You are here

Will the Liberals divide the disability movement in Ontario?

Melissa Graham

March 28, 2013

On February 19, 2013, in its first Throne Speech, the Ontario Liberal Government announced is shifting lead responsibility for implementation of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act from the Community and Social Services Ministry (where it has resided since 2005) to the Ministry of Economic Development, Trade and Employment.
The speech included this statement: "Your government will ensure that all individuals can find their role in this economy. And so it calls on the private sector to increase the number of people with disabilities in the Ontario workforce. As a demonstration of its commitment to this goal, your government will shift the Accessibility Directorate from the Ministry of Community and Social Services to the Ministry of Economic Development, Trade and Employment. Because men and women with disabilities deserve a level playing field."
At first glance, this might sound like great news, as is often the case with speeches like this. Most people with disabilities in Ontario live in poverty, and this change will certainly benefit some people, but some important questions we need to be asking is who will benefit and how.
Socialist assistance cuts
It is interesting timing that this announcement was made right around the same time that recommendations to overhaul social assistance in Ontario were released. These recommendations will have serious impacts on people with disabilities who depend on social assistance for their survival. The mandate of the Commission that made these recommendations was to move people into work, decrease caseloads, and simplify the system for the people who run it. It is also based on the disgusting and ridiculous assumption that the less money a person receives, the harder they will look for work. These cuts follow the elimination a few months ago of the Community Start-Up and Maintenance Benefit.
Some of these recommendations could become regulation at any time, such as the recommendation that the rates must always be lower than minimum wage, even for people with disabilities who are working but not paid enough to survive without social assistance. Another recommendation states that parents with disabilities would receive the same rate as parents without disabilities; there is no regard in any of these recommendations for the extra costs that capitalism imposes on people with disabilities.
One of the major recommendations is to combine Ontario’s two social assistance programs, Ontario Works and ODSP, into one program. Right now ODSP is specific for people with disabilities, and Ontario Works is the social assistance program for anyone not recognized as having a disability. The combination of these two programs would require significant legislative change, and would take much longer to impact people’s lives, but the Ontario Conservatives have already put forward a private members bill to try and push this ahead.
The implications of this recommended legislation are disturbing. People with and without disabilities on social assistance would be required to sign Pathway to Employment Plans—similar to the Participation Agreement that people on Ontario Works now sign—in order to receive assistance. Participation Agreements require people to attend employment programs and actively seek employment in order to receive assistance; these programs have historically been underfunded. People are forced to take multiple unnecessary resumé writing workshops to receive their income.
It is not clear how they will determine who is employment ready under this new program, or whether they will have to take the first job available.  It was also recommended that there be corporate “champions,” making it likely that some companies will be subsidized or prioritized for taking on employees with disabilities. There are already problems with programs like this, people with disabilities go into job support programs with a business degree and wind up with a job at a big box retail store, if anything. The Ministry of Economic Development, Trade and Employment, that was just charged with the task of overseeing the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act works extensively with Ontario's private sector.
Solidarity against austerity
There are some who say that our government would not make changes that would impact people with disabilities in such a negative way. People with disabilities in the UK would disagree with that. As of April 2013 people with disabilities in the UK are faced with substantial cuts to their income, including loss of transportation and equipment benefits, tougher assessments to determine “who is disabled enough” to receive assistance, and even a tax for having an extra bedroom. Some people with disabilities in that country doubt they will survive the year.
Before we commend Premier Wynne for her announcement, we need to keep in mind what other people with disabilities are facing. While the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act will benefit people with physical and sensory disabilities, people with mental health issues are likely to be hurt the most by social assistance recommendations. We cannot let the ruling class continue to divide us; it’s time to fight for the rights of us all.

Geo Tags: 

Featured Event


Visit our YouTube Channel for more videos: Our Youtube Channel
Visit our UStream Channel for live videos: Our Ustream Channel