B-Roll: Commission for the Review of Social Assistance in Ontario Releases Final Report
Commission for the Review of Social Assistance in Ontario recommends
sweeping reforms to create paths into employment and out of poverty
TORONTO, Oct. 24, 2012 /CNW/ - Ontario's social assistance system must
do a better job of helping people move into employment and supporting
all recipients, including those with disabilities, to participate in
the workforce to the maximum of their abilities.
These findings are among the comprehensive Brighter Prospects: Transforming Social Assistance in Ontario, the final report to government of the 22-month Commission for the
Review of Social Assistance in Ontario, led by Frances Lankin and Munir
A. Sheikh. Together, the report's 108 recommendations 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.
"Social assistance as it is now sidelines people with disabilities and
condemns too many people to a life of poverty and isolation," said
Lankin. "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. Putting people on a path to a better life reduces poverty
and strengthens our communities, contributing to greater economic
prosperity for all Ontarians."
"We urge the government to act on these recommendations. The cost of
inaction is simply too high," said Sheikh. "Without transformational
change to the social assistance system, caseloads and costs will
continue to rise and we will fail to realize the full potential of our
valuable human capital."
Highlights of the report include:
Replacing Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program with
a single integrated program that provides individualized employment
services and related supports to all social assistance recipients,
including people with disabilities. The new program would be delivered
at the local level by municipalities and First Nations, to build on
their understanding of their communities. Municipal management would
also leverage connections to local employers and improve access to
other necessary services, such as child care and housing.
Simplifying the benefit structure so that, in a fully transformed
system, the only financial benefit provided to recipients through
social assistance would be a standard rate for adults living alone or a
modified standard rate for people in shared accommodations. The
standard rate would be based on a methodology that achieves a balance
among three objectives: adequate incomes, fairness between social
assistance recipients and low-income workers, and financial incentive
to work. Future increases to the rate would reflect differences in
living costs across the province.
Until the system matures, there would be two additional building blocks
on top of the standard rate provided through social assistance: a
disability supplement and supplements to families with children and
sole-support parents. 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. A new disability benefit outside social assistance is identified
as a first priority.
Providing a clear point of accountability for the system through the
appointment of a Provincial Commissioner for Social Assistance, who
would drive change and publish an annual report card on the performance
of the system.
Calling on the government to address the issue of rising income
inequality and, as well, develop a comprehensive human capital
development strategy that would make it possible for work to pay,
encouraging recipients of social assistance to exit the program.
"Transformational change will take time but there are priority steps
that can happen now, including moving quickly to establish a Provincial
Partnership with corporate leaders to champion the hiring of people
with disabilities," said Sheikh.
"Throughout the review we engaged with corporate leaders who are already
taking action to improve the employment prospects of people with
disabilities, and are willing to partner with the government to achieve
real change. This early win, combined with other initiatives to
support people with disabilities, could have dramatic results."
A Business Advisory Panel on Income Security Reform, chaired by Bill
Downe, CEO, BMO Financial Group, provided advice to the Commission over
the course of the review. In an open letter to the Premier, the Panel
said that they "look forward to being engaged in a new partnership that
brings the private sector to the table as the province expands
employment prospects for people with disabilities."
"…Helping everyone achieve their potential is simply the right thing to
do - for individual Ontarians, for business, for the provincial economy
and for a government seeking to secure future sources of revenue."
Early implementation priorities also include changes to improve adequacy
in the financial support provided by social assistance, including
allowing recipients to keep more of their existing assets and earn up
to $200 a month without having their benefits reduced. The Commission
is also recommending an immediate increase of $100 a month to the
lowest rate category, single adults receiving Ontario Works, as a down
payment on adequacy while the system undergoes transformation.
"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."
The members of the former Social Assistance Review Advisory Committee
(SARAC), a group of leading community advocates chaired by Gail Nyberg,
Executive Director, Daily Bread Food Bank, provided the Commission with
insight into the impacts of the system on people's lives. SARAC also
responded to the report in an open letter to the Premier, stating:
"We applaud the Commission for recognizing the growing consensus in the
community regarding urgent issues for reform. These include:
reorienting social assistance from a focus on surveillance to offering
real supports; improving the availability and quality of employment
services; fairer treatment of child support; and concrete steps that
lead to increases in incomes, such as rate increases..."
The Commission identified that the costs of the priority steps to begin
the transformation would be covered by a combination of administrative
savings, reallocations and some new investments by the Province.
About the Commission
In the 2008 Poverty Reduction Strategy, the Ontario government committed
to reviewing social assistance, with a focus on removing barriers and
increasing opportunities for people to work. It subsequently appointed
the Social Assistance Review Advisory Council to provide advice on a
proposed scope for the review. Taking into account the advice of this
Council, in late 2010 the government announced the appointment of
Frances Lankin, United Way Toronto's past President and CEO, and Munir
A. Sheikh, Canada's former Chief Statistician, to lead the Commission
for the Review of Social Assistance in Ontario.
For additional information, including Fast Facts about Social
Assistance, please visit the Commission's website at www.socialassistancereview.ca/final-report
For video clips of Frances Lankin, Munir A. Sheikh, Bill Downe and Gail
Nyberg, please visit www.newswire.ca
Broadcast video to support this story is available to download at http://cnw.pathfireondemand.com/viewpackage.action?packageid=649
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SOURCE: Commission for the Review of Social Assistance in Ontario
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