System transformation in Ontario Works: Considerations for Ontario
In the fall of 2018, the Ontario government announced that it would be reforming social assistance with the aim of developing “a more effective, sustainable approach to helping people find and keep jobs and achieve better outcomes.” The reforms are intended to primarily address the government’s priorities around decreasing the number of social assistance recipients, the length of time people receive social assistance, and the number of people returning to social assistance within a year of leaving it.
As part of its reform plans, the government introduced—and subsequently repealed—some policy changes on the income support side of the program (e.g., changes to earnings exemptions). However, there are also lesser known changes underway on the employment and training side of social assistance that change the program, and could have deep impacts on recipients.
On employment and training services changes, the Ontario government is “creating a new service delivery model that will integrate social assistance employment services into Employment Ontario” (Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities, 2019). For those who may not benefit from employment or training supports until other concerns are addressed, the Ontario government is seeking to provide “wrap-around supports to help vulnerable social assistance recipients address barriers and access employment supports” (Ministry of Finance, 2018). The wrap-around supports model will focus on “life stabilization” for people who would not immediately benefit from employment and training services (Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities, 2019).
This paper focuses on proposed system transformation in Ontario Works, and explores the possibilities and limitations associated with the proposed changes. First, it looks at the broader context within which the government’s social assistance reforms are taking place. Second, it provides an overview of what is known about some of the structural changes in social assistance to date, as well as an overview of experiences in other jurisdictions that have undertaken similar reforms. In conclusion, the paper outlines some key considerations and unresolved questions that the government will need to address before it can move forward with a plan for reform.