In 2008, the Ontario government committed to reviewing the social assistance system as part of its Poverty Reduction Strategy. Since then, many recommendations have been made for reforming the system. But, as yet, the government hasn’t laid out its vision for social assistance reform.
Until now, there has been little agreement on the direction for reform. Community members were asked in 2010 to make recommendations to the government about what a review of the system would look like. They said that the entire income security system should be reviewed – not just social assistance – and that making Ontario Works a more robust and supportive program should be a priority.
But a Commission appointed by government said in 2012 that growing ODSP caseloads should be reduced and streamlining of benefits should be take precedence.
Positive reforms to the programs were announced in the 2013 Budget, which primarily benefitted people on Ontario Works.
Negative reforms were announced in the 2014 Budget, however, which would have had adverse impacts on people on ODSP. A campaign against these changes resulted in government changing its mind.
And negative reforms for people on both programs were announced in the 2012 Budget with the loss of the Community Start-Up and Maintenance Benefit. In that case, cross-provincial advocacy resulted in government increasing funding by $42 million annually.
Government can’t continue to reform the OW and ODSP systems by announcing piecemeal changes in each annual provincial Budget. A multi-year plan for reforming the system is critical. Real reform must come with a commitment to achieving income adequacy as a first principle, and must be planned and implemented in ways that won’t put people at risk.
Last year, the provincial government committed to consultations on restructuring rates. While we don’t yet know exactly what this means, we hope that this will be a positive step forward. And we hope that it represents new thinking about how to make OW and ODSP work better for Ontarians.