We Don’t Need a 'Review' to Tell Us We're Hungry!
We Don’t Need a 'Review' to Tell Us We're Hungry!
By Ontario Coalition Against Poverty - 12/07/2010
Liberals announce Social Assistance Review and slashing of the Special Diet
After announcing in the 2010 provincial budget last March that the Special Diet Allowance would be completely eliminated (and therefore cutting overall Social Assistance rates by 3%), the McGuinty Government has now revealed plans to instead massively reduce access to the vital benefit for people on social assistance. But let us not be fooled – while the Liberals have partially backed off no doubt due to the overwhelming community outrage and huge mobilization against the cut, we have unfortunately not won a great victory.
The Liberal slashing of the Special Diet has been a slow and painful death. Last January the Province sent a ‘Memo’ to OW and ODSP offices that gave their staff the power to reject the findings of medical providers who filled out Special Diet applications. That alone cut access to the benefit to thousands of people. Now, despite changing their rhetoric, the Liberals are still moving to reduce access to the Special Diet on an even larger scale. As of April 1, 2011, a new system will be in place and all people presently getting the Special Diet will be cut off and forced to reapply.
The new system will provide benefits for fewer conditions and applicants will have to release medical information and face other intrusive measures designed to prevent access to the benefit (*see below for more details on the new Special Diet Schedule). Within the Liberals’ own statement about this measure, they refer to the fact that ‘many will not be eligible’, and this is a move to ‘respect taxpayers’ from the supposed thousands of ‘cheaters’ who previously survived on the Special Diet.
To be clear - the 1 in 5 people on assistance who accessed the Special Diet - only then being able to afford food and rent - are not scammers or frauds; they are people trying to survive after being forced into poverty because of this Government’s policies. The fact that thousands of people and their families looked for access to the Special Diet, and poured out in huge numbers to defend the benefit from being cut, should be seen for what it is - a sign of serious hunger and desperation in this province.
Since 2003 the Liberals have been full of empty promises on poverty. We have gone through several different incarnations of ‘poverty reviews’ and advisories from Matthews to the Nyberg committee. All have failed to take the action necessary to do the one thing that would unequivocally reduce poverty: raise social assistance rates. The reality is that real incomes for those on assistance today are well below what they were even in the days of Harris. Now, the only means available to partly compensate for OW/ODSP rates (the Special Diet) is being gutted. People will become hungrier and sicker. People will also be angry and looking for ways to challenge the poverty they face.
Why would Dalton McGuinty and his friends need another study of poverty when they are already experts at making people poor? It is clear that this new Social Assistance Review is not there to find answers. It is there to divert us from waging an effective fight back. As long as we are sitting at the table telling them the same things we’ve told them many times before, we are not mobilizing communities under attack to demand action. We should see this Review for what it is – a diversion strategy and another Liberal platform to carry them over to election time. This not to say that social assistance is not in need of major changes in the way that it operates. The degradation of the system is appalling on top of poverty income levels.
But OCAP maintains that the 840 000 people in this province who are forced to try to survive on social assistance should not have to beg for the scraps from McGuinty’s table. We do not need another Provincial Review to tell us we are hungry!
It is without question that all three levels of Government are looking towards increasing cutbacks and austerity measures. The Special Diet was one of the first cuts in Ontario, along with a wage freeze for public sector workers, but these are only the first signs of the fight ahead. Around the world we are seeing these measures being brought down with brutality and Ontario is no different.
The McGuinty Government understands what they would have to do end poverty. The issue is for us to organize and build a movement to make them do it. OCAP is calling for poor communities and their allies to come together in Regional Assemblies to draw up our demands and a plan of action to mobilize against this Government’s anti-poor agenda. Furthermore, we are calling for a spring mass day of action across Ontario to put forth our demands loud and clear.
Let us decide on our demands and put them before the Government in ways they simply can’t ignore. For a start, let’s tell them to keep their hands off the Special Diet and to raise welfare and disability rates by the 55% required to bring them back to where they were in the 1990s and to where people can live with health and dignity.
Be a part of the fight back -
Join the Raise the Rates Campaign Today!
Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP)
www.ocap.ca / 416-925-6939
*A few key points about the new schedule: The Special Diet's ‘Expert’ Review Committee was made up of doctors, nurses, dietitians and academics and responsible for the new special diet schedule. The committee advised the removal of many conditions. For example, they suggest that anemic conditions would be better treated with vitamin supplements, rather than diet, so it should be removed from the special diet schedule. However there is no money at all available for supplements on social assistance.
Many other common conditions have been removed without any discussion or medical reasoning. Some examples are: Cardiovascular Disease, Chronic Constipation, Diverticulum/Diverticulitis, Gout, Hyperlipidemia, Hypercholesterolemia, Kwashiorkor, Liver Failure/Hepatic Disorders, Marasumus, Prediabetes.
A number of conditions that used to automatically result in special diet money (malignancy, HIV/AIDS, Short Bowel Syndrome, Colitis, Pancreatic Insufficiency, Anorexia Nervosa, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis) no longer have diets attached to them. These diets only kick in when someone has lost 5% of their weight. This means that people who would have been able to access the diet before, will only be able to do so when they become very sick and lost a lot of weight. This is sickness and weight loss that could have been prevented or reduced with the initial diet.
*More details about changes to the schedule to come soon, check our web site in the coming weeks.