Yesterday, in advance of the Ontario 2012 Budget, Premier McGuinty announced that social assistance rates will be frozen for a year and that the scheduled $200 increase in the Ontario Child Benefit will be reduced to $100, with the remaining $100 being delayed until July 2014.
These choices, which the Premier claims are not aimed to reducing the provincial deficit “on the backs of families who may find themselves in difficult circumstances for the time being or on the backs of our children,” will have negative and inequitable health outcomes for the most vulnerable in our society, and particularly for women and children. Already in Ontario:
- Over three times as many people in the lowest income group report their health to be only poor or fair than in the highest (self-reported health is regarded as a reliable indicator of clinical health status);
- People in the lowest income neighbourhoods had significantly higher rates of probable depression and hospitalization for depression than those from the highest income neighbourhoods; and
- The percentage of people with diabetes or heart disease was three to five times higher in the lowest income group than the highest.
There is considerable evidence that early childhood development is a crucial determinant of health throughout life. Poverty, inadequate living conditions, restricted opportunities and other lines of inequality and exclusion for children lay the foundations for a lifetime of health and other problems. The Premier’s announcement sets the stage for a life of poor health for children growing up in poverty.
People on social assistance or who rely on the Ontario Child Benefit are already struggling to survive. Single people on OW receive $599 per month and single people on ODSP, who usually have higher living costs, receive only $1,064 per month. A freeze in increases to these already meagre rates is effectively a cut, and this cut will be felt by those who are already amongst the most vulnerable in Ontario.
What is also concerning about yesterday’s announcement was that it preempted the work of the Commission for the Review of Social Assistance in Ontario, which is due to report to the government in June. The Commission’s most recent discussion paper, to which the Wellesley Institute responded, set out adequacy, fairness, and work incentives as three competing priorities that must be balanced against one another. The Premier has sent a message to the Commission that adequacy is no longer on the table, and his decision will increase unfairness and inequality.