudbury.
Asked by James if he was in a better position to understand welfare fraud than Duff, Morrison replied: No, Im not saying that.
Morrison then acknowledged that Duff may be better positioned to understand welfare fraud in Sudbury.
Asked about the basic philosophy of Ontario Works to move clients through the system on the shortest route to employment, Morrison replied that strategy has been very problematic for a significant number of the agencys clientele.
Welfare numbers dropping
Morrison noted that a significant minority of about one-quarter of recipients enter the welfare system and leave fairly quickly, while others, such as sole-support families, can stay in the system for years because they cannot support themselves in burger-flipping jobs.
Ontarios welfare population has decreased considerably since 1996, said Morrison, adding that much of that decrease has come from single recipients, who currently make up 46 per cent of the provinces caseloads, while there has been little change among single-parent families, who comprise 40 per cent of caseloads, or among couples.
Morrison said that 40 to 60 per cent of cases are for employment-related reasons, although many end up in low-income jobs and live below the poverty line.
Rogers was convicted of fraud for accepting welfare while borrowing student loans to take post-secondary courses.
Morrison said that education is a key indicator of employment, and discussed data produced by the National Council on Welfare that divided Ontario Welfare recipients by education:
As a qualification, Morrison noted that many recent immigrants have post-secondary degrees yet are unable to work, suggesting the study probably overstates the prevalence of people with post-secondary educations on welfare.
The higher the level of education you have, the better your opportunities for employment, said Morrison.