Big changes to social assistance could be on the horizon for people who have a disability

Recipients of social assistance programs in the province, such as Ontario Works and ODSP, could soon see substantial boosts to their income supports if the government follows recommendations from its Income Security Reform Working Groups (read the details by clicking here).

For a single person who has a disability, the report recommends increasing social assistance payments from today’s $1,151 a month to $1,334 a month by 2020.

“These urgent and yet modest increases,” reads the roadmap, “translate into annual social assistance income support of $10,716 for a single person receiving Ontario Works and $16,008 for a single person receiving ODSP.”

The roadmap also urges the adoption of a minimum income standard within the next 10 years—a ‘floor’ that no one in the country could fall under—based on Ontario’s poverty line. For a single person who does not have a disability, the poverty line sits at roughly $22,000 per year. The roadmap pegs that figure at an additional 30 percent—or $28,600—for a single person who has a disability.

Acknowledging that the Ontario Disability Support Program often assists people for the long haul, the roadmap describes the challenges of remaining eligible.

“The approach to financial eligibility rules for people on ODSP,” it states, “is as restrictive and punitive as it is for Ontario Works. Non-compliance with the complex web of eligibility rules frequently puts monthly benefits at risk even where it is clear the person remains eligible.”

Rather than making people who have a disability go through the same financial needs-testing model as others on social assistance, the roadmap advocates an “assured income” model in order to better reflect their needs.

On top of that, it deems it essential that, even with the assured income, recipients continue to have access to a caseworker and a support plan to connect them to needed services. Some people with higher support needs, it says, will require further considerations, such as additional funding for medical travel, surgical, and incontinence supplies, as well as support for their personal and career goals.

According to the roadmap, people who have a disability must have their voices heard when designing the assured income.

“Because moving to an assured income model will be a major change in the way financial support is delivered,” it explains, “it must be co-designed with people across a broad range of disabilities (e.g., mobility, chronic pain, mental health, developmental, chronic and episodic).”

“This is an important practice that is rooted in the disability rights movement call for ‘nothing about us without us’.”

The recommendations note that experienced advocates and caseworkers should also be involved.

Regarding eligibility, the proposed system would test people based on their monthly income alone. Unlike current social assistance programs, there would be no asset limit at which payments would cease. This income would also not include gifts from family or friends.

In addition to people who have a disability, the roadmap also recommends changes for other groups, such as Indigenous people.

“I want to thank the members of the Working Groups for their hard work and the thoughtful advice and recommendations they have provided us,” said Minister of Community and Social Services Dr. Helena Jaczek in a news release.

“Our government agrees with the need to reform the income security system to ensure people are treated with dignity and respect. We understand the importance of this work and the fundamental need for reform to social assistance programs. We need to get this right through careful planning to reform the system into one that is fair and supportive, and puts the person at the centre.”

Daniel Share-Strom, Community Living Ontario