Troubling ODSP changes on the way

Let me add my voice to the huge volume of Ontarians currently decrying today’s announced clawbacks/cancellations of social assistance programs (specifically Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program).

While I fully agree that OW/ODSP are deeply flawed programs that are more likely to entangle participants in a bureaucratic purgatory, the solution is not to eliminate benefits, solutions and supports built into the programs over the past 4 years. Like rolling back the sex ed curriculum, this feels like a move centrally focused on ideological purity (no hand outs/deserving & undeserving poor) rather than lived realities of those who will be most affected by these changes.

What frustrates me the most is that these cancellations DIRECTLY penalize our most vulnerable while doing nothing to resolve the real systemic problems that plague OW/ODSP. These changes directly impact people already in extreme poverty. These changes are not about “bloated public service” or cushy government employees that Ford loves to decry. These changes directly target people currently living on approx. $900/month on ODSP in London. And this is only the first MONTH of Ford’s time at Queen’s Park.

What makes these changes even more odious is the absolutely callous comment from Minister McLeod that “the best social program is a job”. I’m flabbergasted by the simplicity of this statement. It reflect someone who either A) is terrifyingly ignorant of the lived experience of OW/ODSP or B) is openly engaging in rhetoric designed to pit groups of people against each other along class lines.

To echo the battle cry of the anti-sex ed’ers: Minister McLeod, what public consultation did you do before making these changes? Did you talk to people on ODSP? Did you talk to their families? Did you investigate how these changes will affect actual people and not just a budgetary line?

Unemployment is an ENORMOUS problem facing disabled people, absolutely. I personally missed out on employment opportunities because the workplace wasn’t accessible. But the barriers between us and jobs are a combination of attitudinal, legislative AND environmental and this intersection will not be tackled overnight. Even with unlimited resources (funding, builders, supplies, etc) we are destine to exceed well beyond the AODA’s 2025 deadline for a fully accessible Ontario. Making all workplaces fully accessible for disabled employees ALONE will take decades. My question then is what happens to folks between now and when those barriers are broken down? Abject poverty, I guess, because increases in support from ODSP appears to be off the table.

So by all means, Progressive Conservatives, fix OW and ODSP to make them actually rise people out of poverty. By all means, enhance employment opportunities so those who can work.

But don’t, in the process, eviscerate the meager earnings recipients are currently getting without first having a solution in place…

By Jeffrey Preston

Born with a rare neuromuscular myopathy, Jeff has spent his life dedicated to advocating for himself and others with disabilities. With a PhD in Media Studies from Western University, Jeff's research focuses on the representation of disability in popular and digital culture. Jeff is currently an Assistant Professor of Disability Studies at King's University College @ Western University in London, ON.