Hot! Disabling effect of Ontario Disability Benefits

TheStar.com – news
Published On Wed Aug 31 2011.   By Joe Fiorito, City Columnist

The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health has been transformed by the construction of many new buildings. I am interested in the architecture of another transformation.

It has been 20 years since anyone took a look at social assistance rates in this province, to which end a provincial commission has been on tour.

The commission held a community consultation at CAMH the other day. I bumped into a friend there. Her name is H. She’s on disability. She knows better than I do that no one in this city can live in dignity on disability.

The rates themselves are disabling.

We chatted before the meeting began. I asked her why she came. She said, “I have five issues. The first is, we don’t get enough money, period, end of sentence.

“We can’t look after our basic needs. I’ve had to borrow money to buy clothes. I don’t mean party dresses. I mean a parka and boots to do my job in winter.” She works part-time. Her work takes her outdoors. She works outdoors, in spite of the fact that such work is not good for her.

The second issue?

“No more clawbacks.” She was referring to the cruelty of living well below the poverty line, and at the same time having her benefits cut if she earns a little extra money on the side in order to get by.

The third issue?

“The rules that violate privacy and prevent long-term relationships.” Huh?

“If you’re on benefits and you get married, the person you marry has to sustain you. But if the person you marry is on benefits, then all you get is $150 — you don’t get two incomes, you get one, plus the $150.”

Let me repeat that:

If she had a beau, and if he proposed, and if he had a regular job, she’d have to give up all her benefits if she said yes. But if her beau was on benefits, and they wed, she would lose all her benefits, except for $150.

That is the price of love in Ontario if you are disabled in some way: Couples are forced to lie together, in order to live together.

The fourth issue?

“The quagmire of rules. You can’t keep track of them all. There’s way too many. You follow one rule and you violate another and you don’t even know it. You don’t even know all the benefits you’re entitled to.”

Stay healthy, my friends.

Her fifth issue?

“We’re viewed as criminals; they think that we steal money. I get threatening letters if I’m a day late submitting my income report — computer letters, threatening to cut me off. And the letters are not specific about what documents you need.”

It seems to me that such letters should come with an advisory: “Failure to submit the proper forms in a timely manner may result in serious injury or death.”

H. also talked about how hard it is to afford glasses; her eyesight is bad and getting worse, and her prescription costs more than the glasses allowance.

She also knows people who use wheelchairs or scooters, but who can’t afford to pay their share of those costs.

The commission reviewing social assistance in Ontario is headed by Frances Lankin and Munir Sheikh.

Lankin was an MPP and a cabinet minister; she is also a former head of the United Way Toronto. Sheikh is an economist who was the Chief Statistician of Canada.

They are just wrapping up the initial round of consultations, and will make a preliminary report in December. The final report is due next year.

They should have asked H. to join them on the commission.

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2 Comments

  1. I just want to start off with saying this article is just increased evidence of the defeatist attitude our capitalist society puts forth on the poor, and is a prime example of some of the major flaws that need to be re-examined in our system today.
    Although H had several areas of concern, I’ll put focus on one in particular that stands out to me; and somewhat borders on a person’s human rights. I was very shocked to hear her explanation on the rules that are implicated if a person collecting Ontario Disability benefits decides to marry the partner they have long awaited. For our government to completely DISCOURAGE that positive time in a person’s life is simply unacceptable! It completely contradicts what our goal should be for that individual, society should hope that the disabled find some sort of peace and happiness in their complicated lives; so how does this rule fit? To discourage marriage is unethical, and allows our disabled population to remain in a pessimistic frame of mind; and all due to the negative consequences of that “once upon a time” happy moment in our lives called “marriage”.
    Another area of the marriage component which needs to seriously be reviewed is when the marriage involves both parties being on disability. How is it calculated that this couple keep $150 extra? Is that the average cost of food allowance and medical-related expenses for one person per month? With the increase on the cost of food lately, that is not a realistic allowance. These are truly tragic consequences for two people to be punished for, for the simple reason they love each other and have committed to that under the sacred vows of marriage.
    The issues given in this article have absolutely confirmed that our current system is encouraging the oppressive conditions that our poor have to struggle to overcome, and the very disheartening reality is that they have very little to be optimistic about.
    Just what will it take for society, including our government since they are also citizens of society, to make more ethical decisions?

    Concerned citizen,
    Belinda

  2. This article is very efficient at demonstrating exactly how bad the situation is, and remains to be, for those living with disabilities within Ontario. It is a disgrace is me to fully understand exactly how many of these individuals are struggling to survive in a society where so many are wealthy; however unfortunately, that would be a reflection of our capitalist society.
    The article states that it has been 20 years since anyone took a look at social assistance rates in Ontario. How have so many people been living like this for so long without the government doing something about it? This is yet another example of how hard it is for different individuals to live above the poverty line. Also, another example why Canadians should not look at the poor the way they do because in this case, and in so many others, they are in fact doing all they can to survive; however, it is our government who has failed them.
    One of the most shocking issues H has ran into for me would be that, as she states it, “The rules that violate privacy and prevent long-term relationships.” I could not believe that Ontario will force you to give up all of your benefits if you marry another individual. I could also not believe that if you marry another individual with disabilities, one of you looses all of your income except for 150.00. If one disabled individual in Ontario was having issues living on their income, how can we expect 2 disabled individuals to live on that exact income + 150 dollars?
    All in all, people need to become more educated on what is happening to these people within our country; not only our country, but our province. The article states that Frances Lankin and Munir Sheikh are the lead team of the commission reviewing social assistance in Ontario. I hope that we see a change in the way those living with disabilities within Ontario are treated and that they get the help they need and deserve.
    Thanks, Jessica F.

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