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The Social Assistance Review Advisory Council recommends the Ontario Income Security Review explore the following six strategic directions for reform. These strategies should form the basis for consultations with Ontarians. Based on the results of those consultations and research, the review would then develop a detailed ‘road map’ for implementing a transformed system.

Building on the approach of the Ontario Child Benefit, develop an expanded range of income and services to be available to all low-income Ontarians.

Rather than social assistance, wherever possible, programs paying financial benefits should be available to all low-income households through a simple income test.

The development of a housing benefit paid outside of social assistance should be a priority. Affordable and safe housing is as important as financial assistance and should be an integral component of any new income security system. The relationship between individual housing programs - housing benefits, the shelter allowance in social assistance, rent-geared-to-income and others - should be better integrated.

Health, social services and other services such as drug and dental benefits should be de-linked from social assistance and made available based an income or needs test. Where feasible, benefits should be delivered through mainstream mechanisms such as the income tax system, the Trillium Drug program or Ontario Health Insurance Plan.

Barriers to low-income people accessing benefits paid through the income tax system should be addressed, building on successful outreach and public education initiatives by governments and the community sector.

Strengthen initiatives such as minimum wage increases, enhanced employment standards, fair employment initiatives, and the federal Working Income Tax Benefit to ensure the labour market offers effective pathways out of poverty.

As part of the Poverty Reduction Strategy, Ontario has already made strides to ensuring better paying work through its increases in the minimum wage, better enforcement of employment standards and the appointment of a fairness commissioner. Continuous improvements in the standards of employment and their enforcement are needed, especially for those most vulnerable to exploitive work relations such as lower wage workers, recent immigrants, racialized groups, Aboriginal peoples (especially First Nations), and new entrants into the labour market.

Replace short-term coverage in Ontario Works with more appropriate financial support outside of the social assistance system for those who are temporarily unemployed.

As well as an improved federal Employment Insurance plan, the review should consider whether an income-tested, non-contributory unemployment assistance plan is needed.

Re-engineer long-term coverage in Ontario Works as an opportunity planning program to support achieving full labour market potential through skills building, education, training, employment and related support.

Ontario Works should be turned upside down. Today it is a program that provides financial assistance with some employment supports. The new program should be primarily focused on human capacity development, with financial assistance as just one of the tools available to assist low income Ontarians.

“We become a very transient group, always looking to find better housing. I believe that affordable, safe, decent housing in a diversified community is the most important ingredient for someone who needs to rely upon social assistance. With a healthy, permanent roof overhead, they can establish roots in a community and build a good foundation for their other needs.” – Ontario Disability Support Program recipient, Toronto

The review should examine how a transformed Ontario Works can provide access to critical services and supports to unemployed and underemployed residents. It should also study how local service delivery can provide a means of quickly adapting to changing labour markets and supporting workforce development initiatives. The review should build on the lessons learned from the recently completed demonstration projects of Local Workforce Development Reference Group, co-chaired by the Ministry of Community and Social Services, and the Ontario Municipal Social Services Association. Pilots and demonstration project should be encouraged by supporting integrated approaches, increasing flexibility in program design, and facilitating knowledge sharing.

While financial assistance will be the ‘secondary’ task of a re-engineered opportunity planning program [Government of Ontario 1988], such assistance will still be required. In the new opportunity planning program and elsewhere the guiding principle should always be ‘least intervention’ requiring the least intrusion into recipient’s lives.

Develop standards for a liveable income and a process to use those standards to assess the adequacy of Ontarians’ incomes.

Such an assessment process should also identify how to more effectively resolve negative interactions between income programs and benefits, such as the disproportionate impact of high marginal effective tax rates on low-income Ontarians.

Most urgently, Ontario needs to consider immediate implementation of measures that will increase the incomes for unattached individuals and couples without children receiving Ontario Works. Ontario’s options include expanded refundable tax credits, raising basic rates, or introducing new core benefits for all low-income Ontarians. A well-designed housing benefit for all low-income households that includes substantial gains for the incomes of those on social assistance would provide the next step towards comprehensive transformation.

Improve income and social supports for those whose reasonable prospects of earning liveable incomes from employment are limited by disability or other circumstances, including a possible new vision for the Ontario Disability Support Program and exploring options for alternative models of financial assistance.

There will continue to be people who cannot reasonably be expected to earn an adequate income from employment as a result of disability or other barriers. The Ontario Income Security Review should consider strategies to improve financial and social supports to those outside of the labour market, including improvements to the Ontario Disability Support Program. The Ontario Disability Support Program should be re-envisioned to improve the application process, minimize intrusion into people’s lives, and to support the aspirations of people with disabilities through the provision of better training and employment supports, including access to meaningful education opportunities to address the barriers to employment and community participation faced by people with disabilities.

The review should explore the provision of disability support services and benefits outside social assistance to be available to those receiving income support from other programs or employment. The review should also examine alternative models of financial assistance, such as the Guaranteed Income Supplement or the Canada Pension Plan Disability benefit.

The task of Ontario’s Income Security Review is to work out the design of a reformed income security system, what it would look like in practice, what it would cost, how to pay for it and how Ontario and other partners, including the federal government, could build it in stages.

The process of transformation will necessarily involve other orders of government; the federal government must eventually be engaged. Lack of federal government co-operation, however, should not impede Ontario's work to define the reforms needed in federal programs to meet Ontario’s interests.

As part of the transformation of income security, the province and the government of Canada will need to undertake separate and substantive discussions with First Nations to ensure that the new system on First Nations reserves reflects their needs and priorities. The review will need to establish conditions for these discussions and recommend on how they can proceed.