The recent Ontario budget increases food insecurity, is dangerous for the health of people on social assistance, and reduces the well-being of our communities. The budget:
• Reduces the real income of people on social assistance by one per cent because the one percent social assistance increase does not keep up with the almost two per cent increase in consumer prices;
• Threatens access to current sources of healthy food for tens of thousands of people by cutting the Special Diet Allowance.
These two decisions will:
• Perpetuate and deepen the chronic hunger and malnutrition experienced by hundreds of thousands of people in Ontario;
• Further jeopardize the health and well-being of hundreds of thousands of people in Ontario;
• Have a negative impact on the health of tens of thousands of people who have relied on the Special Diet Allowance.
We are health and community service providers who work every day with vulnerable Ontarians across the province. We know them as our patients, our clients, and our neighbours. Through these relationships and evidence gathered from our work we know that in living on social assistance they literally have to choose between paying the rent and feeding their loved ones and themselves. Even beyond the related costs to our health system and diminished prosperity this reality for so many is unconscionable to us as regulated health professionals, community service providers, advocates and residents of Ontario.
We believe that:
• Social assistance rates are dangerously low; they lead to food insecurity and are clearly insufficient for human health and dignity
• Food insecurity harms health and shortens life expectancy
• The harm and poor health outcomes of food insecurity disproportionately impact groups of people already dealing with other forms of discrimination
• Investment in healthy food for people on social assistance will result in cost savings to our health care system and ultimately will improve overall prosperity
Premier McGuinty’s promise of transforming the social assistance system to one that will allow people to live in health and dignity is sound health policy and consistent with our collective responsibility for human rights. Income is a root determinant of health status. The RNAO, in their report Creating Vibrant Communities says “Where one falls along the income gradient is literally a matter of life and death. There is overwhelming evidence from academic research and our own nursing practice that those who live in poverty and are socially excluded experience a greater burden of disease and die earlier than those who have better access to economic, social, and political resources.”
The cancellation of the Special Diet Allowance and a social assistance increase that does not keep up with the cost of living are a setback on any promised path to transform social assistance. In addition the food insecurity created by this budget will negatively impact the intended outcomes of the following strategies of the McGuinty government:
• Early Learning Strategy
• Poverty Reduction Strategy
• Mental Health and Addiction strategy
• Ontario Diabetes Strategy
If you are hungry and not properly nourished it is harder to learn, to work, to avoid depression, to avoid chronic diseases such as diabetes and to ‘eat right’. Hundreds of thousands of Ontario residents need more healthy food now! The organizations signing this Joint Statement call on the Ontario government to:
• Commit to revised social assistance rates based on actual local living costs, including housing and food through a process that includes meeting with stakeholder organizations to collaboratively determine the appropriate level of support to provide social assistance recipients in Ontario.
• Implement immediately a healthy food supplement increase of $100 per month for every adult on social assistance (as an interim measure pending the first point)
• Maintain access to healthy food through a nutritional supplement program that retains at least the current Special Diet Allowance budget allocation of $250 million
The organizations signing this joint statement also commit to continue to work together with our patients, clients, neighbours and fellow Ontario residents in support of their equal rights to an income that provides a life of health and dignity.
Association of Local Public Health Agencies
Association of Ontario Health Centres
Canadian Diabetes Association
Health Providers Against Poverty
Medical Reform Group
Nurse Practitioner Association of Ontario
Ontario Chronic Disease Prevention Alliance
Ontario Collaborative Group on Healthy Eating and Physical Activity
Ontario Midwives Association
Ontario Public Health Association
Ontario Physician Working Group on Poverty
Ontario Society of Nutrition Professionals in Public Health
Put Food in the Budget Campaign
Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario
Social Planning Network of Ontario
The Stop Community Food Centre