COUNTY OF WELLINGTON – The County of Wellington’s Ontario Works caseload has increased slightly by 1.5 per cent to 2,005 total in 2019 compared to 2018.
The Ontario Works caseload profile 2019 report to the county’s social services board shows an increase in recipients over 55-years-old and a shift from its use as a temporary income support to longer term reliance.
The County of Wellington is the administrator for Ontario Works for the City of Guelph so their residents are included in these statistics as well.
The proportion of recipients on Ontario Works for five years or longer has doubled from 2014 to 2019. Stuart Beumer, director of Ontario Works for County of Wellington, said this is a trend seen across the province.
“That number while still a relatively smaller percentage of the overall caseload has definitely increased consistent with a provincial trend of individuals relying on the program for longer periods of time,” Beumer said. “That’s gone from seven per cent of our caseload up to 15 per cent this past year.”
The report said factors contributing to this are rapidly changing workplaces and a growth in non-standard or precarious employment is leaving individuals unable to secure a steady source of income. Low-paying and part-time employment may also make workers ineligible for income supports such as EI.
Beumer said the economic downturn in 2009-2010 saw rates of social assistance raise dramatically. While the local economy has recovered, there are clients who struggle to fit into the modern labour market.
“We still have a larger group that are reliant on Ontario Works assistance where the jobs that are available since then, there’s often a skill or education mismatch in terms of what employers are looking for,” Beumer said.
The report also says low paying, part time and precarious employment may also render workers ineligible for assistance such as EI therefore pushing people towards Ontario Works.
The report states the average length of time on assistance in the region was two and a half years. This is still significantly shorter than the provincial average of 38 months.
Wellington North, Centre Wellington and Minto had the highest share of the caseload in the county. Beumer said caseloads tend to follow income and unemployment patterns.
“We do find that income and rates of employment are slightly lower in some northern portions of the county,” he said. “I think also the availability of lower income housing options in some of those rural communities is a little bit more available.”
Wellington North and Minto had previously been identified as priority areas from a public health report. The report indicated a higher percentage of low-income households and adults without a high school diploma.
In Wellington County, around 15 per cent of the population reports having less than a high school education. This figure is closer to 40 per cent for Ontario Works recipients.
Overall, nearly a third of all County of Wellington clients exiting Ontario Works did so because they reported securing employment. This is better than the provincial rate which was lower than a quarter of exits.
The population reliant on Ontario Works remains low at 1.6 per cent compared to 3.4 per cent provincially.
“We think that’s the case because in Guelph and Wellington, we have quite a well performing local labour market,” he said. “We do have individuals and families who are relying on Ontario Works but the vast majority of people are able to find employment.”