Raise The Rates: The Campaign So Far
Every month in Ontario, hundreds of thousands of people receive welfare and ODSP cheques that are far too small for them to pay the rent and eat properly. The 21.6% that Harris cut from welfare cheques in 1995 is now worth almost 40% today when inflation is included. The paltry 5% raise given by the McGuinty government simply does not provide the necessary income that families need to feed themselves. In response, OCAP began the Raise the Rates Campaign and is mobilizing people to force every penny we can out of the system and push the government to raise social assistance rates to a livable amount.
There are 175,000 people a month going to food banks in Toronto. Children go to school every day without enough food in them. Parents go hungry trying to juggle the demands of the landlord and the need to put groceries on the table. For people who are on welfare or ODSP there was a little known fund called the Special Diet Allowance that existed for minimal pay outs for special dietary needs. There was up to $250 a month available for people and their children if a doctor, dietitian or nurse practitioner said they needed such assistance. OCAP decided that, since the government refuses to raise social assistance rates, we’d raise our own and everyone else's. We teamed up with doctors and nurses who declared that poor diets were a leading cause of poor health, and since poverty is the reason for the malnutrition of the 175,000 social assistance recipients in the province, poverty was declared a serious medical condition. We held clinics all over the city where people would walk away with the promise of $250 extra a month on their check. Across the province, anti-poverty organizations did the same.
This went on for months and an extra 10,000 got signed up for the special diet either directly or indirectly by the OCAP campaign. It became impossible for the provincial government to ignore that the rates were too low. The minister in charge of setting OW and ODSP rates even admitted that no one on social assistance could survive at the current rates. The extra $250 a month started costing the government a lot of money and since the government has no interest in spending money on poor people, it cut the special diet.
Through demonstrations and occupations, crashing press conferences and lavish Liberal fundraising dinners, we have sent a message loud and clear to the province: you can’t keep people poor for so many years and not expect a fight. This is a long battle but it can be won. There are 760,000 of us in the province and we should not be ashamed. If we join forces we can win a 40% increase on our monthly checks, food for our families and dignity for our communities.