Proposed changes to Ontario's system of social assistance to end a perpetual cycle of poverty

In order to end a perpetual cycle of poverty, Ontario's system of social assistance needs to change.

This was the conclusion of the Commission on the Review of Social Assistance in Ontario, who released a report outlining a list of improvements that would make for a more accountable and effective system of social assistance.The commission consisted of members with impressive experience in both the economics and social service fields and has received support from both activists and business leaders alike.Their vision, outlined in their Oct. 24 report, is of a new, simplified system that would encourage and help recipients to find jobs and gain financial independence in order to lift them out of poverty.Some of these recommendations, which would help to fulfill this goal include merging the Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support programs into a single program that would offer more individualized support to all social assistance recipients including those with disabilities.Importantly, these programs will be administered at the local level by municipal governments and First Nations groups based upon the specific individual needs of community members.Governments would also provide incentives to local employers to hire those currently on social assistance as well as to increase the availability of childcare, housing and other services that would significantly improve the prospects of people currently on social assistance to not only find jobs, but also to remain employed.The commission has also recommended that the benefit structure be simplified to ensure that those receiving social assistance would be only be paid “a standard rate for adults living alone,” or a “modified standard rate for people in shared accommodations.”The criteria upon which the rates would be decided is based upon the ability to provide a liveable income, which at the same time would not be so high as to be unfair to low-income workers and thus would also create an incentive for those on social assistance to find employment. Any increases to this rate would also depend on the cost of living in the areas in which they are administered.However, the commission has also recommended that additional compensation be given to single parents and people with disabilities who are on social assistance, but these would be removed once the transition to the new system is complete. Under the new system, these benefits would be available to all recipients and reflected in the single rate. The commission argues that this would “eliminate structural barriers for people trying to exit the system for work.”They further recommend that a Provincial Commissioner for Social Assistance be appointed who would be responsible for monitoring the system and each year, would be required to produce a report card outlining its performance. The commissioner would also be responsible for suggesting any changes to improve the system.In addition, the commission implores the provincial government “to address the issue of rising income inequality, and, as well, develop a comprehensive human capital development strategy that would make it possible for work to pay, encouraging recipients of social assistance to exit the program.”The full report and various supplementary materials can be found at Ros, Associate Writer* The meeting was organized by Tom Rakocevic of the York West NDP.  Cheri diNovo, MPP for Parkdale/High  Park and the NDP critic for community and social services was the guest speaker.  They stand together in the picture below.  The other pictures are of 4 discussion groups and a picture of the groups as a whole. *