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What cutting social assistance means for our community

ODSPWOinfograph

This week, the provincial government abruptly announced a sweeping range of reductions to Ontario’s social safety net.

Among many damaging changes, the government will scrap the planned increases to Ontario Works (OW)/Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) rates—reducing them from 3% down to 1.5%. This decrease is below inflation, and ensures that recipients will be trapped well below the poverty line. And as shown in the graphic above, cuts to social assistance have a direct impact on our community members’ ability to access to food and fulfill other basic needs.

What does the difference between 3% and 1.5% actually look like?

  • Let’s say you’re a single parent living with a disability that prevents you from working. You receive $1,688 each month to cover all of you and your child’s expenses.
  • Now let’s say you live in Toronto, where the average price of a two-bedroom apartment is $2,800. If you somehow manage to find a two-bedroom apartment for $1,426 (what the city defines as “affordable“), this leaves you with just $262 to feed, clothe, and care for both you and your child.
  • An increase of 3% would give you an extra $50 to support your family each month. An increase of 1.5%, just $25.  It’s hard to meet your basic needs under these conditions, let alone save for the future.

Here at The Stop, we’re concerned about what the coming years will bring. When the recession hit in 2008, we saw the number of visitors to our food bank increase dramatically, and these numbers never went down. Escaping poverty is unimaginably difficult, and without support from friends and community, it can also be incredibly isolating.

Debbie Jenkins is a graduate of The Stop’s Community Action Training Program, and a peer mentor in the Community Advocacy Office, in which people with lived experience of poverty and marginalization connect visitors to The Stop with information and referrals on issues like housing, immigration, and food access. She has this to say on the changes:


“As a mentor who helps train other Advocates in our information and referral office at 1884 Davenport, a prior editor of the Advocates’ newsletter, and a member of our land acknowledgement table that seeks to go beyond the simple rote recital of past unfulfilled treaties and develop a deeper understanding of the issues facing First Nations people, I see a diversity of community members every day whose needs have been unmet for decades or longer.

Like all things that seem too good to be true, so were the beneficial 2018 changes to OW and ODSP. Some of these changes were in the middle of being implemented or were ongoing for over a year, such as the Basic Income Pilot Project.

Although everyone receiving OW, ODSP, or Basic Income payments will be hard hit by the Minister of Children, Community and Social Services Lisa MacLeod’s announcement on July 31, I am most outraged by two items:

  1. The elimination of a recent policy change, which allowed refugee claimants to become eligible for OW and ODSP from the day they made their claim with an immigration officer, and
  2. The multitude of steps backwards under Doug Ford’s new regime in the treatment of Ontario’s First Nations people. The most egregious being the roll back of the July, 2018 automatic consideration for OW and ODSP for financially eligible people who received a financial award in a 1986 settlement for mercury contamination in the English and Wabigoon River Systems—despite neither the provincial or federal governments having actually cleaned up the mercury yet.”

As Debbie notes, the full roster of changes will harm all Ontarians living in poverty, but they will disproportionately affect our community’s most marginalized members—such as refugees and Indigenous peoples.

Over the coming months, The Stop’s Community Advocates will continue to find opportunities to connect their peers to resources, and to amplify their voices in opposition to systems that rob them of dignity and keep them in poverty.

Here’s how YOU can challenge these damaging cuts:

  1. Contact your MPP to voice your disapproval over the cuts to social assistance.
  2. Read more about the changes and share this information with your friends and family
  3. Organize or attend public protests on the issue.
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Debbie Jenkins (far right), with The Stop’s 2016 Community Advocates