Ontario's welfare program needs transformation, commission says
A task force charged with transforming Ontario’s $8.3-billion welfare system says the government must do more to help those receiving payments transition to the workforce.
The Commission for the Review of Social Assistance in Ontario released a report Wednesday recommending that the province replace the current Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support Program with a single, integrated program that will develop into a simpler and more effective system.
The recommendation was one of 108 released by the commission, which, in 2010, was tasked with reviewing social assistance programs throughout the province.
"Social assistance as it is now sidelines people with disabilities and condemns too many people to a life of poverty and isolation," Frances Lankin, who led the commission alongside Munir Sheikh, said in a statement. "We heard from recipients across the province that they want to work, and are able to work, but they need the right support to reach their goals.”
The report recommends a new integrated social assistance program with provincial standards delivered at the municipal level. By administrating the program locally, it could be integrated with nearby employment services, child care and housing services, the task force suggests.
The report also recommends streamlining welfare payments to a standard rate for adults living alone and another for those living with others.
A standard rate would ensure recipients receive an adequate income while maintaining fairness between recipients, the report notes, giving them more of an incentive to work. Increases to social assistance would reflect differences in the cost of living across Ontario.
The task force recommends in the short term that the province provide a disability supplement, as well as supplements to families with children and single parents, while the new system “matures.”
“In a fully transformed system, disability, children's and health benefits would be removed from social assistance and made available to all low-income individuals and families to eliminate structural barriers for people trying to exit the system for work,” reads a commission statement issued Wednesday.
The commission also said welfare payments to single adults should increase by $100 immediately.
"People receiving the lowest rate simply do not have enough to survive," said Lankin. "Ontario Works recipients without children are living in undeniable poverty, and we urge the government to take immediate steps to improve their situation."