We all tend to think things were tougher in the past. We walked to school in the snow. We made less money. Welfare was harder to get. Wasn’t it?

As a matter of fact, when we look at the asset limitations on the four programs in Ontario that still have them – Ontario Works, disability support, subsidized housing, and legal aid – the limits for eligibility are the harshest they have ever been.

Canada has a wide range of social security programs, and most of them did away with asset testing many years ago. Not so with these four Ontario programs, which affect some 900,000 of the poorest people in the province.

Perhaps we need to give our heads a collective shake. Why don’t we want the poor to own anything? In a society that promotes saving and cherishes self-reliance, what is the rationale for public policy that almost guarantees people will grow old in poverty?

Welfare may be a partial answer to destitution, but impoverishing people through asset testing has nothing at all to do with restoring self-sufficiency.

As a first step, this paper recommends the following reforms.

1. Raise asset limits in Ontario for social assistance, and legal aid to $5,000 for single people and $10,000 for families and people with disabilities.

2. In the short term, bring Ontario policy in line with Alberta by exempting a further $5,000 per adult in Tax-Free Savings Accounts and RRSPs. In the longer term, consider adopting the Quebec model of a blanket exemption in registered instruments of $60,000.

3. In the short term, exempt all assets for the first six months of receipt of assistance, as an extension of policies adopted in Newfoundland and Labrador.

4. Eliminate the option to asset test subsidized housing under the Social Housing Reform Act.

5. The federal government must once again assume the leadership role in which it has proven itself so successful in the past. The federal government should call on all provinces and territories to exempt modest RRSP and TFSA amounts from their welfare asset and income rules, building on the provincial leadership of Quebec, Alberta, and Newfoundland and Labrador.


Download the entire report in PDF from the Metcalf Foundation website

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