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Welfare rates now $200/month below the Harris cuts of 1995

Ontario Premier Mike Harris in 2002: “The PC government spent eight years in power from 1995 to 2003 and cut Ontario Works rates by 21.6 per cent and did not increase either OW or ODSP during their entire tenure in power. Between Harris and Eves, inflation from 1995 to 2003 rose 17.2 per cent,” writes John Stapleton. FRANK GUNN

“If you spend $650 a month on rent and your maximum Ontario Works (OW) allowance is $733 a month, you simply can’t afford the basics of food, clothing, personal care, a smart phone and transit.”

A housing list from the Scarborough Legal Clinic shows that for a single person, the lowest rent for shared accommodation in Scarborough is $650 a month, if you can get it.

Going back to 2018, the same rent could be obtained for $450 to $500 a month.

But if you spend $650 a month on rent and your maximum Ontario Works (OW) allowance is $733 a month, you simply can’t afford the basics of food, clothing, personal care, a smart phone and transit.

Without connectivity or transit, you can neither hear nor read about work, nor can you travel to work even if you manage to secure it.

Premier Doug Ford recently spoke to the Empire Club and said:

”What drives me crazy is people on Ontario Works — probably three, 400,000 — that are healthy. It really bothers me that we have healthy people sitting at home, collecting your hard-earned dollars. We need to encourage them to contribute back to the province and find gainful employment.”

The PC government spent eight years in power from 1995 to 2003 and cut Ontario Works rates by 21.6 per cent and did not increase either OW or Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) during their entire tenure in power. Between Harris and Eves, inflation from 1995 to 2003 rose 17.2 per cent.

Doug Ford took power in 2018 and inflation from 2018 to 2023 has been 18 per cent. This means that inflation over two PC tenures since Bill Davis and Frank Miller has risen 35.2 per cent with no increases to Ontario Works and a total of just 12 per cent for ODSP.

The last PC Premier to raise OW rates was Bill Davis 39 years ago in 1985.

And now there is now no living PC premier who has raised OW rates. The cumulative effect of multidecade inaction — whether on housing or climate change — is now coming home to roost. Just look at food bank usage.

Mike Harris lowered OW rates to $520 a month in October 1995 — a 21.6 per cent drop — but even if rates had been raised with inflation from that multi decade low, they would now stand at $940 a month — literally $207 higher than $733.

In other words, even if you agreed with what Harris did in 1995, for the equivalent rate today, you would need a 28 per cent increase in rates to match it.

I actually agree with Ford. I am driven crazy and I am bothered by the same situation that bothers him.

I want an income security system for Ontario Works recipients that is generous enough to allow them to live in a decent place and to have food security. I want them to be able to afford a working smartphone and a Transit pass.

I want them to have earning exemptions on Ontario Works that allow them to earn a bit of money before they get cut off, retain some assets and get ahead.

The current system provides an income that is a floor — below which people are not permitted to fall — but that same floor is designed to be a ceiling above which they cannot rise.

And that drives me crazy.

John Stapleton worked for the Ontario Government in the Ministry of Community and Social Services for 28 years in the areas of social assistance policy and operations.

John Stapleton
John Stapleton
  John Stapleton is a policy leader and advocate for livable incomes and poverty elimination.  He worked for the Ontario Government in the Ministry of Community and Social Services for 28 years in the areas of social assistance policy and operations.
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