Political will needed to fix ODSP in province

By MPP Bobbi Ann Brady

The case for change is clear for how the Ontario Government treats disabled Ontarians. Those in our community who receive financial assistance through the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) do not like having to rely on a government cheque – they do so through no fault of their own.

I have spoken to many who are not receiving enough money to cover necessities like rent or food. In the past, the complaints have been that recipients were unable to get ahead; now, they cannot meet the financial requirements for the necessities of life. 

The Ontario Government recently delivered its Speech from the Throne – Together, let us Build Ontario, where the campaign pledge of a five percent increase in payments was made good. For many, it was a commitment they had hoped would not be met. It represents a monthly increase of $58.45. While the government intends to introduce changes that will increase ODSP rates annually, tied to inflation, many were hoping the original increase would have met Ontario’s inflation rate of roughly eight percent. Currently, the monthly cheque for a single person is $1,169 and only slightly more for someone married. 

With the cost of living continuing to rise, living off such funds is impossible. There are ways to help some of our most vulnerable, but the government seems set on keeping a cadre of Ontario’s population trapped in a cycle of dependency and poverty. 

I was taken aback when I heard in the speech: “Your government also recognizes the need to support those who aren’t able to participate in the province’s economy, particularly as inflation drives the cost of living higher.” The only reason those on ODSP may not contribute to the economy is that all governments are standing in their way.

Those on ODSP do not expect a handout, but they do need and deserve a hand-up. Most receiving ODSP want to work, but they cannot work a full-time job. They may however be able to work 15 or 20 hours per week. The government is making work a disincentive with the clawbacks of income under the program. Allowing clients to keep more of their hard-earned money would help fill the labour gap we are currently seeing in the service and retail industries. It would also allow recipients to move ahead instead of continuing to struggle – this would benefit everyone and, ultimately, the economy. It would also allow for those who cannot work due to their disability to receive further supports.

Former MPP Toby Barrett introduced a Private Member’s Bill a few years back that would have seen recipients keep more of their money without clawbacks – it was voted down by the government of the day.

Ontario’s situation is not only the fault of the current government, as the previous government failed to reach targets set out in its own anti-poverty strategy. In my previous work as the Executive Assistant to MPP Barrett, our team did a great deal of work on a White Paper containing several suggestions to tackle poverty. It is time we implement some of those suggestions, which I will bring forth shortly.

The issue of poverty has been studied to death, and yet nothing gets better. There are answers, but they require political will to put them in motion. In the meantime, people are suffering, and life is not getting better for the less fortunate.

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Bobbi Ann Brady is the MPP for Haldimand-Norfolk