Over the last couple of months I’ve blogged about reforming Ontario’s social assistance system, setting out the nature of the problem and suggesting some solutions such as creating a vision of a high-performing social assistance system, building a basket of essential supports, supporting people on social assistance into training and employment, and building on health promotion and primary care initiatives.
While our solutions have emphasized that reform needs to come from within the Ministry of Community and Social Services, building a health-enabling system requires a more comprehensive strategy that brings together a range of partners. This blog builds on this theme by highlighting the role of communities and the need for formalized policy alignment across government.
Build Community Capacities
One crucial means of enhancing people’s opportunities for good living conditions is to build community opportunities and capacities, in other words, to build healthy communities. Extensive research shows that individuals who live in strong, vibrant, well-connected, and well-resourced communities fare better on many social indicators of health.
Within Ontario, many community-based groups are working to build strong and vibrant communities, and the social assistance system should tap into – and expand – initiatives and interventions that are already underway and proven to work.
One promising direction to address complex social problems is comprehensive community initiatives. These bring together broad-based partnerships of local residents, service providers, community organizations, businesses and governments to coordinate services, share and leverage resources to build community capacity and infrastructure, and mobilize towards policy change to address the roots of poverty or other social problems in a way that is from – and for – the community.
For example, the Vibrant Communities initiative lead by the Tamarack Institute is a community-driven effort to reduce poverty in Canada by creating partnerships that make use of people, organizations, businesses and governments. This initiative, which involves partners from coast to coast, empowers communities to identify issues that are relevant to them and supports them to identify community assets and to build their own actions and strategies to address these challenges.
To harness these community strengths, the Commission for the Review of Social Assistance in Ontario should recommend that the mandate of social assistance providers include partnering with appropriate local community initiatives from across sectors.
Breaking Down Government Silos
There is growing understanding that complex social and economic problems require integrated and comprehensive policy solutions. This means getting beyond the current disjointed structure of ministries, agencies and programs, and the rigid jurisdictional boundaries between different levels of government.
Reform of social assistance cannot effectively be pursued in isolation, but needs to be considered within the context of other changes in public policy needed to reduce poverty and inequality. Integrated policy development is crucial to addressing complex social problems such as improving social assistance and reducing systemic health inequities. For example, better skills training leads to better job opportunities, and education and child care investments can help to break the cycle of poverty.
Health in All Policies is an approach where all policy development is required to consider possible health impact and implications. A version of this approach has had promising effects in Quebec: any legislation or regulation with possible health implications must be reviewed with the Ministry of Health and signed off by the Minister.
In our submission to the Commission, we argued that they should advocate for the province to implement a Health in All Policies framework across ministries. This includes working with other levels of government to fund and develop affordable housing, increase access to child care, address labour market security and employment conditions, all of which will ultimately improve population health, reduce poverty, and decrease unemployment.
This is the final blog in the series about our submission on social assistance reform, but stay tuned for updates about our work in this area and developments from the Commission. Thank you to everyone who has engaged with these blogs via Twitter and Facebook, and by getting in touch.