The Income Security Advocacy Centre is pleased to make this submission to Ontario’s Commission for the Review of Social Assistance.
Our submission sets out a vision for social assistance and an analysis of how the current programs support or undermine that vision. And while this submission references the Commission’s Discussion Paper, it does not follow the questions asked in the Commission’s Workbook. As we expect a robust consultation on program design options in the second consultation, we are instead focusing on what we see as the key policy issues for social assistance in Ontario.
In particular, this submission examines why the current Ontario Works (OW) program cannot reach objectives consistent with poverty reduction under its current policy framework. It will also look at the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP). While ODSP shares many of the same problems as OW with respect to financial eligibility, unlike OW it has promising legislative objectives that have been given effect in judicial decisions at the highest level. While these objectives have not been fully realized, the program nonetheless has some important features that should not be discarded but instead built upon.
We have developed our analysis based largely on the experience of our colleagues in the clinic system who work with recipients of OW and ODSP and the hurdles that they face every day. We have also worked closely with recipients of those programs through the ODSP Action Coalition, and several community development projects that have also acted as qualitative research into the issues that the Commission is grappling with.
While there are several discrete groups in disproportionate risk of poverty, our remarks in this submission focus particularly on the issues facing single mothers, newcomers, and members of racialized groups in the OW and ODSP systems. We understand that First Nations issues are being addressed through a separate consultation process, which we believe is appropriate in order to best address how Ontario’s income security programs can meet their unique needs.