Boost social assistance

Posted on September 22, 2022 in Social Security Debates

Source: — Authors: – Opinion/Editorials
Sept. 21, 2022.   By Star Editorial Board

Life for the most financially vulnerable in our community has been made even more perilous by inflation.

Walk a mile, or so the saying goes.

A group of Ontario NDP MPPs endeavoured to do just that recently to bring attention to the financial struggles faced by those who rely on social assistance in Ontario.

For two weeks, five MPPs attempted to get by spending a total of $95.21 on groceries. That’s the amount they figured that recipients of Ontario Disability Support Program and Ontario Works have left over after paying rent and other bills.

ODSP pays about $1,228 a month to those with a physical or mental health disability that substantially impacts their lifestyle. Ontario Works pays $733 a month to individuals looking for work and need financial help.

Not surprisingly, they didn’t eat well on their restricted budget.

We’ve all felt the sting of higher food prices. It’s meant rethinking food choices during our trips to grocery stores. And yet, most of us are lucky enough to still be able to put nutritious meals on the table.

Now try that visit to the grocery store on a fixed income, with just $47.60 for the week in your pocket. It was tough before, near impossible now. When price dictates choice, inevitably what goes in the shopping cart are not the healthiest options. Fruits, vegetables become a luxury. Processed foods and carbohydrates take precedence. Even then, monthly trips to the food bank become a necessity.

Some thought the two-week exercise by the NDP was a stunt. Of course, an MPP earning more than $100,000 can never truly appreciate the financial anxieties that confront social assistance recipients every day, as NDP MPP Jessica Bell (University—Rosedale) conceded.

Still, she said the experience highlighted the “struggle to afford fresh, healthy food on such a small budget, and how hard it can be to function or focus when you’re hungry.”

That challenge was underscored by inflation numbers released Tuesday. While overall inflation in August dipped to 7 per cent, food prices rose 10.8 per cent year over year, the fastest pace since 1981. The increases hit meat (up 6.5 per cent), dairy (up 7 per cent), bakery items (up 15.4 per cent), fresh fruit (up 13.2 per cent), condiments, spices, and vinegars (up 17.2 per cent), and fish and seafood (up 8.7 per cent).

Even before this inflation crunch, working-age persons with more severe disabilities were more likely to be living in poverty than those without disabilities, according a 2017 survey by Statistics Canada. Four in ten persons with disabilities aged 15 years and over living in poverty did without aids, devices or prescription medicines because of cost.

Those with disabilities earn less and are typically underemployed compared to those who do not have a disability.

It was welcome then to see the federal Liberal government on Tuesday use the return of the Commons to resume efforts to bring in the Canada Disability Benefit, reintroducing legislation that had been unfortunately delayed. The benefit would assist working-age persons with disabilities though the exact amount is not yet known.

The Doug Ford government raised ODSP payments by five per cent this month — which he boasted was the largest increase in a decade — and will index them to inflation. There was no increase to Ontario Works payments. New Democrats want the payments for both programs doubled. A coalition of community organizations has made the same demand.

It’s painfully clear that the base amounts for both programs are simply inadequate given the sharp rise in housing and food costs over the last year. Life for the most financially vulnerable in our community has been made even more perilous by inflation. More financial help is needed.

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