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Income is a key determinant of health. There is a strong link between income and mental health. As income decreases, mental well-being also decreases. Many people with mental health conditions rely on social assistance as their primary source of income. In 2008, 36% of the caseload were people with a mental health conditions and represent the largest disability group to receive social assistance. This number continues to rise.

Today’s income benefits from social assistance fall significantly short of meeting the cost of living anywhere in Ontario. Sufficient income covers market rental costs (determined by the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation), a nutritious food basket (determined by regional public health units), market utility costs (regional variations must be reflected), transportation costs, and the costs associated with interacting in one’s community. However, single individuals only receive $599 per month on Ontario works to cover shelter, food, and all their other monthly expenses. Singles on ODSP, receive $1064. ODSP rates are significantly lower than what is needed to cover the cost of basic necessities, such as food, clothing, and housing. Many people with mental illness access Ontario Works (OW), the publicly funded income support program for those in temporary financial need, while waiting to be granted ODSP benefits.

Some individuals with mental health conditions working full-time and not receiving social assistance are still unable to afford all the necessities of life. Many may work for minimum wage; yet, the minimum wage is insufficient to cover living expenses and may not enable individuals to exit social assistance for work. The minimum wage in Ontario is $10.25 per hour. The $10.25/hour minimum wage is 10% below the poverty line.

The Social Assistance Review and CMHA Ontario

Ontario has not conducted a comprehensive review of its social assistance system since 1988. Ontario is now undergoing a social assistance review, a promise made in the 2009 Poverty Reduction Strategy. The review will include both the Ontario Works Program and the Ontario Disability Supports Program, and involve both the income and employment streams. A Commission for the Review of Social Assistance in Ontario was appointed by the Ministry of Community and Social Services in November 2010. Their third and final report will contain the Commissioners recommendations on proposed reforms to be presented to the Ministry of Community and Social Services. This report is due out to the public in September or October 2012.

As a key stakeholder, CMHA Ontario has made two submissions to the Commission of the Review of Social Assistance in Ontario.

The Disability Tax Credit

The Disability Tax Credit is a non-refundable tax credit that can be used by persons with disabilities to reduce the amount of income tax they will have to pay. Some people with mental illness are eligible for this tax credit.

The purpose of the disability tax credit is help with the additional costs related to living and working with a disability. Persons with a disability who are interested in more information find out more at the Canada Revenue Agency website.

Related Documents

Poverty and Mental Illness. Background information on poverty and what resources are needed to reduce poverty in Ontario.

Strategies for Reducing Poverty in Ontario. CMHA Ontario’s Position on Poverty.

Improving Ontario’s Social Assistance System – Response to: “A Discussion Paper: Issues and Ideas”. A joint submission from Canadian Mental Health Association, Ontario and Schizophrenia Society of Ontario.

Improving Ontario’s Social Assistance System – Response to: “Discussion Paper 2: Approaches for Reform”. A submission from Canadian Mental Health Association, Ontario providing feedback to the Commission for the Review of Social Assistance in Ontario on their second discussion paper, Approaches for Reform.

Related Resources

Many CMHA branches in Ontario offer information about mental health services in your local community. Contact them for information about help with applying to income support programs.

The Ministry of Community and Social Services (MCSS) website offers information on both ODSP and OW programs, including rules and regulations, eligibility criteria and application guidelines.

Legal Aid Clinics may be able to help you appeal a social assistance decision.

Canadian Psychological Association: Eligibility of Persons with Impairments in Mental Functions for the Disability Tax Credit. What you need to know about eligibility for the disability tax credit when you have a mental health condition.

Human Resources and Skills Development Canada website lists Employment Insurance benefits information.

Ontario Association of Credit Counselling Services site includes links to non-profit services in communities across Ontario that can help you with your finances or if you are in debt.

Workers’ rights information line is operated by the Workers Action Centre.

The ODSP Action Coalition is a provincial advocacy group which works on behalf of ODSP recipients to advocate for changes to the ODSP program. You will find a wealth of information on community legal clinics, recipients groups, and resources such as research on the topic of income supports.

The Office of the Public Guardian and Trustee (OPGT) site has information on the role of the Public Guardian and Trustee in property guardianship and power of attorney.