Should social assistance help you to scrape by, or to get a good job?

Social assistance is about more than just providing enough money for people to survive. Social assistance should also work to ensure wider opportunities for people to find employment or pursue further training or education. Investing in individuals – from early childhood through high school, to college or university, and work training and experience – creates a strong and resilient population that has long-lasting attachment the labour market, income security, and good health. As Sir Winston Churchill noted, a healthy population is the best asset a country can have.

Investing in individuals means providing the right supports for people to get good jobs. Employment supports for people on social assistance should reflect both individual need and labour market requirements. Currently, employment training programs do not adequately prepare people who have been out of the labour market for a long time to re-enter the workforce, and the work that people on social assistance are able to get is not secure and the jobs are not well-paid.

Ontario is currently reviewing its social assistance system, and the Wellesley Institute partnered with health leaders in Toronto to create a model of a high-performing social assistance system that enables health and health equity. Over the past few weeks I’ve been blogging about the nature of the problem, building a vision, and identifying the basket of essential supports that enable good health.

In our submission, we highlighted that the social assistance system needs to better support people to transition into good, well-paying jobs that contribute to good health. Basic supports available to all people on social assistance should include:

  • Career counselling that includes in-depth assessment of career goals, ambitions and labour market analysis to facilitate meaningful employment;
  • Skills training and retraining aligned with career goals;
  • Appropriate training for people on social assistance to develop basic workplace skills, particularly those on ODSP who would like to enter the workforce for the first time or after a significant period out of the labour market;
  • Support for newcomers to Canada to assist them in getting their foreign credentials recognized, pursue retraining, and participate in English- or French-language training; and
  • Access to grants, bursaries, loans at the same time. People attending college or university need loan flexibility and forgiveness, in addition to continued access to the full basket of essential supports.

Social assistance also needs to ensure that supports are in place to ensure that people can make use of the supports available to them. This includes:

  • Subsidized, flexible child care that accommodates education and employment training; shift, part-time, and full-time work; and volunteerism;
  • Subsidized early learning programs for pre-school children from birth to four years of age;
  • A transportation allowance for all members of a family so that they may access employment training programs, search for jobs, attend employment and volunteer opportunities, access health and dental care, attend community and recreation programs, and get to grocery stores and other shops and remain engaged with society; and
  • Respite care so that parents and caregivers may attend medical and dental appointments; community and recreation programs; and attend to household needs.

One of the major barriers to moving into employment is the possible loss of the few health benefits that people on social assistance receive. Many of the entry-level jobs that people on social assistance transition into offer no health benefits, so entering employment can actually lead to worse health. The social assistance system should continue to offer health benefits until people are firmly established in the workforce and their income – and health – is more secure.

The next blog in this series will be about the particular challenges that people with disabilities face in moving from social assistance into employment or training.