Ontario 2019 Budget: Harming the Health of Our Province’s Most Vulnerable

On April 11th the Ford Government released their 2019 provincial budget. We’ve crafted a response highlighting areas of significant concern in the document. See below for our media release:

Poverty was not mentioned once in the 382 pages of yesterday’s provincial budget. While the government professes a desire to improve Ontarians’ health and health care system, it shows no interest in addressing poverty, the most significant determinant of health. This short-sightedness will prevent our province’s most vulnerable from improving their health, and increase health and social services costs in the years to come.

Summary of our key concerns:

1. One billion dollar cut to annual spending of Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services by 2021-2022.

2. No increases to social assistance rates, leaving them far below the cost of living and falling.

3. No increase in minimum wage, leaving it far below a living wage, at $14/hour.

4. No reversal to 75% clawback on earned income above exemption for those on OW/ODSP, meaning recipients have more of a disincentive to work than under

the previous government.

5. No mention of restoring paid sick leave.

6. No mention of eliminating mandatory sick notes.

7. A 30% cut to funding for legal aid services, including a discontinuation of services for immigrants and refugees.

8. Cuts to public health, including $200 million dollars over the next two years, which will have negative impacts on services available to those in poverty.

With a history of inadequate social assistance rate increases, and a plan to restrict the definition of disability for ODSP, the promise to cut one billion dollars annually from the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services threatens the already inadequate social support that low-income Ontarians receive. We worry much of these savings will come from restricting the definition of disability, which will leave many disabled Ontarians with a fraction of the support they need to recover.

Cuts to social assistance will disproportionately impact racialized communities in Ontario. According to 2016 census data, over 21% of people of colour in Ontario live in poverty, compared to 11.5% of the rest of the population.

In addition to inadequate social supports, many Ontarians are at risk of the health impacts of precarious employment. As healthcare providers, we see everyday the impact of low income on our patients. The implementation of overtime averaging, continued denial of paid sick leave, and a freeze of the minimum wage will only serve to further threaten health.

The budget points to the inclusion of “wrap-around supports” for people living on social assistance, yet the budget does not explain how the government will fund or organize these services. Effective wrap-around services must be client-centered and must account for all barriers to leaving poverty: social, systemic and health-related. Case workers must be re-oriented away from enforcing rules and toward supporting clients’ identified needs . Given this government’s actions to date, we do not feel confident they will devote the resources and expertise required to develop a highly effective, person-centered approach to supporting people out of poverty.

According to the finance minister himself, every decision the government makes must pass one simple test: “Is this good for the people?” On the day of the budget, the grades are in, and from our perspective as health providers the government has failed. Doug Ford’s provincial government continues to fail its most vulnerable populations with their cuts to social assistance, employment regulations, and more. As healthcare providers, we call upon the provincial government to do better for its people, and to truly make Ontario a place to grow, for everyone.

Health Providers Against Poverty Ontario

For Media Inquiries: hpagainstpoverty@gmail.com