Op-ed: When Is a 5% Increase not a 5% Increase?

On September 1st, the Ford Government increased Ontario Disability Support Program rates by 5%. This means that the basic monthly benefit for a single person on ODSP went from $1,169 to $1,228, an increase of about $58 per month.  

Even with this small increase, ODSP recipients will still have incomes far below the poverty line. And with the exploding cost of living, they will be able to afford even less than they could last year. Further, the fine print reveals that the increase does not even apply to many aspects of ODSP, including the Special Diet Allowance (worth up to $250 per month), the pregnancy/breast feeding nutritional allowance ($40 per month), and the Personal Needs Allowance ($149 per month). Nor will these amounts increase with inflation in the coming years.  

In other words, Doug Ford’s promise to increase ODSP by 5% and index the program to inflation has not been kept. While the increases to the basic needs and shelter amounts were needed and welcome, they do not go far enough.   

There is no fat in the amounts that are available to people who access ODSP — they have been cut to the bone and allowed to be eroded by inflation by successive governments over many years. If a benefit exists within ODSP, it is because it is desperately needed. And if it is desperately needed, it needs to keep up with the cost of living.   

The $149 Personal Needs Allowance is a case in point. For many adults living in group homes, domiciliary hostels, and other congregated settings for disabled people, this is the only cash they have control over. Everything else is paid directly to their landlord or service provider. It is a source of hope and power in what can often be situations of powerlessness.   

Increasing the personal needs, special diet, and other allowances by 5% is absolutely crucial to people’s well-being – and this is just the start of the conversation. Some of Ontario’s most vulnerable and isolated residents have just $149 per month to meet their barely-more-than-basic needs — things like clothing, a half-decent pair of shoes, a chocolate bar, or a bit of makeup. It is a sad reflection on our province that we are quibbling over a 5% increase that amounts to a meagre seven bucks per month.  

If this government can be judged by how they treat some of Ontario’s most vulnerable citizens, it is sorely lacking.