OPSEU/SEFPO calls on province to increase living income for people with disabilities

OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas
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Toronto – OPSEU/SEFPO leaders are calling on the province to re-work their Poverty Reduction Strategy with a focus on providing a decent living wage for people with disabilities.

Since the new Poverty Reduction Strategy was announced one year ago, OPSEU/SEFPO members working in the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services (MCCSS) have expressed concern over the plan. While the province claims its plan will reduce poverty, OPSEU/SEFPO’s leaders note that it fails to provide a living income that’s above the poverty line.

“The cost of living has been steadily going up every year,” said OPSEU/SEFPO President Warren (Smokey) Thomas. “While we’re pleased to see other rates go up to reflect that reality, like the minimum wage, there have been no such increases to Ontario’s social assistance programs in years. Thousands of Ontarians who live with disabilities are limited in their abilities to work and care for themselves and aren’t receiving enough to survive. It’s time to do what’s right and ensure people with disabilities receive a fair living income.”

The union says the benefit rate for Ontario’s social assistance programs, including the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP), Ontario Works (OW), and Assistance for Children with Severe Disabilities Program (ACSD), has been stagnant since 2018 and throughout the pandemic.

OPSEU/SEFPO First Vice-President Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida noted that the plan’s failure to ensure that people with disabilities receive a decent living wage further perpetuates the long-standing discrimination that people on social assistance already face.

“No social assistance program should leave recipients living below the poverty line,” said Almeida. “People who are unable to work are entitled to the same dignity and respect as everyone else. Benefit rates that keep them in poverty only further increases the stigma against people with disabilities and prevents them from participating successfully in their communities.”

OPSEU/SEFPO Ministry Employee Relations Committee (MERC) Chair for MCCSS, Susan Fournier, expressed concerns that the Poverty Reduction Strategy’s employment plan to move as many recipients as possible off social assistance does not take into account the lived experiences of people with disabilities and the barriers to employment that they face.

“The current Poverty Reduction Strategy is failing recipients of social assistance,” said Fournier. “No employment strategy will be successful in the long-run if people don’t have a foundation for a sustainable life, including affordable housing, child care and transportation.”

“The government claims that getting these recipients ‘job ready’ is the way out of poverty; however, without these basic foundations, the strategy is futile,” Fournier added. “The bottom line is that social assistance recipients need a living income.”

For more information: Warren (Smokey) Thomas, 613-329-1931; opseucommunications@opseu.org