The case for integrating welfare and disability

By MPP Toby Barrett
Last week Opposition Leader Tim Hudak and I launched Paths to Prosperity: Welfare to Work. This white paper proposes to transform a system that is failing both social assistance recipients and taxpayers.

Our first policy suggestion is generating debate:

In order to get people into jobs faster, we will adopt the recommendations of Don Drummond, Frances Lankin and Munir Sheikh to transform Ontario’s social assistance system by replacing Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program with one program, focused on ability, not disability, while respecting the distinct needs of the people with disabilities.

It is important to stress this integration at the municipal/First Nations level will respect the needs of the disabled and will not negatively impact the property taxpayer.

The recommendation to integrate both programs at the municipal level was made last February in the report of Don Drummond’s Commission on the Reform of Ontario’s Public Services, and was fleshed out in Brighter Prospects: Transforming Social Assistance in Ontario, written by Frances Lankin and Munir Sheikh last October.

Don Drummond’s report is adamant we must move aggressively toward a fully-integrated benefits system that simplifies client access, and improves both client outcomes and fiscal sustainability through greater program effectiveness and reduced administrative costs – all without impacting municipalities.

Our white paper is very clear – this integration needs to be done in a way that does not negatively impact the municipal sector which is grappling with its own fiscal challenges. Integration would help reduce the current system’s 800 rules and regulations by at least half, and would lead to savings of $140 million a year.

Drummond went on to suggest, once implemented, a fully integrated benefits system could seek efficiencies by, “centralizing income testing and payment delivery; automating the processing of applications, eligibility and payments; automating income verification; consolidating program delivery; and standardizing eligibility criteria.”

Similarly, in their October report, Frances Lankin and Munir Sheikh wrote that an integrated system would provide individualized support to all social assistance recipients, including people with disabilities, and a combined program would not affect recipients’ eligibility-related income support.

The Lankin/Sheikh report argues that municipalities and First Nations have the necessary, on-the-ground understanding of their communities. Beyond knowing their communities and providing supports to jobseekers, municipalities are most closely connected to their local labour markets and the needs of employers. Municipalities are well placed to address the barriers to employment faced by those with disabilities. In addition to employment-related services, Lankin/Sheikh wrote that people who are applying for or receiving social assistance often require access to other supports like child care, housing, settlement services for newcomers, public health and addiction services – all resting at the municipal level.

The Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) has not adopted a formal position on the integration of Ontario Works (OW) and Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) but could support a system that is cost-effective, improves client outcomes and has no impact on municipalities. In an October release, AMO indicated municipalities would want to see the integration of OW and ODSP to be well-planned, adequately-resourced and flexible.
I invite all to view the Welfare to Work white paper at and would value your feedback.
We need a seamless program to help as many as possible access employment. Integrating OW and ODSP at the municipal level will help us do that.