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