QUEEN’S PARK – As part of a push to double Ontario’s paltry ODSP and OW rates, a group of NDP MPPs will spend part of September on a ‘social assistance diet.’
Chandra Pasma, NDP critic for Poverty and Homelessness Reduction; Monique Taylor, critic for Community and Social Services; Lise Vaugeois, critic for Persons with Disabilities and Accessibility; Jessica Bell (University—Rosedale) and Joel Harden (Ottawa Centre) will eat only what they can buy with $95.21 for two weeks, which works out to an average of $47.60 per week. The effort is meant to draw renewed focus and urgency to addressing the inadequacy of ODSP and OW rates, and help amplify the experiences and voices of people who live this every day and have been saying this all along.
“Recipients of ODSP and OW have been clear that the rates are far too low,” said Taylor. “We’re in an affordability crisis: the cost of food was up 9.7 per cent in July, food banks are seeing record usage, and housing costs were up 7.4 percent. An extra $58, if that, is a drop in the bucket.”
The government’s five-per cent increase to ODSP, which comes into effect this month, amounts to an additional $58 per month, at most, per recipient. Meanwhile, Ontario Works recipients have had their rates frozen at $733 per month.
The MPPs are inviting the Minister of Children, Community and Social Services, Merrilee Fullerton, to join them in experiencing a small part of what it is like to live on social assistance, given her government continues to force hundreds of thousands of recipients to survive on such a small amount.
“Nobody can live a decent, healthy or dignified life on $733 or $1,227 a month,” Pasma said. “We’re using our platform as MPPs to amplify how Ontario’s social assistance rates are callous, unhealthy and undignified.”
From Sept. 6 to 19, the five MPPs will live on a ‘social assistance diet’ of $95.21 — an approximated two-week grocery budget for assistance recipients. Their advocacy coincides with the 40th anniversary of former NDP MPP Richard Johnston’s ‘welfare diet’ advocacy in 1982, wherein the MPP lived on a social assistance grocery budget for one month.
“We recognize that we are privileged, and that our respective economic and housing situations don’t match the realities people on social assistance live daily,” said Vaugeois. “Our experiences over these two weeks will not match theirs — after this, we’ll return to our regular grocery budgets and diets — a luxury not available to social assistance recipients.”
“But we can take on this challenge to show how hard it is, and to raise awareness for the need to immediately double OW and ODSP rates,” Bell stressed.
The MPPs will spend the two weeks connecting with individuals who are recipients of ODSP and OW and bringing attention to their stories and calls for an increase to rates.
“Our hope is that this initiative puts pressure on the Ford government to do the right thing and double social assistance rates so that people can live dignified, healthy lives,” said Harden.
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- Until recently, ODSP recipients received $1,169 per month. Rates inched up to $1,227 per month, at most, on Sept. 1, when a five-per-cent increase took effect.
- OW recipients have not received any increase, continuing to receive only $733 per month.
- The NDP MPPs participating in the two-week ‘social assistance diet’ will spend no more than $95.21 on groceries during the two-week period. They’ll keep a record of what they spend that money on.
- The $95.21 figure is based on research done by John Stapleton and Yvonne Yuan on the Harris government’s “welfare diet” from the 1990s. Stapleton and Yuan have been tracking the how the cost of the Harris “welfare diet” would change over time, accounting for inflation. As of mid-August, the Harris “welfare diet” would now cost $190.41 over a month. Divided across two weeks, it works out to $95.21.
- The MPPs will try to walk or take transit when picking up groceries when feasible, recognizing that social assistance recipients must often do the same.
- This effort falls on the 40th anniversary of a 1982 advocacy effort by former NDP MPP Richard Johnston, who lived on a “welfare diet” for one month to push the PC government of the day to raise social assistance rates — which it subsequently did.