500 protest cuts to diet supplement
Tuesday, November 29, 20051 Comment
The supplement had allowed people receiving Ontario Works or Ontario Disability Support Plan payments to receive up to an additional $250 per month for the purposes of improving their diet and nutrition in order to prevent illness.
Protesters began a march from Toronto’s Nathan Philips Square that ended at Sutton Place, home of Sandra Pupatello, Ontario’s Minister of Community and Social Services.
Police searched all participants in the march upon entrance to the square, saying the search was legal as the square is considered private property. Many people objected to the search.
“Do I look like a threat,” asked a woman during the march. “You have no cause, no warrant, no right.”
Kate Chung, part of the Raging Grannies and a former welfare worker said, “Working as a welfare worker either makes you hard or radicalizes you.” There’s no excuse for what Pupatello is doing, and the rates have got to be raised.”
Rates for those receiving welfare in Ontario have been cut by approximately 40%.
Pupatello, as a Liberal critic demanded hikes in social assistance rates. During her term rates have been raised 3%, an average increase of $16 per month for a single person.
“We have to think what it would be like to be on the other side,” said Chung. “we need some empathy in this situation.”
“I live in a hotel, my landlady gets more of my cheque each month than I do,” said a demonstrator who preferred their name withheld. “I’m lucky if I get $40 a month that I can keep.”
A single person is eligible for $535 a month on Ontario Works, and up to $959 on ODSP.
Kathy Hardill, a nurse and housing activist who has been instrumental in the fight for the special diet spoke at the end of the march.
“They are choosing who gets to be healthy and who does not. I am asking Sandra Pupatello which of Ontario’s children deserve to be healthy?”
Hardill stated that some illnesses for which one can be prescribed the special diet supplement are preventable, but cannot be prevented given inadequate nutrition.
“Why should people get sick before they get the special diet?” She asked.
According to anti-poverty groups, cuts to the supplement mean that people with liver failure or cardiovascular disease can receive $10 per month.
People with HIV/AIDS or cancer can receive $75 - $240 a month. However, only those who have lost 10% or more of their body weight can receive the $240 amount.
Health care providers may not prescribe the diet as a preventive measure.
The Ontario Coalition Against Poverty has considered this organizing effort to be a success, pointing to involvement by groups of people who they had not worked with before, including people from Toronto’s Somali community. There has also been success in signing people up for the supplement in smaller towns, including Guelph, Kitchener, and Belleville.
OCAP has been working to build support among different communities and health care workers across Ontario. Saturday’s event was called “ a first look at the mobilization and the resistance they [ the Ontario government] will face,” according to an OCAP release following the event.
The special diet campaign to give the supplement amount to all recipients of OW and ODSP was endorsed by the Toronto Board of Health, the Daily Bread Food Bank, the Canadian Auto Workers, and a host of anti-poverty activists and medical professionals.