ODSP recipients say system should be more user friendly, less cookie-cutter

Two Ottawans living on social assistance have different ideas for what would make their lives easier than the Progressive Conservative government's new strategy.

New PC government will raise social assistance less than Liberals said they would

The new PC government has given itself 100 days to reform Ontario's social assistance system, but Ottawa ODSP users are skeptical there will be positive changes. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

Two Ottawa residents living on social assistance have different ideas for what would make their lives easier than the Progressive Conservative government's new strategy.

The previous Liberal government had promised to raise payments to people on Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program by three per cent.

Late last month, the new PC government said the increase would be 1.5 per cent, promising to come up with a new strategy in 100 days to replace the current "patchwork" system.

Jared Denison and Terrie Meehan live in Ottawa and get payments through ODSP.

They told CBC Radio's All In A Day host Stu Mills that while the current system wasn't working, what they've heard from the PCs won't make it better.

Here are some of their thoughts on what it's like to live on ODSP and what meaningful change may look like.

Answers have been edited for clarity.

Q: Community and Social Services Minister Lisa MacLeod said the system is broken and the government's changes are about getting people back on their feet. How confident are you that she will deliver on that?

Jared Dennison (JD): The Progressive Conservatives broke the system [in the Mike Harris days] and no one has fixed it. How do they think, after all these years, they'll magically pull a rabbit out of a hat in 100 days? You can't do that.

What scares me is they're going to make it harder to get on and stay on [ODSP]. They'll just say get back to work.

Terrie Meehan (TM): They're more concerned about making sure beer is priced under the cost to make it than taking care of people.

Q: Are there certain luxuries you have to do without to make ends meet?

TM: What luxuries can we afford on less than $700 for basic needs? If we aren't paying most of that on housing costs.

Q: Jared, you have a job. But if you earn too much, ODSP claws back your wages.

JD: Wynne had proposed in the fall you could earn $400 in a month [without affecting your ODSP income support], and anything above that would be slashed at a rate of 50 per cent. Now that she's out of power, the PC government is saying they're [going to start clawing back at] $200, which is what it is now.

I've heard people say they just don't want to work because there's no point. ... It's not an incentive to get you to work.​

Q: What changes to ODSP do you want to see?​

JD: [A] one-size-fits-all approach doesn't work. Somebody in Lindsay may not need as much for rent as somebody in, say, Toronto. Somebody in Thunder Bay may not need as much as Ottawa. I'd like to see a way where, if you're on disability or welfare ... automatically, where you live, there could be rent geared to income. And they would just pay the landlord.

I just want [them to] see what it costs you to live, so they can give you what you as an individual need.

TM: [I want to get rid of ] all the bureaucracy that they have to just get a form filled out. For the federal government, I can download a form and do something. With this system ... you basically have to wait. You can't fax [a form], you have to take it in.

I can't just email my worker a question and, when she has a minute, have her answer it. I have to wait until she has the time to answer her phone. Then she's got to go get the answer and get back to me. [It's] a waste of time and money.

With files from CBC Radio's All In A Day