About 162,000 Ontarians with special nutrition needs were told in yesterday’s Ontario budget that their special diet allowance is being cancelled and will be replaced, at some point, with an unspecified new mechanism. Access to nutritious food is one of the most important fundamentals for good health. Sick and Tired, research funded by the Wellesley Institute, demonstrates the poor health status of low-income Ontarians who rely on provincial social assistance as their basic income.
The study noted: “…social assistance recipients carry an overwhelmingly high burden of ill health. Compared to the non-poor, they had significantly higher rates of poor health and chronic conditions on 38 of 39 health measures – rates as much as 7.2 times higher than those of the non-poor group. Social assistance recipients had higher rates of diabetes, heart disease, chronic bronchitis, arthritis and rheumatism, mood disorders, anxiety disorders and many other conditions. Perhaps most distressing, one in ten social assistance recipients considered suicide in the 12-month period preceding the study and suicide attempts were 10 times higher for social assistance recipients compared to the non-poor.”
Ontario budget 2010 offers a 1% increase in general social assistance rates in the coming year. Statistics Canada reports that the latest Consumer Price Index increase is 1.6% – so the provincial increase falls short of inflation. Food prices are increasing 1.2%, which is greater than the increase in income assistance rates. Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation reports in its latest rental market survey that average rents in the private market (which most provincial income assistance recipients live) rose 2% last year – double the rate of increase on offer from the province.
So, costs for basics like food and shelter are rising faster than the 1% increase in income assistance rates, which means that the poorest Ontarians will be falling even further behind.
Economist Hugh Mackenzie of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives reports that “The $200 million loss of the special diet program is more than three times the $57 million cost of the 1% increase in ODSP and OW benefits.”