Why Is It So Tough To Get Ahead? How Our Tangled Social Programs Pathologize the Transition to Self-Reliance
John Stapleton

We cannot claim to have people-centred government policies. Not when an 18-year-old, lone-parent refugee is considered to be an adult under four policies, a child under two, a student under a third policy, a dependent adult under two others, a non-resident under two, and a legal resident of Canada under four more. And as far as government is concerned, it is her job to sort all this out.

This report documents the disincentives to achieving greater self-reliance within Ontario’s welfare, housing, and social support systems. It aims to make understandable to policymakers and the public how removing subsidies from poor Ontarians in an uncoordinated way makes it impossible for recipients to achieve greater self-reliance.

Research was undertaken with members of the Somali, Vietnamese-Chinese, and St. Christopher House communities. The issues of disincentives are viewed through the lens of first generation poor immigrants receiving benefits from multiple sources and youth who have grown up in public housing in households with social assistance as the main income source.

As the report states, “Working-age social assistance recipients in Ontario, especially those who are public housing residents live with disincentives. The more they earn, the more they lose in benefits; when they tell the truth, they are punished.  The programs within the social assistance and housing system work in isolation from each other. When people start to earn, the various benefit systems, as well as public housing often take back more than they leave behind, giving people little or no incentive to become more self-reliant.”

The report outlines a series of recommendations for policy solutions that can be taken right away to eliminate some of the barriers thrown up by multiple subsidies and program policies. The ultimate goal for this report is to call attention to the need for a new governance model – one that enables governments and their agencies to forge policies and procedures in a coordinated way so that the transition to self-reliance is a healthy, supported process for people.