If you’re on disability or require social assistance in Ontario, then you might be interested in some changes announced by the provincial government.
Lisa MacLeod, the Minister of Children, Community and Social Services, said last week that social services will be streamlined and put in increasing conjunction with employment, as well as changing the definition of what is considered a disability.
“Social assistance in Ontario today is an ineffective, disjointed patchwork of supports that traps people in a broken system,” MacLeod said. “Our plan is about a more effective, sustainable approach to helping people find and keep jobs and achieve better outcomes.”
The minister added that almost 1 million people are on social assistance at $10 billion a year, yet almost 80 per cent of them return to social assistance within a year. She added there is also over 240 income support rates and combinations and a web of over 800 rules, making the administration and red tape cumbersome.
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“Ontario Works feel more like policing over than empowering. The system discourages initiative and encourages inaction,” MacLeod said in a press conference at Queen’s Park.
Here are some of the following changes to social assistance:
The definition of disability will be in line with the federal government’s definition, which is quoted as “is an umbrella term, covering impairments, activity limitations, and participation restrictions. An impairment is a problem in body function or structure; an activity limitation is a difficulty encountered by an individual in executing a task or action; while a participation restriction is a problem experienced by an individual in involvement in life situations.”
Introducing new Ontario Works earnings exemptions to encourage employment faster. Recipients will be able to earn up to $300 per month without reducing their assistance, up from the current $200 flat rate (the previous Liberal government’s plan would have given recipients up to $400 per month).
Twenty-five per cent of subsequent earnings would be exempt. Exemptions would start after one month on assistance, quicker than the current three month waiting period.
Incentivizing people on Ontario Works to find jobs, particularly by allowing lower income workers to keep more of what they earn through the Low-Income Individuals and Families Tax Credit (LIFT) which, if passed, will help an individual worker earning $30,000 a year keep an extra $850 per year.
Reviewing of benefits so they are monitored annually instead of monthly.
Those currently on the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) will be grandfathered in so they will still be on the program.
When asked how the province was going to measure success with these reforms on social assistance, MacLeod said her ministry would be looking at municipalities locally to set those targets, such as job retention, outcome and performance measures.
The minister also disputed the numbers from the last budget that was tabled by the Liberals, calling the March 2018 document tabled a ‘fake budget’. The Tories cancelled the 3 per cent increase for social assistance under the Liberals and replaced it with a 1.5 per cent increase.
ACORN Canada, an independent national organization representing low to middle income families, says the redefinition of disability will make it more difficult for people to access ODSP in the future.
“Although the Liberals’ plan for a $6,000 annual exemption for people working while receiving ODSP has been maintained, the clawback rate has been increased to 75%. People with disabilities who earn over $6,000 from employment will only receive 25 cents for every dollar they earn. We are also disappointed that the exemption has been cut from $400 per month for OW recipients, to $300 per month. This cut will further entrench poverty in our communities,” ACORN said in a press release.
“Since they took office, we have frequently heard the government’s divisive rhetoric that social assistance recipients just need to get a job. ACORN’s recent report reveals the impact of the UK’s punitive welfare system, where reforms have centered around cuts and work requirements,” ACORN continued, saying they don’t want to see Ontario go the way of the UK, where “people are dying as a result of cuts.”
During the 1990s when the last Conservative was in office, they implemented a 20 per cent cut in welfare payments; it’s no wonder why advocacy groups who concern themselves over the affairs of those on a lower income scale are concerned when they hear a provincial government calling for ‘getting those on social assistance back to work,’ fearing a repeat of the 1990s.
However, this more holistic approach of tying social assistance to employment seems more acceptable today for those who prefer work over welfare. Could this new approach be more beneficial to the system in the future?