A coalition of 230 social services and community groups have called on the Provincial government and Premier Doug Ford to double Ontario Works (OW) and Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) rates. In an open letter, the group says that current crises around poverty, homelessness and mental health can all be tied to years of under-funding in social services, and doubling the rates would be a good start to begin a redress.
“This is a province-wide crisis which has been years in the making,” said Melinda Ferlisi, executive director of the Income Security Advocacy Centre (ISAC) who released the letter. “My hope is that Premier Ford will see this groundswell of support across regions and support sectors and that he will do right by the people of Ontario by doubling the rates now.”
The rates for ODSP have not kept up with inflation since the program was first launched in 1998 when a person with a disability would receive $930 per month. Today, they get $1,169 per month, but adjusted for inflation, they should be receiving $1,467.
“This is an unlivable income and pushes people into unstable living situations and homelessness. It damages their health. Raising the rates will reduce the constant stress and deadly consequences people receiving social assistance are forced to experience,” said Dr. Talveer Mandur, a physician and member of Health Providers Against Poverty.
The coalition includes shelters, food banks, community legal clinics, settlement service providers, mental health providers, racial and gender justice organizations, disability rights advocates, injured worker clinics, social service providers, labour representatives, and more. Local groups sponsoring the open letter includes Family and Children’s Services of Guelph and Wellington County, Legal Clinic of Guelph and Wellington County, Injured Workers of Wellington & Dufferin Counties, the Alzheimer Society Waterloo Wellington and Guelph Community Health Centre.
“Income is the most important social determinant of health, and community members on social assistance are struggling to meet their most basic needs under current rates, which is a significant barrier to health and wellbeing,” said Melissa Kwiatkowski, the CEO of Guelph CHC, in a separate statement.
Guelph MPP and Green Party of Ontario leader Mike Schreiner joined the call to double social assistance rates noting that it was a campaign plank of his party in last month’s Provincial election, and that he recently called on the Ford in his own open letter to follow through on that campaign promise, and not the one the Premier made.
“The five per cent ODSP increase the Premier promised last month as a campaign gimmick is wholly insufficient to address the challenges people on social assistance face. The Premier needs to take this opportunity to change course and improve life for thousands of Ontarians,” Schreiner said. “I am urging the Premier to listen to advocates and immediately double social assistance rates and tie all future increases to inflation. It would be shameful if he does not provide immediate and meaningful support to those most in need.”
According to ISAC, the proposed five per cent increase to ODSP promised by the Progressive Conservatives during the campaign comes out to just an extra $58 a month, which, according to the letter, makes government bear “the added cost of paying for these individuals’ interactions with shelters, hospitals, the criminal justice system, and other social services.” It also makes people who are already vulnerable even more vulnerable.
“We urge the Ontario government to immediately raise OW and ODSP to address the rising cost of living and historically high levels of poverty and inequality,” added Debbie Douglas, executive director of the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants. “Women fleeing violence, Indigenous and racialized people, and refugee women are among those who are disproportionately affected. As a society, we cannot and must not leave anyone behind.”