PC government reforms to social assistance reinforce poverty

CBJ Newsmakers

TORONTO, Nov. 26, 2018 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Yesterday, Minister of Children, Community and Social Services, Lisa MacLeod announced a series of reforms to the province’s social assistance system, which supports almost 1 million Ontarians per year. These reforms include significant changes to both Ontario Works (OW) and the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP).

As part of the reform, recipients of OW will soon see an increase of $100 in monthly earnable income, including a 25 per cent exemption on any additional earnings. Whereas, under the previous Liberal government, this threshold was set to increase by $200, including a 50 per cent exemption on additional earnings.

The government has also indicated that it will be changing its definition of disability to align with the definition used by the federal government.

As it stands, the federal government has no single definition for what constitutes a disability. However, when looking at federal social assistance programs such as the Canada Pension Plan, the threshold to qualify for disability benefits is significantly higher than the current definition under ODSP. Therefore, it remains unclear whether the new definition of disability adopted by the Ontario government will in fact mean less people will qualify for ODSP.

“Today’s announcement raises more questions than answers, specifically regarding who will or will not qualify for ODSP moving forward,” said Nour Alideeb, Chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario. “It was disappointing to see this government ‘for the people’ impose a series of reductions to social assistance dressed up as a meaningful reform. Minister MacLeod touted the need for social assistance rooted in compassion which gives dignity to users. However, what these changes do is further entrench a system that forces people who rely on social assistance to live in poverty.”

A significant aspect of these reforms focused on supporting people on social assistance to find employment. This part of the plan includes offering incentives to reward staff and service providers who find employment for ODSP and OW recipients. The plan also aims to create a new government website that will serve as a job database.

Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities, Merrilee Fullerton was present at yesterday’s announcement to emphasize the government’s focus on ensuring access to employment is seen as the ultimate goal of the Ontario social assistance system.

“It was disappointing to see Minister Fullerton reiterate the importance of connecting job-seekers with the required skills for employment but make no mention of the crucial role that colleges and universities play in this process,” said Alideeb. “It seems redundant that more money would be invested in creating incentives to connect job-seekers with employers, rather than ensuring all Ontarians have access to the education they need to find work in today’s economy.”

For more information contact:
Ian McRae, Government Relations and Policy Coordinator: 416-925-3825 or 306-852-0128
Nour Alideeb, Chairperson: 416-925-3825