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Briefing Note: Task Force on Modernizing Income Security for Working-Age Adults

The Toronto City Summit Alliance (TCSA) and St. Christopher House (St. Chris) launched the Task Force on Modernizing Income Security for Working-Age Adults (MISWAA) to address the urgent need to reform income security policies. There is overwhelming evidence that current policies and programs do little to realize and sometimes run contrary to their objective of supporting adults in gaining economic independence and a stable attachment to the labour market. The Task Force has created a report with specific recommendations and a roadmap for reform of the income security system for adults.

Lack of coordination between programs and levels of government has resulted in a web of rules, eligibility restrictions and disincentives that often penalize adults on social assistance for finding entry level employment, increasing their work hours, or accepting raises. For example, a lone parent may decline a better job because the income would be to high to qualify for a prescription drug program for his or her asthmatic child. In the current environment, many adults are unable to successfully transition out of social assistance or cycle repeatedly between weak labour market attachment and welfare.

Changes to income security policy in Ontario are difficult to achieve because support programs are each designed to minimize costs without regard for the effects each program has on the others. The overall system is not well designed to ensure that programs are complementary or to encourage increased government investment that could produce savings in the long run.

There is both a social and an economic urgency to tackling these issues. Our economy needs the participation of all working age adults and this need will grow significantly with an aging population. Moreover, changes in the last decade in income security funding levels and delivery responsibilities mean that municipal governments are hugely at risk when we have the next economic recession. It is imperative that we address these income security issues now while the economy is still healthy. It is also important that the linkages between income security programs and Canada's urban agenda be made clear. If we do not fix our income security programs, it will be our large cities that most suffer the consequences.

The TCSA and St. Chris assembled a group of experts and leaders from the non profit, academic, business, labour and government sectors of civil society, including people with first-hand experience of income security programs, to tackle the issues. An expert Working Group supported the Task Force by reviewing the existing research, identifying and filling knowledge gaps, and developing potential solutions and recommendations.

The Task Force has developed a set of policy recommendations that will transform our income security system into an effective one for working age adults. Recommendations are aimed at the federal government, the Ontario government, municipal governments, and other parts of civil society that can contribute to the solutions.

The Task Force on Modernizing Income Security for Working-Age Adults is indebted to the Atkinson Charitable Foundation, which provided seed money and is the lead sponsor for this project, and to their additional funders: KPMG, the Laidlaw Foundation, The Law Foundation of Ontario, the Maytree Foundation, The JW McConnell Family Foundation, TD Bank Financial Group and the United Way of Greater Toronto.

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