Category: Income Security & access to the social determinants of health

Practice based commentary on the pitfalls of sorting the worthy and unworthy – in social assistance reform

Reuel Amdur shares his critic of the most recent report on income security reform in Ontario.  For background, please see this earlier post on the report Here:

Roadmap into a Swamp

On September 1, a working group headed by Judge George Thomson produced a report for the Ontario government on social assistance reform entitled “Roadmap for Change.” While it would take a very long essay to go over the report in detail, I will address a few matters-the proposed increase in Ontario Works rates, changes in the policy regarding so-called dependent and independent adults, and continuation of two programs for social assistance, one for employables, Ontario Works (OW), and the other for the disabled, the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP).

The report calls for an increase in Ontario Works rates by 22% over three years.  Premier Mike Harris cut the rate by 21.6% in 1997. Since then, the Liberals have not put the money back.  Harris cut the money all at once, but the Thomson report proposes to repair the damage over three years.  It’s been a long wait.

Harris also introduced the distinction between dependent and independent adults.  This applies to adults living with a parent or parents.  Dependent adults, as defined in the complex regulation, are included in a payment to the family, not individually.  The amount paid is less.  How do we determine if a person is independent and entitled in his own right?  He must, during his lifetime, have been self-supporting for a cumulative 12-month period.  However, if the family had ever rented out the room where he was living, the distinction did not apply.  There are other complications.  You get the idea.  The whole thing is a dog’s breakfast, difficult and time-consuming to administer.  The Thomson report calls for a revision of the regulation.

An earlier report headed by Thomson in 1988 called “Transitions” pointed to the complexity of social assistance as a major problem.  Right on!  Would Thomson 1988 take one look at the dependent-independent adult mess and simply have said to scrap the whole thing?  And the distinction applies only for OW, not for ODSP recipients living with family.

Now to our third bone to pick with “Roadmap for Change.”  The report justifies different rates of assistance for OW and ODSP because, it claims, it is more expensive to live with a disability. No evidence whatever is provided for the claim.  In fact, there are separate additional amounts provided for special needs, beyond the rates for social assistance as such.  It would have made more sense if the report had called for a determination of what it costs to live in conditions of dignity and decency.  Talking about the costs of living with a disability as such makes no sense.  Which disability requiring what supports?  The current system does provide extra funds for special needs. Ontario governments of all stripes have refused to base assistance on cost of living, preferring instead to act on whim.  Contrary to Thomson, in 2012 Senators Frances Lankin and Munir Sheikh issued a report for the Ministry of Community and Social Services in which they recommended a single system of social assistance.  It was not evident to them that there were additional costs across the board.

An additional argument has been made that OW is only short term.  But in fiscal 2014-15, average time on OW was 27 months.  The Toronto Star, in an article on the Thomson report, featured a woman who has been on OW for nine years.  Getting on ODSP is a matter of luck of the draw.  Anyone who has worked in or around the system can easily cite examples of unjustified rejections.  Some are reversed on appeal.  Other applications make it the second or third time around.

Having lived through changes in Ontario social assistance, I take a different explanation for the discrepancy in rates for OW and ODSP.  Over the years names and coverage have changed, so I will refer to the programs as municipal and provincial.  The current provincially administered program is ODSP, with OW being operated municipally.

When I came to Canada in 1969 to take a position with the Social Planning Council of Hamilton and District, the rates for the two programs were almost the same, although they were calculated using somewhat different building blocks.  However, under Premier Bill Davis the province chose to increase provincial rates preferentially.  The differential has increased constantly to the point where the provincial rate comes close to doubling that municipally for a single person.

Then in 1985 I was employed as a welfare worker in Toronto.  At that time, single parent families were part of the provincial program, no longer the case unless the woman is disabled.  However, there was a waiting period on the municipal program for single parents.  That is, unless the woman was a widow, in which case provincial eligibility was immediate.

You are probably getting the picture.  The worthy poor versus the unworthy.  Then Mike Harris made it explicit.  He complained that welfare recipients were a bunch of beer-swilling pregnant women.

Judge Thomson’s committee missed the boat.


Ontario poverty reduction and the elephant in the room, the provincial election

TVO’s, The Agenda provides a useful overview of the current status of the Ontario provincial poverty reduction strategy and relevance to the Social Determinants of Health, that touches on:

  • the historical failed efforts of 30 years ago – where it went wrong
  • the racialization of poverty currently happening
  •  anecdotal early gains identified from Ontario’s basic income pilots, so far
  • “trickle up” components of whole system approach, including the federal child benefit increases

What haunts the discussion is how will the Ontario government’s effective policy change efforts manage the storm of the May election. 

The reportIncome Security: A Roadmap for Change, is a useful anchor in the storm, see it here:

See the panel discussion here:

Getting on, hey send an email: “the long overdue business of transforming Ontario’s income security system”

While the deadline to submit comment screeches in, you can send a “supportive brief email” on, The Income Security Advocacy Centre’s efforts to guide policy and operations reform of social assistance.  It  also would be great to hear of other organizations efforts to guide the Ministry of Community and Social Services

Transforming Ontario’s Income Security System

Discussion on the National Housing Strategy – homelessness and housing meets the rest of society

In depth discussion where a basic human need, housing relates to the needs of all of us including: homelessness, social housing, renting, and families buying a house.

See panel discussion here: Agenda Discussion on Federal Housing Strategy November 2017


When a progressive model of community based care looses its values, in the name of VALUE

British experience shared by Alex Fox, with the impacts of the  use of “lowest bidder” on client community based care.

… This was not what was envisaged by disabled people and their families who developed personalisation, which was the idea that people would plan the most effective care and support when they were in control of an individual planning process which started with what a good life looked like, not with a list of low-cost services. Planning creatively in this way enables people to make best use of their own capacity and of the family and community resources available to them. That also usually results in the most independence and lowest overall cost to the state, whereas narrow price-focused processes bring missed opportunities for independence, or lead to family care breaking down. But instead of people planning a life, and then choosing the support they need to live it, care providers now compete for the individual, and an algorithm makes the choice. …

see the article here

Call for a “renewed” national agency to address social infrastructure

Michael Mendelson of the recently closing Caledon Institute lays out a vision of a new agency to build upon the history of councils working on social welfare.

…Today the National Council of Welfare is gone. The Canadian
Council on Social Development barely exists, limping along with little
national presence. These two core national agencies, which provided a
prominent voice for ‘social Canada,’ are no longer heard. At the same
time, many other national groups that were important to social policy
have also disappeared, such as the Economic Council of Canada. As of
November 2017, the Caledon Institute of Social Policy, to which this author
is affiliated and which has been critical in developing many practical
social policy innovations over the last two and a half decades (most notably
the child benefit system introduced by the new Trudeau government),
will also close up shop.

For Canada to remain a nation that aspires to protect our most
vulnerable citizens while providing equal opportunity for all, we cannot
stand still in the face of the challenges to come. We must evolve and
adapt our social security and development systems to the reality of the
world around us. This is not a task for government alone. Business,
labor, media, religious and Indigenous organizations and many others in
both our economic life and our civil society must play a role.

What Canada is missing is an ‘institutional’ national agency,
which can bring together the many and varied elements of civil society,
government and others towards continuously assessing, improving and
adapting our nation’s social infrastructure to ever-changing circumstances.
But neither the National Council of Welfare nor the Canadian Council
on Social Development as they were established would be suitable for
today’s needs. …

See the proposal here:

Basic Income, a Critical Ingredient for Social Enterprise

CASW, shared this article.

A new study from the Mowat Centre in Toronto suggests that a basic income program could encourage people to take the leap and start their own socially conscious businesses.

The study involved surveying and interviewing members of the Centre for Social Innovation, which has sites in Toronto. It indicated that a basic income could give a leg up to people with a bright idea but limited resources to get it off the ground.

“Given our research, we think that a basic income could de-risk social entrepreneurship for people. We think that it could encourage more people from marginalized communities to try social entrepreneurship as a career,” said Michael Crawford Urban, a policy associate at the Mowat Centre and co-author of the report. …

See the rest of the article:

See the MOWAT Centre report here