Letter To Minister Hoskins on Harmful Cuts to the Special Diet Allowance

Honourable Dr. Eric Hoskins
Minister of Citizenship and Immigration
St. Paul’s, 8035 St. Clair Ave. West
Toronto, ON, M6C 1B9

April 18, 2010

To Honourable Dr. Hoskins:

I am writing to you with regards to the Liberal Government’s decision on March 25th to cut the Special Diet Allowance for people living on social assistance. This is the single most punitive and inhumane decision of this government and has to be reversed immediately.

As a nurse practitioner working in downtown Toronto with homeless, under housed and food insecure individuals and communities, I see directly the multifaceted ravages that poverty leads to. At the same time, I have countless accounts of individuals and families whose physical and mental health has benefited from the Special Diet Supplement.

I am appealing to you as a physician with a history of strong humanitarian work and as my MPP to confront this inhumane decision with your colleagues in Parliament and with Premier Dalton McGuinty. As you are aware, the Special Diet, albeit grossly inadequate helps to provide financial assistance towards the purchase of nutritious foods for people with certain medical conditions. Individuals and families who have to rely on social assistance experience a level of poverty that is totally unacceptable in this rich province of ours. When rent consumes more than 75% of your income and there are more than 70.000 people waiting for subsidized housing, people face homelessness and food insecurity on a daily basis.

As you are aware, poverty is the single most important predictor of ill health. People living in poverty face increased rates of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, arthritis, stress and depression and increased rates of cancer and low infant birth weight. In 2008, the Liberal Party committed to a poverty reduction strategy, 25in5. The recent decision to cut the Special Diet program and replace it with a more restrictive, not yet defined, nutritional supplement, is a far cry from poverty reduction and goes a long way towards a poverty augmentation strategy.

Honourable Dr. Hoskins, now more than ever is the time to remember your Hippocratic oath: “Do no harm”. I strongly urge you and your colleagues in Parliament, along with the Premier to start acknowledging the true perils of poverty and work towards reversing this “unconscionable” decision and increasing social assistance rates to reflect the actual cost of living.

Due to the importance of this matter, I would appreciate meeting with you to this discuss this at a time that may be convenient to you.

Sincerely,

Anne Egger, Nurse Practitioner
Member of Health Providers Against Poverty

Download a PDF version of the Letter

Press Release: Health Providers Urge Government To Maintain Special Diet Allowance

Mar 22, 2010

Health Providers and Anti-Poverty Advocates Urge Government To Maintain Special Diet

Today, 18 organizations issued an open letter to Minister Meilleur, calling for her commitment to maintain the Special Diet Allowance. This supplement is available to people on social assistance with health problems, and can make a big difference in their ability to afford food and other necessities.

“Despite its shortcomings, the Allowance is essential to the health of welfare recipients”, said Dr. Andrew Pinto, a physician with Health Providers Against Poverty. “Countless studies demonstrate that poor people have worse health. Part of this is due to food insecurity, which is linked to diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease. In our context, food insecurity is all about economic insecurity.”

Toronto Public Health has calculated that, for a single person on Ontario Works, the gap between what is received from social assistance and the cost of nutritious food is over $400 per month.

“Eliminating the Special Diet Allowance would be a major cut to social assistance, disproportionately impacting those with existing health conditions”, says Dr. Michaela Beder, also with Health Providers Against Poverty. “We call on the government to maintain the Allowance and implement the recommendations of the Special Diet Expert Review, the Human Rights Tribunal, and the Social Assistance Review Advisory Council. Ultimately, the government must raise social assistance rates to meet the basic needs of healthy living”.

The letter was endorsed by the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario, the Ontario Physician Working Group on Poverty, The Stop Community Food Centre, and Voices from the Street, among others.

Download a PDF version of the Press Release

Letter on the Importance of Maintaining The Special Diet Allowance in Ontario

March 22, 2010

TO: Hon. Madeleine Meilleur, Minister of Community and Social Services

CC: Hon. Dalton McGuinty, Premier of Ontario
Hon. Deb Matthews, Minister of Health and Long-Term Care
Hon. Dwight Duncan, Minister of Finance
Members of the Social Assistance Review Advisory Council

RE: Maintaining the Special Diet Allowance

Dear Minister Meilleur,

We urge you to maintain the Special Diet Allowance. Despite its shortcomings, it is essential to the health of social assistance recipients in Ontario.

Income is the key determinant of health. Countless studies demonstrate that poor people have worse health. Part of this relationship is food insecurity, a devastating reality for Canadians living in poverty. People who are food insecure eat less fruits, vegetables and dairy products, have low fiber intake, and have increased consumption of energy-dense foods. Being food insecure is a risk factor for diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular diseases.

The main cause of food insecurity is poverty. More than 40% of low-income people experience food insecurity8. At particular risk are people living on social assistance who have been shown to be at the greatest risk of food insecurity. Social assistance rates in Ontario are grossly inadequate to maintain food security. Costs of Nutritious Food Baskets, reported to your government, highlight the stark gap between welfare incomes and what a healthy diet costs. For example, in Toronto, the gap for a single person on Ontario Works is over $400 per month.

Despite your stated commitment to reduce poverty, you have taken little action to improve the incomes of adults on social assistance since you were elected in 2003. You have refused to implement the recommendations of the Special Diets Expert Review Committee, which you convened in 2006 and which reported in 2008. You issued a memo on December 18, 2009, encouraging administrators of Special Diet Allowance forms to question the decisions of health professionals. Following the recent report of the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal, you have been unclear about the future of the Allowance.

Eliminating the Special Diet Allowance would be a major cut to social assistance, disproportionately impacting those with existing health conditions. Tens of thousands of poor Ontarians need the Special Diet Allowance to maintain their food security and their health.

We, the below organizations, call on you to:

  1. Maintain the Special Diet Allowance and implement the recommendations of the Special Diets Expert Review Committee and the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal,
  2. Commit to implementing the recommendations of the Social Assistance Review Advisory Council, and
  3. Raise social assistance rates to meet the basic requirements of healthy living.

Sincerely,

Andrew Pinto MD and Anne Egger RNEC on behalf of Health Providers Against Poverty
Jill Alston, on behalf of Canadian Doctors for Medicare, University of Toronto
Michaela Beder MD, on behalf of Health for All
Gary Bloch MD, on behalf of Inner City Health Associates
Dale Gunter MD, on behalf of McMaster Family Practice, McMaster University
Gordon Guyatt MD, on behalf of the Medical Reform Group
Rosanna Pellizzari MD and Michael Rachlis MD, on behalf of the Ontario Physician Working Group on Poverty
Jennifer Loo, on behalf of the Public Health Interest Group, University of Toronto
Sheila Braided, on behalf of Regent Park Community Health Centre
Doris Grinspun RN, on behalf of Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario (RNAO)
Malika Sharma MD, on behalf of Residents Without Borders
Celia Fernandes, on behalf of the Right to Healthcare Coalition
Lori Regenstreif MD, on behalf of the Shelter Health Network
Bev Leaver MD, on behalf of Stonegate Community Health Centre
Ritika Goel MD, on behalf of Students for Medicare
Nick Saul and Jonah Schein, on behalf of The Stop Community Food Centre
Cathy Crowe RN, on behalf of Toronto Disaster Relief Committee
Mike Creek, on behalf of Voices from the Street

Download a PDF version of the Letter

Inappropriate Handling of Special Diet Allowance Forms in Ontario

Feb 4, 2010

Health Providers Against Poverty is quite concerned about a directive issue by the Minister of Community and Social Services that allows front line social service workers to invalidate the medical opinions of physicians as provided on Special Diet Allowance forms. This not only undermines the medical profession, but also threatens the dignity and privacy of people living on social assistance. It is demeaning to be required to discuss one’s personal health conditions with staff who are not trained health professionals.

Letter to Toronto City Councillor Janet Davis
Letter to the Ontario Medical Association