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Because hunger doesn't wait for policy change.





Rising disability caseloads = more people vulnerable to hunger?

6545156 (1)In September 2014, over 895,000 Ontarians, or approximately 6.5 per cent of the population, were receiving social assistance. However, the month of September also marks for the first time in recent memory that the majority of those individuals were receiving the disability portion of social assistance – known in Ontario as the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP). Food banks across the GTA are seeing similar trends to that of provincial social assistance caseloads. The latest Who’s Hungry survey noted a steady increase in people receiving ODSP coming to food banks: in 2005 it was 17 per cent of respondents, whereas in 2014 it is nearly 30 per cent. Living with incomes that have fallen far behind the rate of inflation, people with disabilities receiving ODSP are requiring food banks in greater numbers.

Provincial social assistance is the main source of income for the majority of people accessing food banks in the GTA

There are two income programs within social assistance in Ontario. ODSP is intended for people who have a long- or short-term disability or serious illness and are not likely to be able to work full time. The other program within social assistance – Ontario Works – is meant to provide a temporary means of income for those who are out of work and looking for employment, and have no other source of income. Neither program provides amounts that are sufficient to cover basic necessities nor are they indexed to inflation. This is why food banks across the GTA are more likely to be needed by people receiving social assistance: according to the latest Who’s Hungry report, 65 per cent of respondents receive social assistance as their main source of income.

For the first time, there are more people receiving ODSP than Ontario Works

The latest numbers from the Ministry of Community and Social Services show that the number of people receiving ODSP is now 448,515, surpassing the number of people receiving Ontario Works for the first time since the two programs were created in the mid-nineties. The number of people receiving Ontario Works has decreased by over seven per cent from July 2011, where it had reached its post recessionary peak of nearly 483,000 individuals. The same period has seen a 12 per cent increase of people receiving ODSP.


Social policy expert John Stapleton predicted a year and a half ago that it wouldn’t be long before the number of individual people receiving ODSP would exceed that of Ontario Works[1].  In his paper “The Welfarization of Disability Incomes in Ontario”, it was shown that social assistance is increasingly becoming the only means of income support available to people with disabilities in Ontario.[2]

If this trend continues with more people relying on provincial disability programs, more may be vulnerable to poverty and hunger.

Fighting hunger = transforming the system

About 20 years ago the largest demographic group receiving social assistance were lone parent households; now it is those with long term disabilities. Through child tax benefits and other policy levers, single parents represent a smaller portion of social assistance caseloads than before.  A similar approach needs to be developed for people with disabilities, as well as single person households.

The recent review of social assistance in Ontario, the outcome of which was the report “Brighter Prospects: Transforming Social Assistance in Ontario”, made some key recommendations in order to help transform the system. As the province moves forward with their next Poverty Reduction Strategy, implementing these recommendations, especially as they apply to people with disabilities and single people, will be important steps that can help reverse the current trends that make people vulnerable to poverty and hunger.

To read more:

The 2014 “Who’s Hungry” report by Daily Bread Food Bank

“The Welfareization of Disability Incomes in Ontario” by John Stapleton and the Metcalf Foundation

“The Brighter Prospects” report by the Social Assistance Review Commission



[2] John Stapleton, “The Welfarization of Disability Incomes in Ontario.” 2013. The Metcalf Foundation.

Date Added: December 4, 2014 | Filed under: Blog, News, Research, Social Assistance — Jessica @ 4:32 pm

The ‘Welfareization’ of Disability in Ontario

740,000 people in Ontario rely on disability benefits to survive

Canadians statistics indicate that individuals with disabilities are more than twice as likely to live in poverty as those without disabilities. They also face higher unemployment rates with lower average incomes[ii] . A recent study released by the United Way shows that in the last 20 years precarious forms of employment have increased by nearly 50 per cent in Toronto and the surrounding area. This means that more people are relying on part-time, temporary and contract employment without access to employee benefits in order to survive.

In a report written for the Metcalf Foundation, social policy expert and Daily Bread board member John Stapleton explores how the changing labour market is impacting access to disability programs in Canada. His research points to the disproportional growth of the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) which he calls the “welfareization” of disability incomes.

As a form of social assistance, the ODSP program places strict limits on personal assets, outside income and other sources of support – as Stapleton explains in his report, “almost everyone living on ODSP is poor since the programs design insists upon it.” In Ontario nearly 740,000 individuals rely on disability benefits to survive, with up to 42 per cent receiving ODSP support. To understand the growth of ODSP in recent years, we need to first understand the complexity of disability support programs in Canada.

ODSP is part of a complicated system of eight different programs that Stapleton breaks down into two main categories. The first group are ‘employer triggered programs’. These programs are only available to individuals that have participated in regular paid work, but are no longer working. It does not include people who have been on contract or doing seasonal work.  The programs that cover this type of work include private insurance, workers’ compensation, Canada Pension Plan – Disability (CPP-D), veterans’ disability, and Employment Insurance (EI) Sickness Benefit.

The second category is made up of programs that are not based on having been employed and includes ODSP, disability tax credits and the registered disability savings plan (RDSP). When it was first introduced in the 1990s, ODSP was intended to be a disability benefit of last resort for individuals unable to work. However, with the increasing prevalence of precarious work, ODSP has become a critical safety net for many individuals who no longer qualify for employer-triggered programs. After draining savings and personal assets, people who are sick, injured or disabled turn to ODSP as their only option for financial assistance.

There are no easy solutions but Stapleton warns in his report that any attempt to design a new disability income program must take into account the larger context and must not be done in isolation. He argues the need for further research in order to better understand the causes and consequences of the welfareization of disability. With this knowledge policy makers will be able to “provide more effective, robust, and humane support to Ontarians and Canadians with disabilities.” If we want to create a just system of disability support which ensures income security  and access to gainful employment, then all levels of government along with private and non-profit sectors must work together to develop a coherent set of policies that are focused on the dignity and value of each member of our society.

Click here to download the full report.

-Heather Brady

[i] See Council of Canadians with Disabilities and ODSP Action Coalition for more information

[ii] See Council of Canadians with Disabilities and ODSP Action Coalition for more information

Date Added: February 24, 2014 | Filed under: Blog, Government, Policy, Research, Social Assistance — Jessica @ 3:42 pm

Poverty Reduction Strategies with Targets and Timelines Matter

Statistics Canada recently released an updated series of indicators that show the number of people in Canada living on low income[1].  The results overall show that, in regards to child poverty, provinces that had implemented poverty reduction strategies with targets and timelines appear to have made a substantial impact in reducing child poverty from 2006 to 2011.

Poverty reduction strategies are typically coordinated efforts to reduce poverty and are accompanied by specific investments. These investments might include new subsidies delivered to low income families, or new programs geared towards getting people jobs or increased access to services. If there are strong targets that accompany the strategy, it may mean greater effort will be made to successfully meet those targets. It also provides a strong measure of accountability. For instance, back in 2008 the Ontario government set the ambitious target of aiming to reduce child poverty by 25 percent in 5 years.

The Low Income Measure (LIM) and the Market Basket Measure (MBM) are two key indicators to measure low income in Canada. The LIM is a “relative” measure of low income, and assesses how many households are living with an income that is less than half of what the average household is earning.  This measure is important as it gives us an indication of how a population is faring relative to others in their community. The MBM is more of an “absolute” measure in that it consists of a fixed “basket” of goods and services (including the cost of a nutritious food basket, shelter costs for the region, and clothing). Households that cannot afford the basic items on the measure are considered to be living with low income. This measure is also important because it assesses what people can actually afford. Both relative and absolute measures are important to give us a full picture of low income in Canada.

Rate of child poverty by province from 2006 to 2011, using the LIM and the MBM

Using the both the Low Income Measure (LIM) and the Market Basket Measure (MBM) as indicators, three provinces in Canada ( Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick, and Ontario) showed an overall reduction in poverty for children 18 and under from 2006 to 2011. Newfoundland implemented its poverty reduction strategy in 2006, and both New Brunswick and Ontario implemented theirs in 2008. All three had set firm targets and timelines to accompany these strategies. All three provinces, incidentally, also saw a consistent reduction in child poverty from 2009 to 2011, a period of time that would be most likely to show an increase after the economic recession of 2008.

The three other provinces with a poverty reduction strategy under way (Nova Scotia, Quebec, and Manitoba) saw an increase in child poverty during this time period. Nova Scotia and Manitoba implemented their poverty reduction strategies in 2009, but have been critiqued that their strategies lacked timelines and targets to monitor their progress.  Quebec, which was the first province in Canada to implement a poverty reduction strategy back in 2004, saw long-term incremental reductions in their rate of child poverty. They continue to have one of the lowest rates of child poverty in the country, and will require continued vigilance to stay there.

P.E.I and Alberta are both in the process of implementing their poverty reduction strategies, but had not yet begun as of 2011. Both provinces saw an increase in child poverty during this period, although Alberta still has the lowest rate of child poverty in the country using both measures as indicators, mainly due to local economic development from natural resources.

B.C. and Saskatchewan have not yet implemented poverty reduction strategies. Saskatchewan however is an anomaly, and saw the biggest overall drop in child poverty. Similar to Alberta, Saskatchewan has enjoyed the benefit of local economic development due to its access to natural resources. To its credit Saskatchewan also has a housing benefit available for households with low income, whether they are receiving from social assistance or employment – the only benefit of its kind in the country. British Columbia’s rate of child poverty increased only slightly during this period, but unfortunately has one of the highest rates of child poverty in the country.

Provinces that made wise investments which  improved the incomes of low income people is what lifted people out of poverty. A poverty reduction strategy, with strong targets helps provide the focus for those investments to be made.


[1] Statistics Canada.  Table202-0802 – Persons in low income families, annual,  CANSIM (database)

Date Added: August 9, 2013 | Filed under: Blog, Government, News, Policy, Research, Social Assistance — Anita @ 9:55 am

Child poverty in Ontario deepening according to deprivation index

On December 13 the Ontario government released its fourth annual progress report on its Poverty Reduction Strategy. The report measures the progress made toward reducing child poverty in Ontario by 25 percent in 5 years.

The 2012 report shows that while progress was made for child poverty based solely on income-based measures, for 2009 and 2010 there was actually a slight increase in child poverty over the same period according to the Ontario Deprivation Index. That means that more children were in families that were experiencing a decrease in standard of living – not being able to afford things like fresh fruits and vegetables, or having to make difficult choices such as paying the rent or putting food on the table.

This may be because the costs of basic items, such as food and fuel, are increasing beyond the rate of inflation and income levels simply can’t keep up. An income-based measure would not take in to account that living costs are going up and that a dollar in 2012 buys less than it would have even a few years ago.

A combination of measures is being used to try and get a more accurate pulse of how many people are affected by poverty. These include the Low Income Measure which defines low income based on half of the median household income and the Ontario Deprivation Index. The Ontario Deprivation Index takes a closer look at the standard of living people in poverty experience, rather than how much income they earn. The Ontario Deprivation Index is a list of 10 items that the majority of Ontarians consider basic necessities and that most can afford. It was developed by Daily Bread Food Bank and the Caledon Institute of Social Policy, in partnership with Statistics Canada and the Ontario government. Households are deprived or considered poor if they do not have and cannot afford two or more items on the 10 item list.

This report shows the importance of having measures such as the Deprivation Index that work with a low income measure of poverty to give a more accurate picture about the standard of living people may be experiencing.  The increase in child poverty according to the Deprivation Index shows that the Province has to continue to make this issue a priority in the upcoming Provincial budget and throughout the year.

Date Added: January 16, 2013 | Filed under: Blog, Government, News, Policy, Research, Social Assistance — Anita @ 12:08 pm

Social Assistance Review Final Report Released

On Wednesday, the Commission for the Review of Social Assistance in Ontario released its final report called Brighter Prospects:  Transforming Social Assistance in Ontario. Chaired by former United Way CEO Frances Lankin and former Statistics Canada head Munir Sheik, the Commission made 104 recommendations intended to improve the system. The Commission’s work is the most significant review of the social assistance system in more than two decades.

Daily Bread’s executive director Gail Nyberg chaired the 11 member committee that was set up in December 2009 to make recommendations on the structure and mandate of the review. As such, Daily Bread has been following the Commission’s work very closely.

We applaud the Commission for recognizing the growing consensus in the community regarding urgent issues for reform. These include: reorienting social assistance from a focus on surveillance to offering real supports; improving the availability and quality of employment services; fairer treatment of child support; and concrete steps that lead to increases in incomes, such as rate increases, a new housing benefit and changes in assets limits. The vision of a new system in which no one is left behind, especially people with disabilities, is one in which we share.

Daily Bread will continue to play a leading role in providing analysis and fact based policy research to support the report’s recommendations. We’ll work closely with Ontarians who are committed to rolling up their sleeves and to working with the province to develop and implement a plan for action; and none more important than low income people themselves. We look forward to seeing them integrally involved in the reform process.

We need to transform the income security system, not despite Ontario’s fiscal situation, but because of it. The province needs a plan for income security as part of its agenda for social and economic prosperity. Ontario also needs to articulate its interests and perspective to the federal government as well as other provinces and territories.

Let’s get to work!

To view the full report, go to the Commission’s website.

Date Added: October 24, 2012 | Filed under: Blog, News, Policy, Research, Social Assistance — Anita @ 10:00 am