New Maytree report raises questions about the Ontario government’s proposed changes to employment and training services for social assistance recipients
The just released Maytree report “System transformation in Ontario Works: Considerations for Ontario” looks at the possibilities and limitations of the Ontario government’s social assistance reforms, in particular changes to the employment and skills training offered to Ontario Works recipients.
In 2018, the Ontario government announced its plans to reform social assistance with the objective of developing a more effective approach to helping people find and keep jobs. While the government has repealed some early policy changes on the income support side of the program, there are also lesser known changes underway on the employment and training side of social assistance. These changes could have deep impacts on recipients.
From a service-delivery perspective, the government is moving to integrate employment and training services provided to social assistance recipients into Employment Ontario. While municipalities are currently responsible for delivering employment and training services for social assistance recipients, the proposed reforms would transfer responsibility to Service System Managers across 15 regions in the province. It is envisioned that a competitive process will be undertaken for selecting the organizations—be they municipalities, or non-profit or for-profit entities. This represents a significant shift from how these services are currently delivered.
For those who may not benefit from traditional employment or skills training until other issues are addressed, the government is proposing the introduction of processes and programming that promote “life stabilization” (e.g., through referrals to health services one may need). Life stabilization programming (or wrap-around supports as it is more commonly referred to) will help address barriers to employment that can be best addressed by other services. Although this is an important and much needed part of the government’s reform plans, little detail is available on how the government will implement such supports.
While the government is currently working to establish three pilot sites to test its proposed employment and training services model, the report argues that it is not clear that these changes will respond to the root causes that are leading people to require support from Ontario Works (e.g., labour market changes, increasing housing costs). Furthermore, it is unclear whether the proposed changes will lead to the types of outcomes the province is looking for. The changes could have unintended consequences — for the provincial government, for municipalities, and for social assistance recipients themselves.
Looking at lessons from jurisdictions that have already implemented similar reforms, in particular Australia and the UK, the report outlines some key considerations and unresolved questions that the government will need to address before moving forward with its planned reforms.
Some of these considerations are:
- Clarifying what is meant by “life stabilization” programming, and how it will be delivered
- Clarifying how municipalities will be funded in the future
- Clarifying how the proposed changes will reduce administrative burdens and unnecessary bureaucracy
- Clarifying fiscal, governance, and staffing/human resources implications
- Reassuring people that the transformation will not reduce rates of income support and that people with lived experience will be consulted