Social-assistance rates in Ontario should ‘set off alarm bells’: Report

Posted on August 18, 2023 in Social Security Delivery System

Source: — Authors: – Afordability/Society
Aug 15, 2023.   Kat Escher

A recent analysis finds that Ontario Works recipients would need another $17,000 a year just to reach the poverty line. That has advocates calling for the Ford government to make changes.

The province’s income-of-last-resort program pays so little that Ontario Works recipients must survive on just 37 per cent of the funds that would be required for them to have a roof over their heads, food in their stomachs, and enough money to maintain a very basic standard of living. That’s the conclusion of a new analysis of social-assistance rates in Ontario.

“They would need another $17,000 to reach the poverty line,” says report author Jennefer Laidley, a consultant for Maytree, a social-policy think-tank that produces the “Welfare in Canada” report each year.

While Ontario isn’t the province with the lowest social-assistance rates, she says, the level of income OW recipients receive “should set off alarm bells for people who are paying attention to issues of poverty in Ontario.

The report synthesizes the bewildering array of information available about all the different provincial and federal income-assistance programs in Canada and provides a clear look at the maximum amounts someone can expect to receive.

According to the province’s most recent numbers, almost 394,000 people in the province are beneficiaries of Ontario Works, which is intended to help any working-age adult who needs financial support get that support until such time as they can stabilize their life and find employment or get other supports. Single adults and single-parent families are most likely to rely on income from this program.

A single adult with no dependents in Ontario received an annual maximum of roughly $10,253 in 2022 from all income sources, the “Welfare in Canada” report found. OW presently pays a maximum of $733 per month — an amount that has gone unchanged for the past five years but has been worth less and less each year thanks to inflation.

In July, recipients of the Ontario Disability Support Program — the other social-assistance program created by former PC premier Mike Harris’s controversial welfare changes in the 1990s — saw a slight increase in their payments. That’s the result of an annual inflation-related adjustment introduced by the current Tory government. This year’s 6.5 per cent increase added about $80 to a single ODSP recipient’s basic payment, bringing it up to $1,308.

“The Ford government’s promised increase, quote-unquote, is still keeping disabled people below the poverty line,” says NDP disability-justice critic Sarah Jama (Hamilton Centre). “It’s way too low, and it’s not connected to the realities of inflation and the current cost of living.”

As TVO Today has written before, ODSP rates have long been decried as insufficient, with advocates calling for payments to be doubled or at least raised to $2,000. They’ve asked for the same for OW rates — and for those rates also to be indexed with inflation.

The Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services declined to answer questions from TVO Today about why it had not changed OW alongside ODSP and the low rates for both. Nobody from the ministry, including the minister responsible, Michael Parsa (Aurora–Oak Ridges–Richmond Hill), was available for a phone interview, and the ministry declined to answer questions about why it would not grant such an interview.

“The intent of Ontario Works always has been to help people in temporary financial need find sustainable employment and achieve self-reliance. Ontario Works aims to support recipients as they connect to one of the over 270,000 jobs available in Ontario today—as quickly as possible,” a spokesperson wrote in an email statement.

“I don’t think that’s sufficient,” says interim Liberal leader John Fraser (Ottawa South), who is also the critic for the relevant ministry. “What you want is to be able to support people so they can live and be healthy. It’s just not possible for someone to do that, I think, on that much.”

A significant body of research, going back decades, supports this conclusion. Researchers have found that being on social assistance in Ontario is correlated with a higher likelihood of poor health outcomeshomelessness, and food insecurity, among other things.

Fraser lauded the PCs for indexing ODSP rates to inflation on an annual basis but said much more needs to be done. His own party, which was in power for 15 years before the current government, also failed to raise rates above the poverty line. In fact, the “Welfare in Canada” report finds that both OW and ODSP rates have been below the deep poverty line since 2008, the first year of Dalton McGuinty’s second term.

The Liberals inherited low rates from the previous government, Fraser notes, and raising them was politically difficult — the same circumstance, he says, the PCs find themselves in today. But “the rates should have been increased by more,” Fraser says. “I fully admit it to you: we have to do better.”

Jama adds that the question goes beyond a single program like ODSP or OW. “I want to see the government really stop tying people’s worth to their productivity and start valuing people and people for being people, humans for being humans,” she says. “You show how you value people through how you budget.”

Ontario Hubs are made possible by the Barry and Laurie Green Family Charitable Trust and Goldie Feldman in Memoriam.

Kat Eschner is’s Affordability Reporter.

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