Ontario’s poverty reduction strategy is built on the idea that people deserve to be poor

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  • Robin says:

    Thank you for this article. When you are on OW you feel very isolated as the stigma prevents you from reaching out to others. The system somehow makes you feel subhuman and this is projected from the social workers as well who will sometimes hide, deny or misguide An example is when my daughter asked about the COVID child benefit. She was told she did not qualify. This appeared to be a mistake and my daughter a single mom was left with nothing. We are now experiencing a renoviction which we highly suspect is just a way for landlord to reset the price of the unit to make more money. We now are looking around and we can only afford a bachelor for two adults and a child. The housing crisis is set to only become worse with little word to build any affordable units. But we still invite multiple thousands to our city compounding these problems that would not happen naturally but Canada wants to keep bringing people without thought of urban planning. The joke is that Canada has so much space per person compared to other countries. We shouldn’t be living in over crowded living environments. Yes it’s a sad day when we callously look away, this is not the Canadian way but US model. We use to be proud that we took better care of our citizens really what the heck happened?

  • M. O says:

    Poverty and homelessness is built into the system with the false belief that they are choices. We will never have enough jobs for everyone, they simply don’t exist and with automation, it takes 1 person to do the same job as 100 people or more now. We will never have enough jobs because our systems are not made to actually rid us of poverty and homelessness, but they’re made to use them to subsidize the privileges of the privileged.

  • M. O says:

    It absolutely is and you shouldn’t have been abandoned by our government who has responsibility to care for us. When will the prejudice end? I guess maybe when they kill us all?

    • J says:

      This is how I feel. That they are literally waiting for people to die, and will not care. It will just be seen as ‘more for me’ and less of a burden to them. I am a decent person, and I have worked hard my whole life. It doesn’t matter, if we don’t hand them something immediately we are irrelevant. It’s yet another form of genocide.

  • M. O says:

    My partner left me because of ODSP’s spousal rules. I will never have a partner or family again because of it. It’s really awful to place that burden on my loved ones, it’s like why do they even pay taxes when they will have to support me because the government doesn’t do its damn job.

    • J says:

      That is heartbreaking. It’s true, in my family and I see in others, we continuously rely on one another but it is insufficient. Also, I am single but feel pressured and don’t wish to seek a sex partner to survive, it seems inhumane.

  • Maranda Ortega says:

    I have to eat food that could cause anaphalatic shock because otherwise I don’t have food to eat. Epipens and ER visits are costs that can never be taken from me but add up in debt as I am off of ODSP because I had an abusive worker who took advantage of me multiple times, it simply isn’t worth being on ODSP any longer. I survive on my disability pension, all of my medical treatments to manage my disabilities, even if I was on ODSP are uncovered. During a pandemic I can’t even afford food and the government gives us $600 and pretends that does anything. If I actually had access to appropriate care it would cost me 2k a month and that isn’t including food and shelter. I have been abandoned by our government. Given no recourse to deal with abusive people in government. No reporting to anyone has led to anything and I couldn’t go to tribunal because I couldn’t afford a lawyer and legal aid is so over burdened thanks to Ford’s cuts, I am unable to have their help advocating. Even though tribunal system is meant to be accessible without a lawyer, every step I interacted with the government they told me to get a lawyer. I showed up without one because one was never available to me and again, they told me to get a lawyer and it was like I was witnessing colleagues interact even though social services and tribunal are supposed to be impartial, they knew each other very well, I didn’t stand a chance. So even though my worker abused me, it didn’t matter, I was not allowed to have representation and I was not allowed to advocate for myself. When I tried, I was shut down by the tribunal. The rules are too difficult to navigate without a lawyer, they are well aware of it, to the point they tell you every step to get a lawyer but the funding for legal aid is so low, we can’t actually get any help. Ombudsmen have never been able to help, the burden of proof is on me as the abused individual who is having PTSD episodes just talking to ODSP and tribunal because they bullied and harassed me during my own trial. It’s obsurd. The government and the public have washed their hands of us, even when that kills us, because they don’t care and I don’t think they ever will. I no longer believe in our government in any way shape or form and I no longer adhere to the law because the law doesn’t include me. My human rights are constantly violated and it doesn’t matter, there is no recourse and I honestly never expect there will be.

    • J says:

      That is very frightening, and sad, and not the first time I have heard of this. Others have said they risk the same to eat. I don’t disbelieve either, that workers do shame and manipulate. I believe that they are trained and made to feel that they are responsible for keeping people off of the social system while they are implementing it. I too, am at the point of needing assistance, and have fought with everything to remain off of it, not only because it is so low that living on it is to suffer physically, but I know that I will be coerced to suffer emotionally and mentally as well. It is distressing not to have a say in this, how things are and be heard or understood.

  • Gord Ross says:

    No words better spoken.

  • betheee says:

    Poverty in Ontario specifically has been horrific since the neoliberal reforms of 1995. The social net never recovered and Doug Ford just took it a step up. Public opinion is viciously callous towards the poor. Absolutely brutal. Read a CBC article on poverty, homelessness or basic income and you will see a comment section with 2000 comments full of nothing but sadism and superiority. You can chalk it up to simply trolling and bots, this is a societal opinion mirror in a large sense.

    Ontario today has Reagan era USA level social problems and poverty. And a trained, smug, vicious class of elitists who want nothing but death to come to the poor.

    • J says:

      This. I was acquainted with Mike Harris personally, and he was just like that. Affluent, and elitist. To those people it is like taking out the garbage. He didn’t think of himself as cruel either, he thought of it as a good deed to society.

  • Morrison says:

    They seem to want this for the people?they mine the resource’s Land etc for trillions then pretends there’s no money there’s money from many different sources I have not etc.”I assume its a plan for something or lack of For other people

    • J says:

      Yes. Canada’s resources belong to each citizen, and we are very wealthy in this regard. We can take care of everyone.

  • Hollie says:

    I didn’t always live in poverty. I made a great living 35-40 years ago. But those jobs became more scarce, health benefits were cut by employers so I had to pay for dental, vision and prescriptions, and I had children, so I had to worry about sitters. For awhile, I could jump from one job to another and see an increase in pay. After several years, salaries were lower. Eventually, my pay was lower for the same type of job I had had before. I still worked hard, still gave my all, but couldn’t make ends meet. Then, I went through divorce. The bottom fell out of my finances. It happened to me, a university graduate with brains and drive. It can happen to anyone, and probably has happened to tens of thousands or more.

  • Edward says:

    I wonder what her outlook would be if she were not being paid? I mean from the mental health, drugs, etc.? And paid very well I might add! I mean if there were no as societal conditioned for mental health she would not be needed! And essentially her “needed” is totally non-essential! They all exploit this for now well rooted legal oligarch! To end this we need to eliminate these non-essential legal aspects of society and change will take place and quick! I mean she talks about immigration that is already being legally exploited just in landing and registration fees and this does not include the more that $400 million per year being allocated to the legal construct legal aid Ontario that has even entered into a corrupt contract essentially with itself! The attorney general of Ontario is a lawyer member of the law society of Ontario the same legal construct that it is actually entering into the memorandum of understanding with! Come on! We are better than this also false propagation!

  • Old Nick says:

    “Ontario’s poverty reduction strategy is built on the idea that people deserve to be poor” I don’t know how you extrapolate that from the budget, unless you are a Marxist. If money was spent on the truly needy, the mentally ill and disabled, instead of the growing cohort who are fully capable of work, then there would be lots of money for housing and other needs. There is strong social disapproval in countries like Norway of people who take advantage of the system, these are also exceedingly non-diverse societies where people pull together as a group instead of fragmenting into selfish tribes. If Ontario was an independent country, it would be among the most indebted in the world. Nobody would lend it any money, then you would see REAL poverty.

  • SMB says:

    For the last 10 years we have run our own business (because where we live jobs are scarce). For the last year my husband has had to re-enter his old stomping grounds as a trucker to make ends meet.

    We are food poor – the kids eat before we do some days (this happens a couple times a year, we use the food bank a couple times a year too). We pay our bills, always, including the business bills.

    We’ve both been busting our butts as business owners, as trades folk (his trucking, my technical work) and yet no incentive to own and run a business here in Ontario. None. We still have to use Ontario Works. I could be on ODSP but I refuse to (I have some health issues), he’s a diabetic with meds that cost 7k a year (just the meds, he hasn’t checked his sugars in over 6 months, can’t afford the strips) we don’t even make 20k a year with the business.

    The system is broken and Ford is about to break it more. On top of that he is destroying services for mental health that could be helping my autistic children – he also thinks my children shouldn’t have access to facilities in his neighborhood/backyard because they devalue the property values and cause problems for the community, he is destroying the healthcare system and he looks down on mine and me because he grew up with a silver spoon in his mouth – he isn’t for the people, he can never be for the people – he doesn’t even know what real poverty and real struggle is.

  • Anna says:

    Our system doesn’t work. I personally think that any politician that makes these sort of decisions should be mandated to live amongst the people who’s lives they are destroying/ affecting so to gain an understanding. Very easy to put something on paper while you go back to your beautiful home. I’m always bewildered at why we are not looking at countries that have achieved more social stability and perhaps implementing some of what they do.

  • Ryan Lafleur says:

    In my opinion people should put forth an effort to reduce their likely hood of being poor. This article seems to decide poorness is a luck thing . I would think differently . Money is only one thing in life and many things can’t be changed cuz you have lots of cash! Putting forth an effort reduces the probability of lots of stuff, some are spread through heredity and poor choices but having some cash effects some choices negatively, and positively. Just handing money to people reduces the likelihood of them putting forth an effort. People need to realize money is only one thing in life, we can do lots of stuff without money. Make an effort to gain money and make an effort into improving things like health! Don’t rely on the choices of others, rely on YOURSELF!

  • Dm says:

    The age old question: where do you get the money to pay for these changes & services? Continuous defecit spending is not a sustainable option for any government. Increase taxes?

    • SLM says:

      Perhaps by eliminating special tax-breaks and loopholes for the wealthiest of the wealthy, who avoid paying billions of dollars in taxes thanks to tax laws voted in by their cronies.

    • Stephen says:

      People who have disabilities and are unable to work the same hours that an able body person can. The Ford government proposed increasing the amount you can make in a month from 200 to 300, but instead of taking 50% of the remainder, they take back 75%. If you made 14.50$/hour working 20 hours a week that means under this system where they would earn 15,080 and then lose 75% of 9080 = 6,810. While under the old system they would earn 15,080 and then lose 50% of 10,280 = 5,140 making them lose 1,670 dollars a year. They only receive 1,151 per month $489 for shelter and $662 a month for basic needs.
      So they would receive 13,812 + 6,810 = 20,622 under the old system and 13,812 + 5,140 = 18,952 under the new system.

      The poverty line is 22,000 so Doug Ford’s government is proposing that some of the most vulnerable members of society should go further below the poverty line when they are doing the best they can to work given the many issues people with disability face getting, keeping and being turned over for promotions because they are not as able as their healthy counterparts. They cut the rate of increase by half this year from 3% to 1.5% (below the inflation rate) and haven’t proposed any increase for the next years.

      Doug Ford’s staff decided they deserved a 14% wage increase and got it (retroactive to June 2018).

      So they get to make choices like, do I pay for food or do I pay for hydro this month? Many treatments and therapies are not covered by ODSP and they would be forced to pay out of pocket. So they can’t afford them and their health declines to the point where they have to take a lengthy hospital stay which will end up costing more money to the province than had they simply been given enough money in the first place to maintain their health.

  • Jim Sugiyama says:

    This is an excellent analysis-thank you!

  • Denise Erskine says:

    My feeling about the matter is that initiatives such as Ontario Works & O.D.S.P. do not allow for an improvement in employment that one would obtain. The system is designed to keep you poor, never being able to get ahead in life.
    As I am aware temporary shelters are very dangerous places where you can be robbed or beaten or possibly worse. Myself I’m very apolitical but I can see that Premier Doug Ford does not seem to have the interests of the province of Ontario in the forefront of his mind.

  • Barbara says:

    Your article is so true and very well written. I agree with all the issues that you have highlighted. Having worked for 38 years as a community public health nurse in Toronto, I have seen first hand extreme poverty and how hard it is for people to get out of this terrible position. So much more should be done to help reduce poverty in this beautiful city and country of ours!

  • Susan McPherson says:

    I don’t see that it is the government that wants people from the lower-income classes to not own property, as some say. It seems to me it is the way of the world that those from the middle classes want to protect their privilege and ownership, and status in society by making sure those lower down the ranks don’t rise up and attempt to replace them. It is a myth that the ones with wealth are more intelligent, determined, capable, insightful and knowledgeable. But to protect that myth that is what they have to do, make sure the lower classes know their place and stay in it. The odd one gets through, breaking through to the middle class, but only if they know and uphold the intentions of the rich.

    How to make inroads into changes for society I don’t know, but I have tried to do what I can through my websites and blog, Sue’s Views on the News. It is a struggle, but it’s better than simply accepting what is doled out, when one becomes aware of what is happening. Blaming the government is not enough, and may not even be the most appropriate response in many situations. This is a class struggle we are engaged in.

  • Rich says:

    I know how fortunate I’ve been to have a family both willing and capable of helping me. I would’ve become homeless in several occasions throughout my life if not for their help. Many people don’t have families or friends both willing and able to help out.

    I’ve done everything I was supposed to in order to succeed and be financially secure. But a chronic health problem took a turn for the worse about 7-8 years ago and I was no longer capable of working. Anyone at all can become ill and suddenly reliant on our barely there social safety net. It takes so long to get ODSP during which time you’re stuck on OW, both of which are inadequate but OW so much worse. Every year inflation effectively cuts social assistance rates. The occassional 1% or 1.5% increase is just a year where inflation cuts less from the rates. In terms of spending power social assistance rates were much higher right after the Harris PCs cut them by 22% than they are today. Meanwhile rent has skyrocketed and the cost of everything else increases.

    When I was a kid growing up in my hometown I never saw a homeless person, there were only a handful. However these days homelessness is highly visible all across the city. If it had happened all at once people would be outraged but since it happened but at a time it doesn’t stand out. It did for me since I only moved back to my hometown when I ended up on ODSP.

  • Gary Thompson says:

    Nice one Madeleine “Nobody deserves to suffer in poverty. This much seems painfully obvious. Yet our anti-poverty policies fail to reflect this obvious moral truth.”

    It’s the 1% agenda many working minimum wage and being cheated on their pay cheques every week. Living in fear of reprisals, say nothing therefore not living. Ministry of Labour does not care

  • Nancy Stevens says:

    We have returned to the Harris years with a vengeance, unfortunately. I wish absolutely every politician was forced to live on the street for a year – we might see a lot less of the ham-fisted mean-spirited draconian cuts to all essential services that have been rolling out.

  • Susan McPherson says:

    “Policy programs like these are premised on the moralistic and meritocratic misconception that we all get what we deserve in life. ”
    There’s a contradiction here. It’s the wealthy who hold such beliefs. Most of them are neither moral neither meritorious.

  • Lorraine says:

    Excellent article.

  • GERARD Ryan says:

    Thank you for your perspective.
    Real eye opener!!

  • michael p says:

    Thank you Madeline for writing, and all of your other efforts. Reducing if not preventing the harms felt by those at the edges of the bell curve is clearly in Everyone’s Best Interest, including the public purse/taxpayer. I fail to understand the triumph of ideology over basic basic (basic!) science – evidence, if not core values/principles. I look forward to a day when the evidence-based policy triumphs, and upstream initiatives lessen the harms, including death, felt downstream by individuals, communities, service providers, public sector etc.

    • Susan McPherson says:

      michael p
      I don’t know how any of this change can happen without a change in attitude of the rich and powerful who seem intent on maintaining their status no matter how many get hurt.

      From the article:
      “The more we believe that success is built upon merit and skill, the less we’re inclined to support a redistributive system and robust social safety net. Ontario’s job-training programs, user fees for child care, and youth entrepreneurship initiatives may all marginally increase access to opportunities, but they far from guarantee social and economic security. ”

      Even most of the wealthy don’t believe that success is built on merit and skill (unless it’s the kids of skills they would rather we didn’t talk about). But some working class people will believe that, and believe in the gov’t and its institutions. When it comes to age and health care, there must be many who are missing out of health care that could benefit them while they are still able to contribute, and ease the path afterwards.

  • Rita Selby says:

    Incredible and powerful essay. One to save and share and read again.

  • Margaret Konopacki says:

    Maddie Your article hits the very heart of the issue. We need more people like you publishing their “in the trenches” reports because you write from a place of the heart .
    By taking $1 billion out of the budget the government is stripping — the weakest link in the society — Disputable , shameful and greedy!!! Last summer the same government spent $50 million on repaving a new bicycle path that wasn’t even broken!! Let’s make a list of all the ways the government spends on and all the bureaucracy the government spend on That’s not necessary Then takes the money away from another place where the lobby is just not as loud! Become the squeaky wheel Maddie! Thank you for your article

    • Common Sense says:

      The bottom line: we can thank our prior generations who pushed for the idea of corporate greed and globalization. Unfortunately, the main problem is a lack of good jobs in this country. If you don’t have a successful upbringing and make it into health care, teaching, or finance, there is no industry for you to work. Every society will have some members who are not going to be strong academically and won’t become doctors or accountants, but should still have decent paying jobs in a factory or yard. However, our prior generations got greedy, wanted to push all industry overseas where they can pay a fraction of what they would pay in North America in order to multiply their profits. Unfortunately all of us are still contributing to this problem when we go to Costco and Walmart and choose products made in China or Indonesia over local products. You want fairness in society? support local small business which gives local people jobs. If everyone were so outraged they would stop buying clothes made in China, pay $50 more and buy something made in Canada or US by local workers. This would incentivize people to actually open local businesses and employ Canadian workers. We can thank those before us who pushed all industry out to cheaper pastures, thinking the thousands of people who worked in the factories in North America would just ?what, become doctors and lawyers? Poverty exists because of all of our collective actions and inactions. People who struggle and can’t get through academically, then can’t find a basic job, lose all meaning and purpose in life. No wonder people turn to addictions to ease pain and suffering. We need to create a society where we allow all people to strive and succeed and to give them some sense of purpose and pride in their work.

  • Richard Schabler says:

    That is appallingly negligent. It’s not by choice that people are shortchanged in their work, lives or relationships. Interestingly a parallel administration is happening here in Vancouver British Columbia too, almost identical, which reveals that this is a national motion, and above the discretion of local leaders.
    If all monies and support services are being aimed at the future of those who are seventeen and younger along with their caregivers, then this article reports the exact same situation that is happening in BC.

    It is time for the people to come together and be the Work Force that sustains Canada.

  • Jennifer says:

    This is so tough.
    I have been a solo parental since 911
    And have 3 children all diagnosed with autism and intellectual disabilities
    The amount of odsp for a family is 1851 monthly
    That doesnt leave enough after mortgage hydr oil
    Home insurance
    For phone tv internet let alone food
    When will disabled adults become contributing members of society
    When there usnt any money in their families budget to do anything in their community
    They cannot afford dental care
    Loads of adults go without teeth
    In our situation our steel roofs been leaking for 18 years
    We have mo running water in our home due to harsh hard water blocking the copper plumbing
    And we are overrun with mice this year and Norway rats in the attic in the walls and the ceiling
    Where will $350 come from so orkin can rid the home if mice and rats
    We require a 10k plumbing overhaul
    And a new structure and roof is over 40k
    How do we home owners keep our families homes livable
    When there usnt any money for these repairs
    It sickens me
    That we must just survive
    We are not living
    This is deplorable

  • Alex says:

    I’d rather OD on fentanyl than to have people point at me and call me a lazy loser because some loser decided to drink and drive and crash into me. I didn’t chose poverty and chronic pain/illnesses. I loved working when I was, and loved doing what I did. Now every time I see an article about Ontario Politics my suicidal ideation increases exponentially. Ironically, the people who could help are no longer available to me.

  • Jason Hartwick says:

    Folks, please add your stories to this, so that it does not stand alone as the apparent rantings of a “liberal snowflake”.

    I grew up farming. We moved from place to place, my mother and I working farms, relying on Mother’s Allowance to make up what we couldn’t earn for her, myself, and my sister. She fell in love with and married a man who had a military pension, but that still kept us under the poverty line. I moved to my father’s farm for a short while. I was on OW for about a month after I turned 18, then worked. I worked framing, basement sealing, moving, and in call centres. I got into a relationship with a woman, and we had 3 kids who I was a stay-at-home Dad to. That ended (badly), and I live with a woman who is on ODSP and needs constant support. All to say; I have worked hard – VERY hard – my whole entire life, and I have nothing to pass along to my children to show for it. I live in a building that has chronic pest problems. The very idea that “working hard” somehow “pays off” is the most ridiculous notion people cling to.

    • Susan McPherson says:

      Jason Hartwick
      I agree, that myth is one of them. I also question what I read in the article which stated
      “In our society, the wealthy are commonly seen as achieving their status by dint of their diligent decisions, while those at the bottom suffer from weakness of will or poor decision making. But the wealthy make mistakes too. The difference is that they are cushioned from the consequences of their bad choices. ”

      I think that seeing the poor as being in their situation because of bad choices is not realistic. Sometimes, they do all the right things but cannot get out of their situation. The wealthy may do all the wrong things, that shouldn’t turn out well, and still get ahead in life, not because they have money, or not only because they have money but because others of their socioeconomic class will come to their help, or ignore any harm they have done in the process of getting ahead, whichever the case may be.

    • Mary Gendron says:

      Jason, that’s true. It seems you have come from a background where you were not given a lot of choices and opportunities. On top of that, ODSP punishes people who try to work hard through their system of clawbacks and intrusiveness into spousal relationships. In many respects, this is why less than 11% of ODSP recipients are not in relationships, most being single individuals in lone households. The opposite is true for those not on ODSP, whereby 73% of people live in some kind of relationship or partnership with a spouse or common law partner. As for working, the clawbacks make you feel that you are taxed at very high rates for any work you do. How can that be an incentive for anybody?


Madeleine Ritts


Madeleine Ritts (MSW RSW) is a practice-based researcher and team lead of a community mental health and addictions team at a hospital in downtown Toronto.

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