Open Letter to Minister MacLeod: Five Principles for the 100-day Review – policy-advocacy
Oct. 29, 2018.   Income Security Advocacy Centre

More than 1100 people and nearly 100 organizations from across Ontario have signed this letter to Minister Lisa MacLeod, which we sent today to her office and the offices of all Ontario’s MPPs.

If you missed signing this letter and want to take action, please send an email to Minister MacLeod voicing your support for these principles to:

Be sure to copy that email to your own MPP as well. If you don’t know who your MPP is, check the information here for how to find their email address.

The following letter has been signed by 1,143 individuals and 99 organizations from across the province of Ontario, and has been copied to all MPPs.

The Honourable Lisa MacLeod, MPP
Minister of Children, Community and Social Services
6th Floor, Hepburn Block
80 Grosvenor Street
Toronto, Ontario M7A 1E9

CC: All Ontario MPPs

29 October 2018

Dear Minister MacLeod,

On July 31, 2018, you announced that your government will announce a new direction for social assistance in Ontario, based in part on “compassion for people in need”, after a 100-day review that ends November 8. You have said that “we need to do more than just help people remain mired in poverty” and instead “help stabilize people in need and support them to succeed”.

We are writing as agencies, organizations, and individuals who are concerned about the future of social assistance in Ontario and who care about the implications of this review for the nearly one million Ontarians who rely on Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program for income and other supports. Many of us receive benefits and supports from these programs and need them to be drastically improved.

We agree that Ontario’s social assistance system doesn’t work, and that ensuring stability and providing support are what’s needed in a new system. Despite some small positive recent changes, the system is fundamentally the same as it was twenty years ago. It is based on outdated thinking and outmoded ideas about what the programs are supposed to achieve. Its continuing inadequacy of benefits and focus on punitive and coercive rules is counterproductive and simply traps people in poverty instead of providing the supports they need to stabilize and move forward in their lives.

That’s why we urge you to ensure that the following “Five Principles for an Effective and Compassionate Social Assistance System” form the foundation for the new system. These principles arise out of previous reviews and from the concerns of numerous community members and advocates voiced consistently over the past twenty years.

  1. Income adequacy

An effective and compassionate system:

  • Provides enough money to cover the true costs of regular living expenses. Adequate incomes allow people to stabilize their lives and act as a springboard to participation in the economy and community.
  • Eliminates all lower benefit rates, like the board and lodger rate, so that everyone gets the full basic needs and shelter amounts, and preserves special benefits, like Special Diet, that are required to maintain health and pay for special needs.
  • Receives adequate investment from government. Fixing the system will require investing in people up front. Spending cuts will worsen poverty, prevent the system from meeting its goals, and stop people from reaching their potential. Savings will come when people are better supported, healthier, and potentially able to leave the system.
  1. Economic and social inclusion

An effective and compassionate system:

  • Is based on supporting people to participate in both community life and the economy, and recognizes and values both paid and volunteer work.
  • Provides practical, individualized, trauma-informed supports and services to help people stabilize their lives and promote inclusion in the economy and society, and does not expect them to seek work while stability is being sought.
  • Is accompanied by strong employment standards that protect workers and encourage good quality, well-paid, accessible jobs with decent working conditions and disability accommodations, for people on social assistance to move into.
  • Provides employment and training supports that allow people to move into decent work, as and if they are able, by tailoring those supports to individual needs, interests and strengths and to conditions in local labour markets.
  • Allows people to keep more of the money they earn from work, as well as funds from contributory benefit programs (EI, CPP-D), retirement savings (RRSPs and TFSAs), financial help from friends and family, and payments from trusts or life insurance.
  • Supports people to build healthy, sustainable relationships by ensuring that financial responsibility for a spouse starts after three years of living together, not three months.
  1.   Access and Dignity

An effective and compassionate system:

  • Provides help for people to apply for programs and benefits and reduces the time it takes to be approved. It makes it easy for people to get information, know their rights and responsibilities, and understand the benefits they’re entitled to.
  • Ensures that people get the supports they need from the first day they enter the door to respond to their immediate needs right away and set them up for future success.
  • Transforms the role of caseworker from “welfare police” to supportive service providers, to help people stabilize their lives, receive the supports they need, build on their strengths and achieve their goals. This kind of system operates more efficiently and uses fewer resources to administer.
  • Treats people in need with the respect and dignity that they deserve in every encounter, whether via caseworkers, other staff or automated technologies, and secures the privacy of the information they provide.
  • Ensures people who are unable to use technologies that are not accessible to them, are difficult to navigate, do not accommodate their disability, or are out of reach by virtue of their low incomes are not disentitled or adversely affected.
  • Co-designs programs and services with people on OW and ODSP, particularly in the creation of a program that recognizes the need people with disabilities have for long-term and individual supports, eliminates asset rules, allows people to keep other public benefits (like CPP-D and EI), and makes it easier for those who work.
  • Ensures everyone in need in Ontario has access to benefits, regardless of their immigration status and for as long as they continue to be in need.
  1.   Reconciliation with Indigenous peoples

An effective and compassionate system:

  • Prioritizes better social and economic outcomes for Indigenous peoples in Ontario. Expanding the Remote Communities Allowance to more communities, giving more funds to those who live with family because of lack of housing, and paying for travel to traditional Indigenous healers is a start.
  • Adopts an approach to service provision and supports and services that are rooted in Indigenous traditions and values. This includes providing holistic, wrap-around services that promote the physical, spiritual, mental and emotional well-being of the individual, family and community.
  • Ensures that First Nations design and control the programs and services that serve their communities.
  • Provides enough funding for the programs to adequately serve Indigenous peoples.
  1.   Human rights, equity and fairness

An effective and compassionate system:

  • Respects the international human rights agreements that Canada has pledged to uphold. This includes the right to an adequate standard of living, adequate social assistance benefits, more protection against poverty for people with disabilities and children, and freedom from discrimination when accessing benefits.
  • Accounts for social factors that contribute to the need for social assistance supports, such as systemic disadvantage and structural racism that some groups in society face that prevent them from equally accessing life opportunities.

Thank you for your consideration of these important principles in your 100-day review.


The undersigned individuals and organizations

The full list of 1,143 individuals and 99 organizations who have signed on to this letter can be found online.

Legal Aid Ontario (LAO), an independent but publicly funded and publicly accountable non-profit corporation.




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