Ontario Works (OW) program increases are inadequate

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| Published , updated March 6, 2024

The Ontario Works (OW) program is managed by the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services governed by the Ontario Works Act.

Since 2002, OW has continued to fall further and further behind Canada’s official poverty line, the Market Basket Measure (MBM), as well as inflation.

Statistics

  • 428,000 people are beneficiaries of Ontario Works as of December 2023.
  • Ontario does not index OW rates to inflation and there is no legislated formula for determining rate increases. Changes are made on an ad hoc basis by the province.
  • The last Ontario Works rate increase was 1.5 per cent in October 2018
  • Maximum is $733 a month for basic needs and shelter if you are single.
  • Maximum basic needs amount is $343 per month if you are single.
  • Maximum shelter amount is $390 per month if you are single. The provincial government thinks that someone can find a place to live, rent and utilities on this amount in Ontario. In the middle of a housing crisis.
  • Assistance rates have been frozen since 2018 at $733 per month.
  • OW provides only 37% of the funds that would be required for them to have a roof over their heads, food in their stomachs, and enough money to maintain a very basic standard of living. Welfare in Canada – Maytree

OW falls below Canada’s Official Poverty Line

Canada’s Official Poverty Line is the Market Basket Measure, which differs by location and family type.

In 2022, here is the monthly amount of the MBM for select municipalities and populations:

LocationMonthly MBM for singles 2022
Rural$1871
Toronto$2223
Hamilton$2010
Ottawa$2183
Population < 30k$1902
Population 30-99k$1882
Population 100-400k$1983
Population 500k+$2070

OW payments have fallen from around 45% of the poverty line in 2002, to around 37% of the poverty line in 2022:

Source: Maytree – Welfare in Ontario

OW increases were lower than inflation from 2012 to 2022

Timeline

October 1995 – Harris government cut OW by 21.6% to $530 per month

If rates had been raised with inflation from that multi decade low, they would now stand at $940 a month – $207 higher than the current $733 as of February 2024. 

Harris PC government spent 8 years in power from 1995 to 2003 and did not increase either OW or ODSP.

June 19, 2023 – Doug Ford says people on OW drive him crazy

What drives me crazy is people on Ontario Works — probably three, 400,000 — that are healthy. It really bothers me that we have healthy people sitting at home, collecting your hard-earned dollars. We need to encourage them to contribute back to the province and find gainful employment.

Premier Doug Ford

February 13, 2024 – Prince Edward County asks province to double ODSP and OW

In a letter sent to various ministers and all municipalities, Price Edward County requested:

  • At least double Ontario Works and ODSP rates and index rates to inflation, answering calls already made by “Raise the Rates” campaign and the “Income Security Advocacy Centre”;
  • Commit to ongoing cost of living increases above and beyond the rate of inflation to make up for the years they were frozen;
  • Commit to jointly working between the Ministry of Children, Community, and Social Services and the Ministry of Health on the best methods of assessing client needs and then matching those in need to the services they require;

Citing:

  • poverty is taking a devastating toll on communities, undermining a healthy and prosperous Ontario, with people in receipt of Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support Program being disproportionately impacted;
  • cost of food, housing, medicine, and other essential items have outpaced the highest inflation rates seen in a generation;
  • people in need of social assistance have been legislated into poverty, housing insecurity, hunger, poorer health, their motives questioned, and their dignity undermined;
  • OW and ODSP rates do not provide sufficient income for a basic standard of living and, as a result, hundreds of thousands of people across Ontario who rely on these programs live in poverty;
  • the poverty risk profile for Prince Edward County created by Vital Signs states that 10.1% – 13.5% of County residents are living on low income

How much money does OW provide?

The Ontario Works Act and regulations set the rates under several categories:

  • Basic Needs: items such as food, clothing and personal needs
  • Shelter: housing costs such as rent, mortgage payments, utilities like gas and hydro, etc.
  • Board and Lodging: if your rent money also includes your meals

The amount of assistance someone can receive from Ontario Works depends on family size, housing costs and income.

Take action

Email your MPP, the Premier and party leaders and let them know what you think should be done to improve OW

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Contact information

Sources

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