Education is often called the great equalizer, something that levels the playing field for those from different socio-economic backgrounds and can enable individuals and families to break the cycle of poverty. But sometimes our system can reinforce social inequalities, particularly if those from low-income or disadvantaged backgrounds are excluded from participating to the same degree as their more affluent counterparts.
The importance of education in creating a more equitable and just society is why access to education for underrepresented groups remains an important advocacy priority for OUSA. While we’ve written about low-income, rural and northern, Aboriginal students, students with dependants, and first generation students on this blog, rarely do those on social assistance get discussed in the context of access to post-secondary education. Recently, the Ontario government established the Commission for the Review of Social Assistance in Ontario with the specific goal of making recommendations that “reduce barriers and support people’s transition into, and attachment, within the labour market.” Yet many individuals on Ontario’s two social assistance programs – Ontario Works (OW) and the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) – lack the educational credentials necessary to obtain steady employment. In fact, individuals on ODSP and OW are less than half as likely to hold a post-secondary credential as the Ontario population as a whole.
In light of the fact that it can often be difficult for individuals on social assistance to transition to college or university studies, OUSA recently put forward a submission to the Commission with recommendations on how to eliminate access barriers for individuals on social assistance, or those living with a family member on social assistance. The recommendations are particularly targeted at the interaction of social assistance with the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP).
Most of the recommendations are simple and low cost, like eliminating the three-month waiting period for income exemption for students living with a family member on Ontario Works. However, we also urge the Commission to consider broader and more sweeping reforms in the long-term to truly remove the barriers of these individuals to transition to post-secondary education and the workforce, including raising assistance rates, increasing the asset limit caps, and better access to free training and education.
We want to thank the Commission for their important work in reviewing Ontario’s social assistance programs, and we look forward to continuing together to create more seamless integration between student assistance and social assistance. While our recommendations are a starting point, there is much more work to be done to improve social assistance in Ontario.
OUSA Research Analyst