During DPAC’s recent week of action we were supported by Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) who held a solidarity protest outside the British Consulate in Toronto.
We’ve now been approached for help and messages of support for their week of action staring October 14th as the Ontario government is planning to impose cuts to disability benefits similar to the attacks disabled people are facing in the UK.
John from OCAP says “Unlike the UK, where the Liberal Party lost it place in the front ranks sometime after Lloyd George went to his reward, the Liberals in Canada have remained a dominant party all along. They are hanging on in Ontario as a minority government and would like to be middle of the road but the austerity agenda won’t let them. They are preparing at attack on disability benefits but are frantic to make it look kinder and gentler. That’s why comparing them to Cameron’s regime is so important and quite valid. That’s why support statements from the UK and people fighting back there are so incredibly helpful to us.”
Please take a few minutes from what I know are busy days for all of you to send a message of support for their fight back to firstname.lastname@example.org
Linda and DPAC team
THREAT TO DISABILITY BENEFITS IN ONTARIO POSED BY MERGER OR OW AND ODSP
Many people living on the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) have strong and
well founded concerns about the possibility of regressive ‘reforms’ to that system. While the Wynne Government has made no official announcements as yet, the warning signs are very clear that disabled people on social assistance are going to be facing an austerity driven challenge to their rights and incomes.
The first thing to note is that an attack on social benefits for disabled people seems to be a strategic priority for the architects of austerity at the present time. In the US, media and politicians are claiming that federal disability benefit applications are rising due to unemployed people making bogus claims so as to enjoy higher incomes than could be obtained through jobless benefits. The newly elected right wing Abbott Government in Australia can also be expected to make an attack on disability benefits a major part of its program.
However, at the present time, it is the Cameron Government in the UK that can perhaps be seen as the cutting edge of a socially regressive drive to attack disabled people and their right of access to social benefit systems. Cameron, through his Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), has intensified a previously existing Work Capability Assessment under which people who are sick or disabled are interviewed and graded as to their ‘fitness to work’. The system has been modified so that private companies handle the actual assessment process. Most notorious of these is the French company, Atos Healthcare. The nature of this privatised assessment process is quite appalling. People with terminal illnesses, serious impairments and progressive conditions have been deemed ‘fit to work’ regardless of medical evidence and common decency. A hidden camera, taken into an Atos training session, shows a supervisor indicating that the standards for ‘manual dexterity’ will be met if someone can use a computer keyboard with one finger. So extreme and reckless has this whole process been that a staggering 10,000 a year are dying within six weeks of being declared ‘fit to work’.
The nature of what is occurring in the UK leads us to rethink what is meant by an austerity agenda. It appears to be moving beyond simply restricting or reducing entitlements and taking the form or outright social abandonment regardless of the human cost. Given this situation, we must consider the implications for right here in Ontario.
The Hudak Tories are quite open about their intention to eliminate ODSP but we should not disregard the danger posed by the less candid Liberals. The Wynne Government may have maintained the rhetoric of ‘poverty reduction’ but its orientation and actions to date can leave little room to hope that it intends to break with the pattern of regressive austerity as it fashions a version of ‘social assistance reform’ for this Province. The Commission for the Review of Social Assistance that the Liberals established, proposes that Ontario Works (OW) and ODSP be merged and delivered at the municipal level. More than this, however, it seeks to redefine the basic nature of providing income support to disabled people. Under its model, everything would be defined in terms of employability. The process of reassessing people would be stepped up and ‘employer’s councils’ work to push disabled people into competing for jobs.
While the report is careful to couch everything in the language of ‘disability rights’, it pays scant attention to the context in which it advocates pushing people into employment. The low wage sector in Ontario has swollen massively in recent years. The minimum wage has been frozen for three years and most poor people in the Province actually subsist on low wages. A ‘reform’ model that simply assumes that employed poverty is inherently a better option is massively problematic. To take a whole new population of people and force them to compete for precarious, low paying jobs can only worsen the situation. Moreover, the example of what is unfolding in the UK and the situation facing injured workers here leads us to conclude that the likelihood is that many would be declared able to work in disregard of their actual ability to obtain employment. The WSIB in Ontario is already operating along lines very similar to Cameron’s DWP by way of an assessment process for injured workers that routinely ‘deems’ people capable of performing work they have no realistic chance of obtaining. There seems little reason to expect that a redesigned system of social assistance for the disabled would chart any very different course.
The international austerity agenda is targeting disabled people and their social benefits and that approach is looming before us in Ontario. We need to be aware of this and organize in our communities to build an effective opposition to all such measures.