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Income Security and the Ontario Election #4

May 7, 2018 Poverty Reduction

Community Legal Clinics are mandated to do Public Legal Education and Law Reform Work.

In that context, elections provide a unique opportunity to discuss issues important to our community and clients.

One such area is social assistance.

We’d like to see informed debate on social assistance in this year’s provincial election. 

To that end, we will be running a series of questions and backgrounders on our website.  Today is the fourth story. 

We’d like to understand where all the parties and candidates stand on these issues.

The materials have been prepared by the Income Security and Advocacy Centre. The Income Security Advocacy Centre (ISAC) is a community legal clinic established in 2001. and funded by Legal Aid Ontario. ISAC has a provincial mandate to advance the systemic interests and rights of low-income Ontarians around income security programs and low-wage precarious employment.  Find out more about ISAC at


Transforming the Social Assistance System


Question 4: What specific changes will your party make to transform social assistance from the programs we have now into ones that better serve people’s needs?


  • Despite recent positive changes, low-income people in Ontario who need support from Ontario Works (OW) and the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) live with a social assistance system that is out-of-date and damaging.
  • OW and ODSP were designed to be difficult to access, punitive, and coercive. The programs enforce poverty through low benefit rates and income clawbacks. The system’s rule-bound approach means people spend more time reporting and less time achieving their goals.
  • The more than 609,000 Ontarians, and their 340,000 family members, who rely on these programs run the real risks of worsening health, more social marginalization, and even greater difficulty finding and keeping a job.
  • The Income Security: Roadmap for Change report recommends transforming the income security system, including social assistance. It reflects a very different approach to supports and services that puts people – and their needs and rights – at the centre of the system. The report’s recommendations include:
    • Committing to making sure that people have incomes that are adequate to their needs
    • Removing punitive sanctions, treating people with respect and dignity, giving them personal choice and more opportunities, and providing the services they need to move ahead in life in ways that make sense to them
    • Responding to the unique needs of Indigenous peoples, including making both social inclusion and economic engagement stated goals
    • Continuing and strengthening ODSP, informed by their rights under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
    • Moving the social assistance system away from punishment and coercion and toward support and collaboration
    • Providing better tailored supports and services that respond to people’s individual needs, and that are pro-active, empathetic, and non-discriminatory
    • Improving employment supports and increase amounts people can keep from work
    • Ensuring that people with disabilities get the supports they need from the first day they enter the door of either OW or ODSP
    • Changing the role of caseworkers from “welfare police” to supportive service providers to help people build on their strengths and achieve their goals.

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