Ontario Should Increase Social Assistance Benefits
Walk a mile, or the saying goes.
A group of New Democrat MPs from Ontario made an effort to do so recently to draw attention to the financial hardship faced by those on welfare in Ontario.
For two weeks, five MPs tried to get by by spending a total of $95.21 on groceries. This is the amount they estimated Ontario Disability Support Program and Ontario Works recipients were left with after paying their rent and other bills.
ODSP pays approximately $1,228 per month to people with physical or mental disabilities that significantly affect their way of life. Ontario Works pays $733 per month to people looking for work who need financial assistance.
Unsurprisingly, they weren’t eating well on their shoestring budget.
We’ve all felt the sting of higher food prices. This means rethinking food choices as we travel to grocery stores. And yet, most of us are lucky enough to still be able to put nutritious meals on the table.
Try this trip to the grocery store on a fixed income now, with just $47.60 for the week in your pocket. It was difficult before, almost impossible now. When price dictates the choice, inevitably what’s in the basket isn’t the healthiest option. Fruits, vegetables become a luxury. Processed foods and carbohydrates take priority. Even then, monthly visits to the food bank become a necessity.
Some thought the NDP’s two-week exercise was a set-up. Of course, an MPP earning more than $100,000 can never truly appreciate the financial anguish that welfare recipients face daily, as NDP MLA Jessica Bell (University—Rosedale) conceded. .
Still, she said the experience highlighted the “struggle of getting fresh, healthy food on such a small budget, and how difficult it can be to function or concentrate when you’re hungry.”
This challenge was underscored by the inflation figures released on Tuesday. While headline inflation in August fell to 7%, food prices rose 10.8% year-on-year, the fastest pace since 1981. The increases hit meat (in up 6.5%), dairy products (up 7%), bakery products (up). 15.4%), fresh fruits (up 13.2%), condiments, spices and vinegars (up 17.2%) and fish and seafood (up 8.7%).
Even before this inflation crisis, working-age people with more severe disabilities were more likely to live in poverty than people without disabilities, according to a 2017 Statistics Canada survey. Four in ten people with disabilities aged 15 and over living in poverty have done so with aids, devices or prescription drugs because of the cost.
People with disabilities earn less and are generally underemployed compared to those without disabilities.
It was then welcome to see the federal Liberal government using the return of the House of Commons on Tuesday to resume efforts to introduce the Canadian Disability Benefit, reintroducing legislation that had unfortunately been delayed. The benefit would help disabled people of working age, although the exact amount is not yet known.
Doug Ford’s government increased ODSP payments by 5% this month – which he said was the biggest increase in a decade – and will index them to inflation. There has been no increase in Ontario Works payments. New Democrats want payments for both programs to be doubled. A coalition of community organizations made the same request.
It is painfully clear that the base amounts for both programs are simply inadequate given the steep rise in housing and food costs over the past year. The lives of the most financially vulnerable people in our community have been made even more perilous by inflation. Additional financial assistance is needed.