Five Official Opposition politicians in Ontario will be limiting how much they spend on food for two weeks as part of their call to the provincial government to double social assistance rates.
NDP MPPs Monique Taylor, Chandra Pasma, Lise Vaugeois, Jessica Bell and Joel Harden launched a “social assistance diet” initiative Tuesday morning at Queen’s Park, pledging to only eat what they can buy for $95.21 over a two-week period to get a taste of what it’s like to live on the grocery budget of social assistance recipients.
Ontario Disability Support Program, or ODSP, rates rose by 5 per cent this month, a commitment from the Progressive Conservatives during the June election campaign. The government has also vowed to adjust the rates annually, tied to inflation.
This amounts to an increase of roughly $58 a month for a total payment of $1,227. Payments through the Ontario Works, or OW, program haven’t changed and remain stagnant at $733 a month.
Amid rising costs for housing and groceries, as well as soaring inflation, Ms. Taylor, the NDP’s critic for community and social services, said this increase is “a drop in the bucket” and isn’t enough to support those not able to work with a limited income. She’s hopeful the party’s initiative to illustrate what the struggle is like to buy groceries for those on ODSP will prompt the government to further increase the rates.
Joining the MPPs at a press conference Tuesday, ODSP Action Coalition co-chair Andrea Hatala said she has to tightly budget her monthly amount, and even then she always finds herself running out in the final week. More than 500,000 people in Ontario are on ODSP.
“I have to scrimp and save and try and collect Loblaws points or gift cards to get my groceries for the rest of the month,” she said.
Ms. Taylor said she is already seeing how difficult it is after just one visit to the grocery store, having used up about two-thirds of her budget with her purchase that included the last loaf of bread at the cheapest price.
“We’re going to extreme extents here, we think, to highlight peoples’ stories to be able to focus on what is actual peoples’ reality so we’re hoping that we’re going to be able to change their minds,” she said. “My visit to the grocery store yesterday was very daunting, I was struggling to figure out how I was going to cook.”
The MPPs will also try to walk or take transit to pick up their groceries as part of the challenge and will be using their platforms to bring attention to the stories of social assistance recipients.
During Question Period on Tuesday, the party invited Premier Doug Ford and Children, Community and Social Services Minister Merrilee Fullerton to participate but didn’t get a direct response.
Instead, Mr. Ford touted the recent 5-per-cent increase his government passed in the budget, as well as an increase of 1.5 per cent when they first took office in 2018. (This was a reduction from the 3-per-cent bump planned by the previous Liberal government).
“We’ll always be there for the most vulnerable and we always have been,” he said.
The NDP initially pledged to increase ODSP and OW rates by 20 per cent during the June election campaign but updated the proposal to double payments in the second year of government after pressure from advocacy groups.
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