INTRODUCTION: BRINGING SOCIAL ASSISTANCE IN LINE WITH POVERTY REDUCTION
With the announcement of its commitment to a Poverty Reduction Strategy, this government has signalled a marked departure in Ontario’s approach to poverty. This innovative and progressive response challenges the foundations of many existing programs. One such program is social assistance. A successful poverty reduction strategy for Ontario must include a new approach to the province’s social assistance programs, Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program, which are the products of an outdated approach to income security.
Ontario Works does not meet the needs of the people who rely on it, and it does not meet the needs of an economy that experts say is facing looming shortages of skilled labour. ODSP does not effectively provide for the long-term well-being of people with disabilities. Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program deepen poverty, and increase the social exclusion of recipients. And the philosophy, rules, and rhetoric surrounding both programs foster negative stereotypes that limit community support and opportunities for social assistance recipients.
It’s time for a paradigm shift in how we think about social assistance, its objectives and its role. Social assistance programs must incorporate an explicit objective to move people out of poverty, by offering meaningful support opportunities for those who can work and ensuring that those who cannot are able to live with dignity.
THREE STEPS TO START THE PROCESS:
- A commitment to transform Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program into programs that focus on taking people out of poverty, and a one-year process to develop the new design.
- The immediate elimination of punitive rules to set the tone for the transformation.
- A commitment and firm plan to close the gap between social assistance and adequacy of income.