Editorial – ODSP changes not enough

The province’s faltering Ontario Disability Support Program has vaulted into the election spotlight after years of being ignored by politicians. All three traditional mainstream parties – Liberal, NDP, and Progressive Conservative – have promised long overdue increases to the ODSP program which provides financial support to some of the most vulnerable people in Ontario. Those increases promised are much needed, yet not enough.

In 2005, a single individual on ODSP received $1,062 per month. In 2022, ODSP for the same individual is $1,169 per month. In the 17 years between, ODSP payments increased by only $107, or 10 per cent. According to the Bank of Canada, the cost of living between those same years increased by 40 per cent. For individuals relying on ODSP, this makes getting by next to impossible. Had ODSP payments been indexed in line with the rate of inflation, payments would be $1,488.

The Ontario Liberals have pledged to increase ODSP support by 10 per cent a year for two years if elected. Annual two per cent increases would follow after 2023. The NDP has promised an immediate 20 per cent increase if elected, followed by annual rate increases tied inflation. Until May 9, the PCs did not have a plan to increase ODSP rates but announced a five per cent increase if re-elected. The PC pledge was not in the party’s election budget tabled April 28. The last increase to ODSP was a 1.5 per cent increase in 2018. That increase was to be three per cent but was cut in half after the PC government took power. Rates have been frozen since: inflation has not.

All three parties’ ODSP campaign promises do not address the real financial needs of people who must use the program. The program has not kept up with rising housing and food costs, which often means sacrificing one for the other. Not increasing ODSP in line with cost of living increases is subjecting those who are most vulnerable to even greater negative outcomes – many of which affect their health. Those costs are then borne by the overtaxed health care system.

A person does not choose to be disabled, and a government system which offers support should not force people into poverty while dealing with the indignity of housing and food insecurity issues.

Increasing ODSP support is needed so those who need it do not need to face more challenges. One part of the NDP promise is important to note, that annual increases would be legislated. That is important.

For too long, funding social programs has been tied to whim of the election promises made in four year intervals. Programs like ODSP are already codified through legislation, but how those programs are funded is not. A stable funding model with appropriate yearly increases should be legislated. Doing so provides stable funding for programs, proper indexing for inflation, and reassurance for those who rely on support programs like this.

How we look after our most vulnerable people is a reflection of the overall health of our society. In this campaign so far, society does not look very healthy.

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