This report summarizes the presentations and discussion from the IPPR’s Welfare to Work symposium held in London, England in March 2011. This conference was an important contribution to ISAC’s ongoing research into policy recommendations for improvements to Ontario Works and ODSP within the context of the provincial government’s Review of Social Assistance in Ontario. Generous financial assistance provided by IPPR made ISAC’s attendance possible.
The Institute for Public Policy Research is a non-partisan, progressive think tank in the UK that works with all political parties to ensure “fairness, democracy and sustainabilityâ€ in public policy. IPPR is committed to “combating inequality, empowering citizens, promoting social responsibility, creating a sustainable economy, and revitalising democracyâ€. (See www.ippr.org.uk.)
The two-day symposium brought together a number of experts from around the world â€“ including representatives of the British government and the Official Opposition, the OECD, Eurofound, Gallup, the New York City government, and service providers from the U.S., the UK, and Australia. Attendees engaged in both plenary panels and small group breakout sessions to explore the benefits and challenges involved in current “welfare to workâ€ policy and practice in various jurisdictions.
A number of perspectives were put forward by panellists, presenters, and attendees, on issues ranging from activation and compulsion policies, to labour market policy, the employer’s role in welfare to work programs, the importance of the local level of service provision and planning, and a number of other areas.
One of the most crucial messages taken from the symposium, however, is that the “work firstâ€ approach, pioneered in the 1980s and 1990s by governments anxious to move people off welfare caseloads and into the labour market, has had very limited success and has created a number of other problems that must now be addressed.