As rents run rampant, doubling ODSP and Ontario Works 'the only decent thing to do,' says advocate

230 Ontario organizations that work with people on very limited incomes signed an open letter to the provincial government this week. They called on Premier Ford and his government to double social assistance rates when it drafts the budget next month.

Ontario government promises to increase rates by 5 per cent

Right now, a single person on the Ontario Disability Support Program or ODSP can get just under $1,200 a month to cover rent and living expenses. For Ontario Works, it's about $730 a month. (Shutterstock)

Organizations that work with people on social assistance hope the Ontario government's upcoming budget in August will include a significant increase.

Over a dozen advocacy agencies from Waterloo region and Wellington County joined 230 others from across the province in signing an open letter to the Ford Government this week, written by the Income Security Advocacy Centre (ISAC) that calls on Premier Doug Ford to raise the rates of OW and ODSP to meet the cost of living.

Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support Programs (ODSP) have been stagnant since 2018. A single person can receive up to $1,169 a month on ODSP and $733 on Ontario Works.

Across Ontario, more than 500,000 individuals or families count on ODSP for part or all of their income, with 12,852 of them in Waterloo region and 5,862 in Guelph.

Meanwhile, 217,000 families or individuals receive Ontario Works. In Waterloo region, as of June 30, the Ontario Works caseload was 7,958.

Greg deGroot-Maggetti, who is in charge of poverty advocacy work at the Mennonite Central Committee, told The Morning Edition's host Craig Norris that people receiving these payments are living below the poverty line.

"The reality today is that if you're on Ontario Works, your income is 60 per cent below the poverty line. If you're on ODSP, if you've got a severe disability, then that limits your ability to work and earn income. Your income is 40 per cent below the poverty line," said deGroot-Maggetti.

"So doubling the rates will get people close to the poverty line and so that's where they need to be and then indexed to inflation going forward."

Double the rates

While not mentioned in the party's pre-election budget, the Progressive Conservatives promised a five per cent annual increase for ODSP during the spring election campaign. The party also said it would introduce legislation to tie annual increases to inflation. The party did not mention any potential increases to the amount Ontarians can receive through Ontario Works. 

Aleksandra Petrovic, the executive director of the Social Development Centre Waterloo Region, says a five per cent increase to ODSP amounts to just $58 a month, and that isn't enough.

"First double the rates and then index them to what's happening in the market," said Petrovic. 

"If you allow rents to go rampant, then we have to allow for support and social assistance rates to follow that trend. That's the only decent thing to do."

Older homeless adults

Sharon Livingston, chair of the Cambridge Council on Aging, has spent almost 40 years in the disability sector and says she has seen an increase in older adults becoming homeless in the region over the last couple of years. 

"What we're seeing is older adults who may have been on ODSP or [Ontario Works] or even on the low level of [Old Age Security], their partner may be going into long-term care or passes away and they can no longer afford the rent and they're being evicted," said Livingston.

"And we also know that for a very long time, people on ODSP had to figure out if they could pay rent or eat. And now we're running into increasing inflation and the cost of groceries is going through the roof. We're a rich country. This should not be happening."

CBC K-W reached out to the province for more details on its plans to raise the rates of social assistance. 

Sean Forsyth, a spokesperson for Merrilee Fullerton, minister of Children, Community and Social Services, said the province's plan to raise ODSP by five per cent is "the largest increase in over a decade."

"In addition, we have enhanced the Low-income Individuals and Families Tax (LIFT) Credit to put more money back in the pockets of 1.7 million people, and invested more than $1 billion in the Social Services Relief Fund to help vulnerable Ontarians access affordable housing and social services."

Ontario legislators will return to provincial parliament on Aug. 8

Over a dozen local advocacy agencies signed their names to an open letter that calls on the provincial government to double social assistance payments. The letter says the government needs to double Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support Programs. It says social assistance rates have been stagnant since 2018. One of the signatories was the Mennonite Central Committee Ontario. Greg deGroot-Maggetti is in charge of its poverty advocacy work. He spoke to the Morning Edition.


Joe Pavia


Joe Pavia is a Reporter/Editor with CBC K-W 89.1 FM. He's normally heard weekdays on The Morning Edition but also covers a wide range of news and feature stories for both radio and web. If you have a story idea, email Joe at Follow him on twitter @PaviaJoe1964


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?