NDP MPPs Share Experiences of “Welfare Diet”

914
Befriending self-checkouts seems inevitable

QUEEN’S PARK — NDP MPPs pledged to keep the pressure on the Ford government to double social assistance rates as they reflect on a two-week initiative to bring urgent focus to the paltry rates of Ontario Works (OW) and Ontario Disability Support Payments (ODSP).

For two weeks, MPPs Monique Taylor (critic, Children, Community and Social Services), Chandra Pasma (critic, Poverty and Homelessness Reduction), Lise Vaugeois (critic, Persons with Disabilities and Accessibility), Jessica Bell (University—Rosedale) and Joel Harden (Ottawa Centre) have been eating only what they could buy with $95.21 for two weeks, an average of $47.60 per week—an approximated two-week grocery budget for social assistance recipients.

The NDP has been calling on Doug Ford to double rates for ODSP and OW.

“Every day, 900,000 people in Ontario struggle to get by on social assistance,” said Taylor. “The Ford government should have listened to people’s pleas and already doubled social assistance rates so people can live a dignified, decent and healthy life.”

Pasma stressed: “Because Ford refuses to listen, we’re using our platform to amplify social assistance recipients’ and poverty advocates’ calls for higher rates — especially as inflation skyrockets and the cost of food, shelter and everything else goes up.”

The MPPs say newly released data from the Financial Accountability Office from the 2021-22 fiscal year show that the government underspent on social services by $735 million.

This underspending raises questions about whether people are facing higher barriers to or being turned away from OW or ODSP.

“What we do know is the government is pocketing that extra money while ODSP recipients are quite literally going hungry, and unable to afford a safe place to live,” said Vaugeois. “This is a slap in the face to people on social assistance.”

The MPPs held a press conference Friday joined by Graham Winter, a former ODSP recipient in Ottawa West-Nepean who works at Caldwell Family Centre. He said food bank clients are returning after years without needing the help, a result of the skyrocketing cost of living.

“While we, as MPPs, cannot possibly know how it feels to live on ODSP alone, these two weeks have highlighted for each of us 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,” Bell said. “We’re aware that many recipients have less than $95.21 for two weeks-worth of food and they’re forced to choose between basics like food, diapers, or a winter coat.”

ODSP recipients received $1,169 per month until Sept. 1, when the government’s inadequate five-per-cent increase brought rates up to $1,227 per month. OW recipients received no increase, and continue to get just $733 per month.

“Every day of this ‘social assistance diet’ was an opportunity for us to reflect on the lived experience of ODSP recipients. We hope we provided that opportunity for others to think about that, too,” said Harden. “An extra $58 for people on ODSP is nowhere near enough, especially given the current cost-of-living crisis. People are forced to live in legislated poverty, and it’s wrong.”

The MPPs will spend the coming weeks listening to people with lived experience on social assistance, advocates and social service organizations, and bringing their accounts to the government. The NDP will continue urging Doug Ford to double the rates.


Background

  • The NDP arrived at $95.21 based on research by John Stapleton and Yvonne Yuan on the Harris government’s 1990s-era suggested “welfare diet”—as of mid-August 2022, and divided over two weeks, this amounts to $95.21.
  • The MPPs’ effort coincided with 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.
  • The MPPs walked or took transit to pick up their groceries as much as possible, recognizing that social assistance recipients must often do the same.