The Commission for the Review of Social Assistance in Ontario released its final report at the end of October 2012. Frances Lankin and Dr. Munir Sheikh were appointed to the Commission in November 2010 to review Ontario Works (OW) and Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP). The Commission was appointed as part of a commitment by the provincial government in its 2008 Poverty Reduction Strategy, to review social assistance.
OCASI facilitated the participation of member agencies in the review by organizing several community engagement sessions. The Commissioners were invited to be present. Participant input was compiled into a report that was submitted to the Commission. In addition, OCASI worked through the Colour of Poverty Campaign to facilitate the participation of social assistance recipients from the various racialized communities in the review.
The final report of the Commission, Brighter Prospects: Transforming Social Assistance in Ontario is posted on their website at www.socialassistancereview.ca/
The report includes some important recommendations that can bring improved conditions for people on social assistance, such as an immediate $100 per month increase for single adults on Ontario Works. This will bring the current rate of $599 (excluding Northern benefits) up to $699 a month. The report also recommends that those on social assistance should be allowed to keep an additional $200 of their employment earnings without affecting benefits.
The Commissioners have recommended that OW and ODSP should be merged, and a single rate should be set. This would mean that a supplementary benefit such as the special diet allowance is eliminated since it would be rolled into the standard rate. The change would negatively impact those with serious medical conditions.
Many of the recommendations recognize the challenges faced by people on social assistance, but others may be cause for concern and their implementation would require a thoughtful approach. The experience of immigrants, refugees and racialized people must be taken into consideration to avoid exacerbating the systemic barriers they face. Elimination of the Community Start Up and Maintenance Benefit (CSUMB) set to go into effect on January 1, 2013, will also have an impact on these individuals and communities.
A total of 108 detailed recommendations are included in the report, many of which have been put forward by OCASI and other groups working to address poverty.