Public Welfare or Nah?

By: Simran Hora

 

<Passion Projects Intro>

Tamika: For this example, what kind of comes to mind is a client that just recently came back from the Rio Paralympics.

Simran: Cool! What sport did he compete in?

Tamika: So, he didn’t actually compete in the Olympics. He went to support his teammates as a wheelchair racer. And when he came in and him and his mom were explaining basically a little bit of his background and he’s always been very active. He was born with a condition that effects his mobility. But he doesn’t let that put any limitations on what he’s able to do. And he’s always been in sports, whether it’s been soccer, wheelchair racing, wheelchair basketball, and he’s been very involved in his community. So, he picked up the wheelchair racing sport just a few years ago, --

Simran: He was very active in sports from a very early age. He played soccer using a walker, wheelchair tennis, wheelchair basketball, and finally his chosen sport of wheelchair racing. Upon discovering wheelchair racing his passion for sports was truly ignited.

Tamika: And he talked about how, you know, he was really impressed, not only with the venue but with the level of competition. It was a really big motivation for him to improve himself as well and to keep pressing forward so that he can be at that level.

Simran: He really seems very motivated to compete at such a high level despite his disabilities. It’s something that not everyone is able to do. With resources such as equipment and venues and training facilities, how has the client been able to fund these expenses for his training?

Tamika: He’s been fortunate to get some support from Athletics Canada and that really been helping him in terms of his training, getting connected with coaches, and becoming more and more competitive.

Simran: Its great that he’s been able to receive scholarships and funding for his training, but what about living expenses, how has he been paying for them.

Tamika: ODSP, Ontario Disability Support Program [is available] for people who have a disability and who also qualify financially for the program. So for many clients who are in receipt of ODSP, this is their only source of income.

You know one of the things he did talk about is: to become an elite athlete, as I’m sure we’re all aware it’s, you know, there’s a cost attached to it. And sometimes a challenge that, you know, a lot of athletes face regardless of if they have a disability if finding funding sources. So, ODSP doesn’t provide any finding sources for athletics but the fact that you know he’s on our program, he’s able to connect with different community referrals. For example, different service providers or different community organizations that can assist him.

What we do provide is, you know, he has a wheelchair, not the one he uses for racing laughs. But, if he ever obviously needs a, gets damaged and needs repair he’s fortunate that he has ODSP for that. He has a numerous and exhaustive list of benefits that ODSP recipients receive in addition to the monthly income support payments. So, for many individuals who are in receipt of ODSP, it really is a lifeline. It helps with a lot of medical costs that are associated with a disability. 

Simran: Training to become an elite athlete is already hard enough, and without the financial support from Athletics Canada and the ODSP the client clearly would not have been able to reach Rio as an elite athlete. While in Rio, given that he wasn’t competing, how did he spend his time and what experiences did he have? 

Tamika: Both he and his mom expressed how welcoming and how friendly and approachable everyone was. He even described a situation where, he fell out of his wheelchair on the road and people just rushed out from everywhere to offer assistance and to help him.

You know there were obviously maybe a little, had some reservations about making such a long journey and what it would be like, and you know he only had really positive things to say. And I think it goes to show that we have sometimes stereotypical notions of someone with a disability but recognizing that for real, it really is just a perception.

There is so many individuals that are able to do things that those of us who don’t have any visible disability, wouldn’t even think of. And I think he’s an example of someone that doesn’t see anything as a limitation. He’s willing to put himself out there and take on a challenge.

Simran: If that story about a client who became such an elite athlete wasn’t enough. The ODSP also states that many of their clients would like to return to work or get into the workforce for the first time. And they offer those supports.

Another misconception that a lot of people have is people on the welfare system spend their cheque and waste taxpayer dollars on illicit drugs and alcohol. In fact, this is not true. Nicolas Falvo (2015) – a Ph.D. student in public policy – outlined the accounts of ODSP clients who had previously spent money on illicit drugs but once they the ODSP program, actually started spending less money on illicit drugs and alcohol from the benefits they received from the government. Not only does this include the welfare cheque but the other like Employment Supports [ES], and community involvement.

The left generally believes that everyone should get a fair chance, and spending taxpayers money on people with disabilities and helping them find employment is really important.

The right normally argues that people on the system are just taking benefits from the government perpetually and never really find full-time employment or become financially independent.

Tamika: Keeping in mind that ultimately we want to create a society that’s about inclusion and accessibility and people with disabilities are a part of our communities, part of our society. So, it really is our in the work that we’re doing in this, in social assistance delivery is to provide that income support for those who don’t have the means whatsoever. And also to have the opportunity for individuals who are able to work. We do have a number of recipients on the program who are contributing not only in doing, getting involved in community and becoming involved in, you know, elite athletics, but those who are actually employed, that are working, that are not even receiving income support. They might just be receiving the extended benefits through, for medical coverage for example because their income is so high that they don’t need to be in receipt of ODSP income support.

I think the biggest misconception is that people with disabilities are not seen as giving economic value to our society. And I think that’s an attitudinal shift that we need to really enforce, not only in our individual communities but also out there with employers as well because I have a number of clients that work. That are working just like how I’m working, every single day, Monday through to Friday, right?

And working is also feeling a part of something. It gives you a purpose. It’s for all of us, so, each-and-every-one of us when we get up each day, we want to know that we have a purpose whether we’re going to work, [whether] we’re going to school, part of a big faced community, community organizations, sports, whatever it looks like. And that no different from someone who happens to be living with a disability.                                            

Simran: While it maybe true that not everyone will be able to find full-time employment, and become financially independent. It’s important to consider that while these people have disabilities that affect their actually affect their ability to work full time.

Another key problem from this argument from the right is, that they measure success of the social program based on economic yield. This should not be the only factor when measuring the success of a program. The welfare system also provides benefits to society that cannot just be measured by output to the economy. In their paper Social Services and a Vital Economy (2011), Dennis Lewycky and Christina Maes, outline other factors that are important when considering the success of the social welfare program. They said the system should be seen as an investment rather than an expense. A good way to look at it from both sides of the argument is that social spending reduces poverty. This is something that both sides agree on. In the same way it also reduces income inequality, which often undermines the opportunities available to people. And by providing these sort of services they give everyone a more equal opportunity to a chance at success.     

Another fact that people on the right usually overlook is the fact the social spending, especially in the areas of education, childcare, and active inclusion which is also a service that he ODSP helps in covering the expenses of, contributes to society by 2.5 times more than they cost. In turn, these social benefits indirectly contribute to the economy through increased social capital, higher general health, higher quality of life, economic equality, social harmony, and increased political participation. So, they [money spent on social spending] do end up coming back to the economy. Just not in a way that can be measured directly from the program.

Now we’ve established that from a theoretical perspective the idea of social spending and the welfare system benefits society as a whole. It’s not just a drain of taxpayers money going towards some people who are believed to be lazy. It’s an investment towards success for the country.

But again, this is just on a theoretical level. How does this play out in reality with the ODSP. Well, lets investigate.          

As Tamika said, a lot of clients on the ODSP are very successful and end up becoming financially independent and [they] only use the ODSP for medical services. Based on statistics from the ODSP, you can see that the caseload for the program has been growing at five percent per year over the last decade (PC Official Opposition, n.d.). However, if you look at the growth of the population of Ontario, it’s only 1.2 percent in the last year (Ontario Ministry of Finance, 2016). This shows generally that the population of Ontario and the size of the ODSP program are increasing which is good in showing growth but the side of the [ODSP] program is increasing at a faster rate than the population of Ontario.

This has an adverse effect on spending. If there are more people joining the ODSP relatively than there are people coming into Ontario, becoming taxpayers, and contributing to the economy directly, it puts stress on the government of Ontario to increase spending and increase the budget for the ODSP, but that source of revenue is smaller than the source of expenditure. So the problem here really isn’t that the social assistance program isn’t necessary. Its just that there are improvements that can be made to improve its efficiency.

Looking into some statistics from Econometric Research Limited (2011), about the spending on social assistance and its effect on the economy, you can see that salaries rose by less than the expenditure of social assistance. Expenditure in Hamilton for the Ontario Disability Support Program was $244,000, the increase in salaries was $112,000. So just under half. What this means despite the fact that the total net output based on indirect and direct social contributions is positive, the output through the economy is still negative. So, it will be difficult to sustain the program for a long period of time. If the expenditures keep rising but revenue coming in does not, [even] despite how good the system is, it cannot be sustained for a long period of time until it can be balanced economically.

The system can be fixed, and it is worthwhile fixing because of the positive results it has on society. By working towards making the system fiscally efficient, it makes it more possible for the system to impact society in the future and not just today.

Okay, so, the solution must be simple. Just get people to work. Well, its not that simple because a lot of these people have disabilities that prevent them from working full-time. But some things that the ODSP does offer to help people transition into the work force is the Employment Transition Benefit (Ministry of Community and Social Services, 2016). This offers 500 dollars to cover start up costs like work boots uniforms or transportation to work. Other things that are available to clients are Help in preparing for work, help in finding a job that right for them, help in keeping a job, job coaching, on the job training, specialized computer training. All these kind of things, just help transitioning into the workforce a lot easier. But again, its not suitable for all clients.

But these policies and incentives for getting people to work is not the be all and end all. Like Tamika said, she has clients who are working full time just like she is and receiving medical benefits from the ODSP but that’s not the only thing. Because once people find work they start losing their benefits (Ferrara, 2014). That were the base of their success. And now have to return back to the [Ontario Disability Support] program, they end up having to leave work. This is called recidivism.

Recidivism results from Rapid Employment. Which is finding work very quickly, even if its not the best work for the person. Some jobs resulting from rapid employment could be fast food or part time work. And these are just so people can get the client out of the way and into the workforce. But by doing this the client may not find the job effective, or it may not be the best job for them, or they may not be able to work to the best of their potential which results in them losing the job or not being able to go and then return back to the welfare system instead of staying on the job permanently. If in the first place they are able to find employment for the client that was suitable to them, they would not be returning (Gewurtz, R., Cott, C., Rush, B., & Kirsh, B., 2012)

And this returning is an extra expense that the program has to face that isn’t necessary. So, by eliminating this, we can lower some of the expenses so the system can help to serve more people. Overall the welfare system is very beneficial to society but by improving some of these inefficiencies we can help the system to become the best it could be.

A good solution to this problem would be focusing on providing more support before employment is achieved. So, instead of finding employment as quickly as possible, focusing more on training and developing a career for the person instead of getting them out of the program as quickly as possible. This could dramatically increase sustainable employment although it would take more time to get to this level. But hopefully it would result in lower recidivism which would be positive as a whole.

Another solution is, that given the demand for skilled trades workers in Canada is increasing, and the percentage of people who are becoming qualified in the skilled trades is decreasing (Red Seal, n.d.). It is possible that he ODSP can help in training people for skilled trades. There are a lot of job openings and a lot of people that can enter this field. By starting to work now, and help getting people into this field it could be a viable option for some people through the ODSP. However, this may not work for everyone as a lot of clients do have physical disabilities, but to some degree this may be able to help a lot of clients.   

As Tamika mentioned a lot of clients want to have the feeling of self-worth, and a feeling of being a part of something. This is a potential opportunity to get people to go out an volunteer in their communities. With the right training the ODSP could help clients to achieve volunteer opportunities which can get them first hand experience in developing the skills that they need for the workforce. By doing this at some point it will help them transition into the workforce, and with the ODSP’s guidance throughout the wat, this could be an option into increasing the number of people who are financially independent.

The fourth and final solution that I will present here is that the ODSP could work directly with socially responsible brands like Starbucks which actually scored a perfect 100 on the Disability Equality Index (DEI, 2016). Working directly with these brands may be more efficient than working through the 21 service providers that offer employment supports. Starbucks specifically, hired a 17-year-old named Sam, he is a teenager with autism and [Starbucks] gave him an opportunity and gave him a purpose. A video of him dancing in the Starbucks as a barista actually went viral and he was able to find a new calling and was able to for the first time in his life support himself through employment at Starbucks (Mangione, 2016).

Just like the ODSP with the help of Athletics Canada was able to help one of their clients become an elite athlete, they can help everyone else. His story is really amazing and it just goes to show that with hard work an effort, and proper support people can achieve their goals. Hopefully he makes it to Tokyo 2020 and makes Canada and the ODSP proud!

Well, what really is the solution to helping people with disabilities. Is it one of the four solutions I presented above, is it something else. It’s really hard to tell. But it will definitely take improvements along the way and nothing will happen all at one time. I can’t tell you what the correct solution is because it just depends.

But one thing I can tell you for sure:

If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. If you teach a man to fish, you feed him for life!        

 

I would like to give a special thank you to Tamika Royes – a caseworker with the Ontario Disability Support Program – who you hear featured in this episode!  

I’d also like to give a special thank you to Rosetta Ferraro – a manager with the Ontario Disability Support Program – who helped me connect with all these people and make this possible!

<FromScratchMedia Outro>           

 

References

DEI. (2016). 2016 Disability Equality Index Results. Retrieved from Disability Equality Index: https://www.disabilityequalityindex.org/top_companies

Econometric Research Limited. (2011, April). The Economic Impact of. Retrieved from hamiltonpoverty.ca: http://hamiltonpoverty.ca/wp-           content/uploads/2012/03/Kubursi-Report-apr-2011.pdf

Falvo, N. (2015). Three Essays on Social Assistance in Canada: A Multidisciplinary Focus on Ontario Singles (Masters thesis). Carleton University, Ottawa, Ontario. 

Ferrara, P. (2014, August 15). How Welfare Reform Can End Poverty In America, And Promote Booming Economic Growth. Retrieved from forbes.com: http://www.forbes.com/sites/peterferrara/2014/08/15/how-welfare-reform-can-end-poverty-in-america-and-promote-booming-economic-growth/#5b2552341d94

Gewurtz, R., Cott, C., Rush, B., & Kirsh, B. (2012). The Shift to Rapid Job Placement for People Living With Mental Illness: An Analysis of Consequences. Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal. doi:10.1037/h0094575

Lewycky, D., & Maes, C. (2011, May). Social Services and a Vital Economy. Retrieved from http://www.spcw.mb.ca/files/5113/3960/6376/Social_Services_and_A_Vital_Economy-Mar2011.pdf

Mangione, K. (2016, January 6). Dancing Toronto Starbucks barista with autism goes viral. Retrieved from http://www.ctvnews.ca/canada/dancing-toronto-starbucks-barista-with-autism-goes-viral-1.2752189

Ministry of Community and Social Services. (2016). Employment incentives and benefits: Employment and Training Start Up Benefit. Retrieved from mcss.gov.on.ca: http://www.mcss.gov.on.ca/en/mcss/programs/social/odsp/income_support/odsp_start.aspx

Ontario Ministry of Finance. (2016, June 16). Demographic Quarterly: Highlights of First Quarter 2016. Retrieved from http://www.fin.gov.on.ca/en/economy/demographics/quarterly/dhiq1.html

PC Official Opposition. (n.d.). Commission for the Review of Social Assistant in Ontario. Retrieved from http://www.mcss.gov.on.ca/documents/en/mcss/social/commission/P-T/Toby%20Barrett%20-%20MPP%20-%20PC%20Official%20Opposition.pdf

Red Seal. (n.d.). 6.0 Trades and Apprenticeship in the Context of the Overall Labour Market. Retrieved from red-seal.ca: http://www.red-seal.ca/others/outcomes/rpt.4.5tc.4m.2s9-eng.html

Starbucks. (2016, January 2016). A Partner with Autism Hopes a Viral Video ‘Opens Minds’. Retrieved from Starbucks Newsroom: https://news.starbucks.com/news/autistic-starbucks-partner-viral-video

 

Recommended Resources

Ministry of Community and Social Services. (2016). Applying for ODSP Income Support. Retrieved from mcss.gov.on.ca: http://www.mcss.gov.on.ca/en/mcss/programs/social/odsp/income_support/IS_Application.aspx

Ministry of Community and Social Services. (2016). ODSP: Information Sheet. Retrieved from mcss.gov.on.ca: http://www.mcss.gov.on.ca/en/mcss/programs/social/odsp/info_sheets/what_odsp.aspx

Ministry of Community and Social Services. (2016, September). Ontario Social Assistance Monthly Statistical Report. Retrieved from mcss.gov.on.ca: http://www.mcss.gov.on.ca/documents/en/mcss/social/reports/ODSP_EN_2016-08.pdf

Ministry Of Community and Social Services. (n.d.). Region of Peel’s Position Paper for the: Ontario Social Assistance Review (SAR). Retrieved from http://www.mcss.gov.on.ca/documents/en/mcss/social/commission/P-T/Peel%20Community%20Forum%20Notes.pdf

 

Special Acknowledgements

I would like to give a special thank you to Tamika Royes – a caseworker with the Ontario Disability Support Program – who you hear featured in this episode! She had a great story to tell about her client who is an elite athlete!  

I’d also like to give a special thank you to Rosetta Ferraro – a manager with the Ontario Disability Support Program – who helped me connect with all these people and make this possible! I learned a lot in my two summers at the ODSP under the guidance of Rosetta in and out of the office!

Last but not least I’d like to thank my instructor Dr. Stephanie Bell who always took the time to help me in every step of the lengthy process!  

I really appreciate the time of all these wonderful individuals who took time out of their busy schedules to help me with this podcast!

 

Music credit:

Title Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com) 
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/