Suggested Changes

What We Heard

When we were originally recruiting participants for the People’s Blueprint, we asked interested applicants to respond to this question: If you had a magic wand, what three things would you change about social assistance in Ontario. Of approx. 200 applications, this is the breakdown of key words in the responses:
• Work/Employment/Job – 228
• Money/income – 138
• Clients/Workers – 131
• Housing – 91

The responses in the interviews were consistent with these results. People want good jobs and they want to contribute to their community. However they identify barriers and other issues that get in their way.

People regularly spoke about clawbacks on their earned income as being a major barrier – “50% leaves you shorthanded.” People would like to see the system help them make the transition to work, such as by maintaining benefits until you get back on your feet, which doesn’t necessarily happen right away.

People spoke about having adequate training programs that help them find the jobs they want. They also want to further themselves through higher education, and not denied getting this education due to restrictions around receiving the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) and receiving social assistance. For those with foreign credentials, it was requested there should be assistance with recertification.

In terms of income, people said that Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support Program should be realistic, particularly about the cost of rent, food and transportation. “No rent in Toronto costs $350.” The money from social assistance does not provide what is necessary to live in a clean, safe environment.

People often referred to the need for more supportive caseworkers. A key ask was to stop making people feel so bad for getting assistance, as the shame and intimidation people feel already is strong. Many also mentioned the importance of “having someone we can talk to,” who can help people find a path to get to their goals. It was mentioned that it is very important for the worker to establish a trust with the client, when that happens the real benefits begin. This involves try to see who clients are and the type of needs they have, find out more of their likes, goals and talents. This also involves sharing more information on what social services have to offer.

In regards to housing, people spoke of the need for affordable, accessible housing, as well as allowing people to have more choice in regards to where they want to live. The issue of supportive housing for couples with disabilities was frequently raised.

Other key changes people wanted to see as they related to programs or services of social assistance included:
• Easing up on restrictions for people trying to go back to school to further their education. Financial assistance for education should take into consideration the specific challenges people with disabilities face.
• Assistance for those with criminal backgrounds in getting a pardon so they can enter the workforce.
• Understand the importance of and provide opportunities to access recreation.
• Provide access to transportation for everyone, in order to assist finding work.
• Access to communication, such as having a cell phone, should be mandatory.
• Increase asset limits and what people are allowed to save.
• Compensate those trying to upgrade their skills by attending workshops or training programs.

Questions For Discussion

1. What might be core principles of a renewed system of income support? What about specific tools, policies and approaches?
2. How can barriers to entering the labour market be addressed, particularly clawbacks and loss of benefits?
3. How could we ensure that social assistance benefits together with other income security programs amount to a decent standard of living? What are some possible standards of “a decent living”? What are some factors in determining this level?
4. What are the limits to what the present social assistance can provide with the changes people need?
5. How can lived experience and peer research continue to inform and guide the development of social policy? Are there opportunities for further work?