TORONTO – Despite platitudes that they would spare families in tough times and not cut the deficit on the backs of children, by freezing social assistance rates and deferring an increase to the Ontario Child Benefit for a million children, the Ontario Liberals are doing exactly that.
In presenting a budget that cuts funding for public services, throws more Ontarians out of work and grows inequality by freezing social assistance rates “this Liberal government is continuing the escalating attack on the poor which began in earnest in 1995 when the Mike Harris Conservatives cut social assistance rates by over 20 per cent,” said Michael Hurley, the president of the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU), hospital division of CUPE Ontario.
The Liberal freeze to social assistance – which is effectively a three per cent cut to benefits at a time when food prices increased 4.1 per cent last month - is on top of the elimination of the special diet allowance for people on social assistance with chronic medical conditions, cut by the Liberals in last year’s budget.
“While the Liberals talk piously about lifting people out of poverty, the reality of their policies is that Ontario social assistance rates are below subsistence levels, barely covering shelter costs. People on social assistance – half of whom are disabled and the majority who are women and children – are seriously malnourished because rates do not allow for adequate food supplies for a week, let alone a healthy diet for a month. These policies will cost us all in the future. People’s health is adversely affected and the long-term health system costs are tremendous,” said Hurley.
For more than two decades, successive governments have enacted budgets and policies that benefit the wealthy. In that time, the richest Ontarians have doubled their incomes, while the incomes of middle-class Ontarians have not changed at all and poor Ontarians have lost over
20 per cent of their incomes. Of all the growth in incomes since 1980, over one third has gone to just the richest 1 per cent. Yet Ontario’s richest are now taxed at half the rate they were three decades ago.
“This has perpetuated the already grossly unequal distribution of wealth. There is something fundamentally wrong, when, as in Victorian times, the poor starve while the rich are fed to bursting,” said Hurley. “This budget should be a wake-up call for activists who have waited patiently for the Liberals to make good on their promise to fight poverty.”
Over the next few months OCHU will be working with other healthcare and poverty organizations to step up the fight to advocate with the poor. “All of us have a responsibility to act,” Hurley said.
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