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May 19, 2010

McGuinty's war on the sick and the poor

Reuel S. Amdur

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The McGuinty government in Ontario has announced that it will end the special diet supplement for social assistance recipients with special needs.

On top of the miserly amounts that the clients of Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program receive, the special diet allowance provides up to $250 a month for people with various health conditions,

To replace the special diet allowance under the Ministry of Community and Social Services, McGuinty will introduce a new health supplement under the Ministry of Health. 

While it is unclear exactly what will be included, statements from the government indicate that it will be for acute conditions. That focus will leave out chronic conditions, like diabetes and AIDS.

As well as being cruel, this move will put sick people at greater risk.

As Michael Jacoby, a customer service representative with the Canadian Diabetes Association, put it: “If the criteria for the new supplement are too narrow for people with diabetes to qualify, the savings derived from retiring the SDA [special diet allowance] will be completely negated by the significant costs emanating from the expected increase of secondary complications from the disease, including heart attack, stroke, blindness, kidney failure, and lower limb amputation. For example, a single episode of acute myocardial infarction resulting from diabetes has been estimated to cost over $180,000 (2003 figures), and treatment of end-stage renal disease has been estimated to cost over $63,000 (also 2003 figures) per year.”

The Ontario government argues that this move is necessary in the light of the recent provincial Auditor General’s report, which indicates that many people are receiving the supplement inappropriately.

However, the report does not address the reason for the supposedly inappropriate receipt. Might the desperate demand for the supplement have something to do with the fact that the McGuinty government has refused to reverse the 21.6% cut that Mike Harris made to Ontario Works rates?

Ontario governments of all stripes have refused to evaluate social assistance rates to insure that they meet the needs of recipients to live healthy lives in conditions of dignity and decency.

No evaluation by home economists and nutritionists wanted, it seems.

However, Professor Valerie Tarasuk of the Department of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Toronto has looked at the question of adequacy, and the result of her studies is clear: Ontario’s social assistance rates are quite simply inadequate to provide basic nutrition.

McGuinty is less concerned with insuring adequate nutrition for the individuals and families receiving social assistance than he is in cracking down on individuals who have managed to stretch a point and receive the supplement. However, moving the program from one ministry to another just to cut these people off is hardly the answer. 

Special diets for social assistance recipients already require a physician's determination of need. If the government is concerned that some of the decisions are incorrect, Ontario could designate specific physicians to establish eligibility for special diets.

In any case, the behaviour of this government toward social assistance recipients—Ontario’s certified poor—makes Dalton McGuinty’s commitment to poverty reduction a farce. 

This is poverty intensification.

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