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, in response to “A Discussion Paper: Issues and Ideas”. (August, 2011)
Poverty is a reality for persons with mental health disabilities, many of whom rely on Ontario’s social assistance programs, Ontario Works (OW) and Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP). At the same time, many of these individuals are unable to successfully transition out of social assistance and attain a high quality of life due to numerous gaps in philosophy, administration and delivery of these programs.
The vision and delivery of social assistance programs should be informed by and aligned with broader policy frameworks such as poverty reduction, social inclusion and human rights. The programs under this system should ensure that people have predictable and stable benefits that they can count on and accessible and individualized supports to help them reintegrate into the larger society and when appropriate, the labour market. This would further require governments to enact corresponding policies to address failures in the labour market.
In order to achieve the best possible outcome for both the recipients and social assistance administrators and policy makers, we would like to propose the following recommendations:
- Reconsider the concept of mandatory treatment as a provision of social assistance benefits
- Provide adequate income levels:
- Ensure that OW and ODSP rates are set based on the real costs of living
- Recognize the importance of healthy food through continued delivery of the Special Diet Allowance
- Revamp asset rules by significantly increasing the allowable asset limit in both ODSP and OW and exempting RRSPs and TFSAs in income benefit calculations
- Foster social inclusion through employment and other community involvement:
- Avoid a “Work First” approach by eliminating coercive measures and mandatory participation for persons with mental health disabilities
- Implement an opportunities planning approach and expand supported education and employment programs
- Reduce disincentives to employment and promote transition out of social assistance by allowing recipients to keep all employment earnings for the duration of one year, while continuing to receive applicable benefits
- Support the employment of persons with mental health disabilities by developing an employment policy framework for persons with disabilities; by educating employers on the contributions of persons with disabilities; and by creating and expanding social hiring programs
- Refrain from making distinctions about whether a person with a disability “can” and “cannot” work
- Improve access to income supports and benefits:
- Make the system easier to navigate and understand through simplified administrative procedures, peer navigators and continually updated annual benefit booklet
- Ensure equitable delivery of special benefits by refraining from administering different programs for the “severely disabled” and “less severely disabled,” and ensuring that if benefits are moved outside of social assistance, recipients will not be worse off
- Work with municipalities to create a transportation subsidy
- Explore a portable housing benefit for social assistance recipients
- Enhance system integration:
- Streamline eligibility criteria and definitions of disability for all income support programs by using the current ODSP definition of disability
- Improve service integration between Province and Municipalities by aligning policies of the Ministry of Community and Social Services (MCSS) with those of Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing (MMAH)
Implementing the above proposed changes will inevitably improve outcomes for social assistance recipients with mental health disabilities and promote greater social inclusion and labour market participation.
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