Daniel Nolan Thu Oct 25 2012
Local groups that deal with poverty are saying there are good things — but not everything they wanted — in a long-awaited review of Ontario’s $8.3-billion welfare system.
A 183-page, $3.5-million report released Wednesday by commissioners Frances Lankin and Munir Sheikh has 108 recommendations that they say will “chart a new course for social assistance towards a simpler, more effective and accountable system that removes barriers to employment and increases opportunities to work.”
Brighter Prospects: Transforming Social Assistance in Ontario, the report has been two years in the making.
Chief among the recommendations is a proposal to merge Ontario Works (OW) and the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) into a program delivered by municipalities, which already deliver OW.
The commissioners also recommend an immediate $100-per-month increase to $699 for single, able-bodied adults and that welfare benefits be based on a standard rate for all single adults that would be adjusted for those sharing accommodations. The rate would be based on a methodology that “achieves a balance among adequate incomes, fairness between social assistance recipients and low-income workers and financial incentive to work.”
In addition, the commissioners want welfare recipients to earn up to $200 per month before benefits are clawed back and increase asset levels so individuals on welfare do not have to use up all of their life savings.
“We’re pleasantly surprised and encouraged by the report,” said Hamilton Spectator managing editor Howard Elliott, chair of the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction. “It doesn’t go far enough in some cases, but is bold in many areas, and moves toward a more equitable and dignified approach to social assistance.”
“The proposal to increase assistance for those living in the deepest poverty is an important first step and should be implemented by Cabinet immediately,” said Deirdre Pike of Hamilton Organizing for Poverty Elimination (HOPE) and the 25 in 5 Hamilton Network for Poverty Reduction.
Brad Spencer, executive director of PATH Employment Services, a non-profit agency that finds jobs for the disabled, called the merging of OW and ODSP “a good thing” because some disabled residents have had trouble getting ODSP, while others with disabilities are collecting OW.
Spencer liked the recommendation that would see the province partner with corporate leaders to champion the hiring of the disabled, but was disappointed with one aspect.
“Our agency needs wage incentives to cover the costs employers might face in orienting people with disabilities to their new jobs,” Spencer said. “Some supports have costs and there needs to be funds available to offset them.”
The roundtable and HOPE had urged the commission to implement an evidence-based welfare system covering the costs of basic necessities such as shelter, food, clothing, hygiene products and transportation. They didn’t get that, but saw the approach to setting the standard welfare rate as a step toward their recommendation.
Councillor Terry Whitehead, vice-chair of the city’s emergency and community services committee, said the city would review the report’s recommendations. However, he wondered about the cost implications for the city running both OW and ODSP and whether the province would provide adequate funding. “The devil is always in the detail,” Whitehead added.
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