A Submission to the Commission for the Review of Social Assistance in Ontario

Introduction:

In June 2009, ISAC launched www.sareview.ca, a website dedicated to tracking the Ontario government’s promised Social Assistance Review. The website was envisioned as a place where people on social assistance and their allies and advocates could get information and news stories about the review, as well as reports from various groups about how Ontario’s current social assistance programs should be changed.

It was also seen as a place where people on social assistance could tell their own stories, and make their own recommendations for change. Since June, the website has collected nearly 50 stories from people on Ontario Works or the Ontario Disability Support Program, which are compiled in this report.

We asked people on Ontario Works (OW) or the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) to use their lived expertise to help re-imagine social assistance.

We asked them to talk about the problems they experience right now, by asking them to answer the questions, “What are the ways OW and ODSP have undermined you, failed to support you, denied you opportunities, or stopped you from reaching your full potential?”

We also asked them to imagine the future, by telling us, “What resources, programs, and assistance do you think would help you and people in your community thrive, have economic security, and be able to live the life you want to live? What do you think your life might look like if you had the resources, programs, and assistance you just described?”

These are powerful stories, interwoven with themes of fear and desperation, of shame and frustration, of dignity and resilience. The stories raise the need for more appropriate education and training, for more sensible treatment of income, and for rules that are easy to understand and designed to encourage people rather than break their spirits. They highlight the punitive nature of the current social assistance system, and the need to break down the systemic barriers that keep people trapped in poverty.

We have organized these stories into those that address issues for people relying on OW, and those that deal with the problems around ODSP. There is also a section devoted to issues outside those two programs. We have also minimally edited these stories, but only where editing would help increase comprehension.

Stories like these, of people with lived experience, are critical to transforming social assistance and developing new policies and programs. We hope that they will provide you with a sense not only of the problems and struggles that Ontarians continue to face when having to rely on social assistance, but also with the breadth and depth of knowledge and wisdom that people on OW and ODSP bring to the table. And we hope that you will use these suggestions for change to help direct your work to transform social assistance in Ontario.

Download the entire ‘Tell Your Story’ document here