Imagine if, at the end of every month, your bank account was at zero or in overdraft. Imagine if this was so every single month for years. Unfortunately, this is the stark reality most clients on social assistance face in our province. Some call that last week of the month ‘hell week.’
Currently in Ontario, the rate for an individual’s maximum per month allowance sits at $1,169 within the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) and $733 for Ontario Works (OW). The poverty line in Toronto is $2,060 per month for a single person. This means the income of an ODSP recipient sits well below the poverty line, and OW counterparts are even further behind the marker of what is needed to live a basic and dignified life. Social assistant recipients live in deep poverty.
Further aggravating the challenge recipients face, Canada’s inflation rate hit a 39-year high of 8.1 per cent in June 2022 with food prices rising by 8.8% in the past year.
So, because rates have remained frozen since 2018 (when they received a 1.5% increase), the cost of living is at record levels – plunging social assistance recipients into even deeper poverty.
In 2020-21, there were over 595,000 cases (families and single adults) in Ontario’s social assistance programs. Over 36 per cent (217,234) were recipients of OW and 64 per cent (378,145) were recipients of ODSP. That’s more than the entire population of the Region of Waterloo unable to afford the basics of housing, food, clothing, transportation, and medication!
While taskforces and reports have presented a range of options on necessary reforms, the most significant change has been glossed over by policy makers: it’s time to raise the rates to a full level that enables recipients to live a life of dignity. Instead, those most in need rely on what can be patched together through charity and precarious conditions.
During the 2022 provincial election, all major parties discussed raising ODSP rates and with the re-election of the Progressive Conservatives, a 5% increase to ODSP rates and a promise to tie all subsequent increases to inflation is expected in the forthcoming provincial budget. It’s a $425 million pledge many of us will watching for as the new provincial parliamentary session begins this August. As it was not in the spring election, it’s not guaranteed that the new government will move on their promised 5% rate increase.
And, to be clear, we know the promised increase is not enough.
A 5% hike will only raise individual monthly ODSP rates to $1,227, which will continue to drive recipients through our doors to make ends meet. And more sadly, while ODSP rates were debated by provincial party leaders, there was no talk about abysmally low OW rates.
In Who’s Hungry 2021, we found that 42% of food bank clients rely on social assistance as their primary source of income. To move people out of poverty, there must be a commitment to raise the rates, which will enable individuals and families to realize a life with dignity. Raising OW rates will benefit those deemed able to work, mainly single adults, as they will be able to afford internet to apply for jobs, clothes for employment, transportation to and from their workplace, and other things necessary to secure decent, permanent work as a pathway out of poverty.
Raising the rates must be the key starting point on this government’s agenda. It’s broadly called for and long overdue.