TORONTO (Oct 24, 2012) – The Income Security Advocacy Centre (ISAC) is urging the provincial government to respond to the report of the Commission for the Review of Social Assistance in Ontario by immediately engaging with people on social assistance.

“It is time to move social assistance away from punishment and surveillance and toward dignity and support,” said Mary Marrone, Director of Advocacy and Legal Services. “The first step must be to evaluate the Commission’s recommendations in consultation with the people who will be most affected – those on OW and ODSP.”

The Commission’s report arose out of a commitment to review social assistance made by the provincial government in its 2008 Poverty Reduction Strategy. The report recommends establishing a stakeholder advisory committee, and using a number of frameworks – including an equity framework and a newly-created disability framework – to move forward on reform.

“The report includes some important recommendations, many of which reflect a broad-based consensus,” said Marrone. “We urge the province to act immediately on these – including improving income adequacy, increasing asset limits, improving supports for employment, providing a 50% exemption for child support payments, improving access to other supports like childcare and housing, and expanding drug and dental benefits to all low income Ontarians”.

Marrone noted that other recommendations should clearly not be adopted by government.

“The impact of the Commission’s recommendations on people with disabilities are potentially serious and far-reaching”, said Marrone. “After nearly two decades of erosion of benefits, including the recent elimination of the Community Start-up and Maintenance Benefit, more cuts or reductions simply cannot be made,” said Marrone. “And rolling the Special Diet Allowance into the ‘standard rate’ would be devastating to people with serious medical conditions.” The Commission’s proposed benefit structure means many people with disabilities would see reduced benefit rates.

The report also discusses ‘trade-offs’ that must be made in determining the level of income that people would receive. “We don’t accept that income adequacy should be balanced off against any other measure,” said Marrone. “Government must make a commitment to ensure that people on social assistance have incomes that meet their needs and provide them and their families with adequate levels of support.”

The Commission’s report also proposes expanding participation requirements to people with disabilities, despite barriers they face in the labour market. “Yes, people with disabilities need improved access to the labour market and they need improved employment services, as recommended by the report,” said Marrone. “But they don’t need more rules that could jeopardize their ability to pay the rent and put food on the table.”

Marrone also noted that there are other ideas in the report that may have positive transformative potential, but that require additional research and analysis.

“The conversation about social assistance reform must continue because the status quo is unacceptable,” said Marrone. “We welcome the opportunity to speak to all the provincial parties about the implications of the Commission’s report and the positive steps that they can all take moving forward.”