Brighter prospects: Transforming social assistance in Ontario. A report to the Minister of Community and Social Services

In brief

This report presents the results of a review of Ontario’s social assistance system, which was done as part of Ontario’s 2008 Poverty Reduction Strategy. It was prepared by the Commission for the Review of Social Assistance in Ontario for the Ministry of Community and Social Services. The report includes 108 recommendations as well as a list of early priorities for implementing these changes.

EENet has developed a Research Report Round-up of the report, “Brighter prospects: Transforming social assistance in Ontario. A report to the Minister of Community and Social Services.” Research Report Round-ups are brief summaries of research reports, presented in a user-friendly format.

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Title and link to report:
Brighter Prospects: Transforming Social Assistance in Ontario. A Report to the Minister of Community and Social Services
Améliorer les perspectives : Réforme de l’aide sociale en Ontario. Rapport présenté au ministre des Services sociaux et communautaires
Author: Frances Lankin and Munir A. Sheikh, Commission for the Review of Social Assistance in Ontario Year 2012 Location Toronto
Year: 2012
Location: Toronto
Key words: Mental health, income support, disability support, poverty, employment
Contact person/source: Ontario Ministry of Community and Social Services Phone: 416-325-5219
Language of report: English and French

What this report is about

This report presents the results of a review of Ontario’s social assistance system, which was done as part of Ontario’s 2008 Poverty Reduction Strategy. It was prepared by the Commission for the Review of Social Assistance in Ontario for the Ministry of Community and Social Services. The report includes 108 recommendations as well as a list of early priorities for implementing these changes.

The commission based its recommendations on a variety of sources, which included:

  • Consultations with more than 2,000 people, through 11 community conversations, and more than 1,150 written submissions;
  • Separate discussions with First Nations groups;
  • Research about issues related to social assistance and experience in other jurisdictions; and
  • Meetings with researchers, academics, and technical experts to examine complex issues in greater depth.

A key recommendation is the creation of a new provincial commissioner for social assistance, who would lead the process of change. 

Some of the other recommendations in the report include:

Changes inside social assistance

  1. Replace both Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) with one program. This new program would be managed and delivered by municipalities and First Nations.
  2. Make employment services and supports proportional to the individual’s level of need, so that people with disabilities and those who face multiple barriers to employment are treated fairly.
  3. Focus employment services on meeting employers’ needs and market the skills of social assistance recipients to these needs.
  • Employers would be involved in the design of employment services;
  • The Province would support these initiatives to encourage employers to hire social assistance recipients.

4. Simplify the benefit structure.

  • The list of about 30 special benefits in the current system would be shortened and a new, simpler rate structure introduced.
  • Until the system is fully transformed, people with disabilities would receive a disability supplement and families with children and sole-support parents would receive uniform supplements.
  • All social assistance recipients would receive the same extended health benefits (prescription drug, dental, and other health benefits).

Changes outside social assistance

  1. Remove disability benefits, children‘s benefits, and extended health benefits from social assistance and make them available entirely outside the system.
  2. Involve people with lived experience, caseworkers, and other stakeholders meaningfully in the process of change, and ensure that adverse impacts are minimized.

How can this report be used

The recommendations in this report may be useful to policymakers in developing a new social assistance system for Ontario.