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Ontario Liberals back down from merging social assistance programs

Janet Rodriguez

April 25, 2014

In capitalism, it is better to make the poor feed each other than have the rich spend a little more. This is the philosophy of at the core of the Brighter Prospects report, released in October 2012.The plan: take funds from the 440,000 disabled people on social assistance and use part of it to upgrade the inhumane rates of the other 450,000 people on social assistance who are unable to find sufficient employment, and sometimes have disabilities too.
The authors of the report, recommended that “Ontario Works (OW) and the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) be replaced by one integrated program that provides individualized services and supports to all social assistance recipients”.  This means that all OW and ODSP recipients would start off with equal rates and then those who have disabilities will have to prove they deserve other funds may be assigned. These funds often cover extra costs of living with a disability, such as an accessible apartment, healthy food, and the likelihood that the person will be on ODSP for much longer than someone on OW.

Merging these two programs made no sense, it would strip disabled people from the already meager benefits they receive, only to have them prove that they deserve those funds, or potentially force them to go back to work regardless of their health conditions, as disabled people in the UK experienced.
Many ODSP recipients; advocacy groups and grassroots organizations issued strong opposition statements and organized protests. The Toronto Disability Pride March issued their own statement and held an ODSP advocacy information session; none of the attendees favored the merge.
More recently OCAP wrote, as part of their Raise the rates campaign: “Disabled people who have to rely on ODSP know what an inadequate and discriminatory system it is. You have to jump through bureaucratic hoops to get onto it and the level of income it provides comes nowhere close to meeting your basic needs. However, the Ontario Works (OW) system is even less adequate and even more insecure.”
When the Minister of Community and Social Services said in April that the OW and ODSP programs won’t be merged, the sigh of relief could be heard across the province. Yet while activists and advocates prepare for the next step on the struggle, we are starting to hear rumors that maybe the government will take back their decision and go ahead with the merge.
We must not accept this. It’s been a long fight from those who are chronically ill and live in extreme poverty. It’s time to move forward.
If you like this article, register for Marxism 2014: Resisting a System in Crisis, a weekend long conference June 14-15 in Toronto. Sessions include “Disability politics,” “Racism, sexism and the war on women,” and “World Pride and LGBT liberation.”

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