Doug Ford's social assistance cuts put Ontario's health at risk
Consider a patient. let’s call him Sam, who has heart disease, type 2 diabetes and is experiencing homelessness. Last year Sam would have received only $337 per month on Ontario Works (OW). With the changes that were scheduled for this year, Sam would have received a 3 per cent rate increase and an incentive to work with fewer clawbacks on his monthly OW cheques.
This extra money meant he might be able to purchase fresh food to improve his diabetic control and new shoes to prevent worsening of his diabetic foot infection.
Alana is a basic income pilot recipient who recently shared her story with the Toronto Star. Her mental health had improved on a guaranteed income. She had applied to college and had started looking for a part-time job.
Last Tuesday, our hearts collectively sank as Premier Doug Ford’s Conservatives announced devastating changes to Ontario’s social assistance program. Rates will only increase by 1.5 per cent, not 3 per cent, which is below the rate of inflation. A number of other changes will occur under a “100-day review” and the basic income pilot will be cancelled.
We thought of patients like Sam and Alana whose lives and health will be dramatically affected by these changes. They are two of the many Ontarians, including 900,000 on social assistance and 4,000 on the basic income pilot, who will be forced deeper into poverty.
As physicians, we know that income is strongly tied to health. People in poverty have shorter life expectancies and are more likely to suffer from mental illness, addiction, cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.
Poverty also has major impacts on our health-care system as a whole, costing an estimated $32 billion yearly in Ontario due to increased use of health services, social assistance, justice services, and lost productivity. Investments in poverty reduction can have a major impact on rates of hospitalization, “Hallway Medicine,” and wait-times in emergency rooms.
We agree, the social assistance program is broken and needs to be fixed. Fortunately, the Roadmap for Change, a report developed by the Income Security Working Group, outlines a 10-year transformation of the income security system that if implemented, could make Ontario a world-leader in poverty reduction.
Based on this report, the Liberal government had made promising changes in the 2018 budget, which are now all at risk. We urge the Conservative government to use the wealth of knowledge and expertise encompassed within the Roadmap to guide its decisions during its 100-day review.
Rather than “getting people back on track” the changed proposed by the Conservatives will entrench people in deeper poverty.
If Ford’s government is truly “For the People”, it should address injustice, remove barriers and provide individuals with the means to fulfil their potential. It should not further marginalize some of our society’s most vulnerable members.
Dr. Alissa Tedesco is a family physician and palliative care trainee at the University of Toronto. Dr. Jonathon Herriot is a family physician in Toronto. Dr. Katie Boone is a resident physician in Pediatrics in Toronto.