Ontario’s 2008 Poverty Reduction Strategy announced that the review of social assistance with a focus on removing barriers and increasing opportunities for people to work
This commitment was reinforced in subsequent provincial Budgets and in the annual progress reports of the Poverty Reduction Strategy
In late 2009, the Minister set up the Social Assistance Review Advisory Council (SARAC) to recommend the Review’s scope
In May 2010, the Minister received recommendations from SARAC and announced the appointment of the Commissioners and the Terms of Reference, reflecting SARAC’s advice, on November 30 th , 2010
The Commission is being asked to provide the government with specific recommendations and a concrete action plan to improve the social assistance system, with a final report to be submitted to the Minister by June 30 th , 2012
The Terms of Reference developed by government describes five key outcomes; these outcomes statements provide the focus for dialogue with stakeholders and for the Commission’s research priorities
Specifically, the Commission’s recommendations will enable government to:
establish an appropriate benefit structure that reduces barriers and supports people’s transition into, and attachment within the labour market
This includes guaranteeing security for those who cannot work
place reasonable expectations on, and provide supports for, people who rely on social assistance with respect to active engagement in the labour market and participation in treatment and rehabilitation
simplify income and asset rules to improve equity and make it easier to understand and administer social assistance
ensure the long-term viability of the social assistance system
define Ontario’s position vis-a-vis the federal and municipal government as it relates to income security for Ontarians
In early June, we formally launched our engagement process with a Discussion Paper to focus the conversation on solutions, by identifying the challenges and trade-offs in the way forward
We encouraged people across Ontario to come together in groups to engage in cross-community dialogue so that proposed solutions reflected the perspectives of different regions and communities.
A Guide to Hosting a Community Conversation and a video message from the Commissioners were made available on the website to support community conversation
The Commissioners joined these “community conversations”, in 11 communities during June and July. In each community, local organizations were asked to convene sessions and site visits over the course of a day involving a wide range of stakeholders.
All told, the Commissioners connected with over 2000 people through these visits.
In addition, many other communities also responded to the invitation to organize community conversations and send in the ideas generated at the sessions.
The website provided a number of ways for people to respond to the paper, including through the online workbook, by sending in a written submission or making a short comment. A 1-800 number was publicized on the site.
We received over 700 submissions through these various means; many of these are posted on our website so that people can learn about the perspectives of others on the issues and solutions
In keeping with its mandate, the Commission is holding “separate and substantive discussions with First Nations to ensure reforms that reflect their needs and priorities”, as directed in the Commission’s Terms of Reference
We are engaging with the Chiefs of Ontario, the Ontario Native Welfare Administrators Association whose members deliver OW on reserve, and the Ontario Federation of Indian Friendship Centres that represent those working with urban aboriginals
The Commissioners are also meeting with political leadership and communities through regional sessions with various First Nations communities across the province. These will continue through the end of November
The Commissioners had a very useful meeting with ODEN representatives and subsequently with some of the employers in ODEN’s Champions’ League. As a follow-up, they will be meeting with Lt.-Gov. David Onley in early December to further discuss the issues of employment with persons with disabilities
The ODEN submission provided valuable advice on the key issues raised in the Discussion Paper, including:
The “Employment First” model which recognizes the importance of employment and the potential contribution of people with disabilities
The importance of inter-ministerial and inter-jurisdictional coordination, with consistent and integrated funding
The need for investment in employment services
The importance of seeing the employers as clients, and providing supports to job retention
The submission had a good discussion of incentives and disincentives and pointed to some of the real impacts of such features of the current system as assets limits, claw-backs, “overpayments”, and the lack of health benefits available outside social assistance
It also spoke to solutions in terms of regional variations in rates, alternatives to depletion of assets, different approaches to those who need only short-term income support assistance, changes in reporting and application processes