Crystal Chin knows well the problems associated with the current Social Assistance system.
As a young adult with cerebral palsy, Crystal receives benefits from the Ontario Disability Support Program. But these benefits are inadequate, both financially and in terms of other supports.
At a public forum hosted by the Income Security Advocacy Centre (ISAC) on June 23, Crystal said that the current social assistance system “should be about assisting and supporting people to participate and achieve their dreams. It should be about helping people get out of poverty. It’s not.”
The conversation has begun.
In December of 2008, the provincial government made a commitment to review Social Assistance programs as part of its poverty reduction strategy. But, said Sarah Blackstock of ISAC, “We still don’t know what that means”.
No information has come forward from government as to what the review process will be, who will be included, or even the terms and scope of the review.
“It’s time for a bold review,” said Mary Marrone, Director of Legal Services and Advocacy at ISAC. “The system is fundamentally flawed. It directly contradicts the government’s commitment to poverty reduction, and does nothing to respond to the economic climate or provide people with opportunities to contribute to and benefit from a prosperous province.”
She called on government to meet its commitment, and transform the system from punishment and surveillance to respect and support.
Speakers at the forum included Chin, Sistering Executive Director and long-time social justice activist Angela Robertson, lawyer and labour activist Marion Overholt, and well-known author and women’s rights advocate Judy Rebick.
More than 75 people attended the forum – people with lived experience, policy experts, agency staff, and government representatives – and had much to add to the conversation.
People living on OW and ODSP benefits, and agency staff that assist them, talked about their experiences of dealing with a system that was intentionally set up to deny benefits, its inconsistencies, and its often unhelpful employment supports.
A spokesperson for Minister Deb Matthews, the minister responsible for poverty reduction in Ontario, reiterated the government’s commitment to a review of social assistance. But he was unable to provide further details about the process.
“In Ontario, we legislate poverty,” said Overholt. “That has to end. It has to end now.”