What is the conversation on the housing crisis and a livable wage doing to include folks on Disability?

We talk a lot about raising the minimum wage in Ontario, yet there's little focus on raising the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP). While many of us Gen X, Y, and Zs have been falling behind for some time, this has been even more so the case for folks on Disability.

To put it into context, five years ago, Ontario minimum wage was $11.40 per hour. Working full time at 40 hours per week, that equaled $1,824 per month. ODSP for a single recipient with no dependent child was $1,128 maximum each month. That was a $696 difference.

Today, a person working full time on the current minimum wage of $14.35 per hour receives $2,296 monthly. With the raise to $15 per hour in January if legislation is passed, it will be $2,400 monthly. The maximum one can receive on ODSP each month is $1,169 - less than half the amount of the soon-to-be income for minimum wagers. And unlike minimum wage, so far the government has no plans to raise ODSP in the new year.

To simplify it, folks on minimum wage working full time currently receive almost twice as much each month as ODSP recipients, and in January, WILL receive more than twice as much. That will be a whopping $1,231 difference per month between minimum wage earners and ODSP recipients come this January. And, compared to five years ago, people on minimum wage now have an extra $472 a month. ODSP recipients get an extra grand total of $41.

Neither are livable wages in many places, especially urban centres and the far north, but non-disabled folk will be at an advantage of receiving MORE than twice as much as folks on ODSP. They are also far less likely to struggle with debilitating physical, mental, intellectual, or neurodevelopmental disabilities.

Of course, there are a few advantages of ODSP income, namely free basic meds and dental care. But there are still plenty of things within those two fields that aren't covered. And it doesn't begin to make up for that gap.

Moving on: the poverty line in Ontario is said to be at $26,426 per year. The current annual earnings of full-time minimum wage earners ($14.35/h) is $27,552. Just barely above that line. If and when $15/h is passed in January, annual earnings will be $28,800. Marginally better, but still barely scraping by in today's world.

Now for ODSP recipients. The annual income, both now and in January, is and will be merely $14,028. This is almost 50% below the poverty line.

I am not sure how folks on Disability are expected to survive. One bedroom, non-inclusive apartments in our town often start at $900 (less if you want to live above The Pub), and skyrocket from there. Starter apartments in urban centres start around $1,500-$1,600. Add on costs of food, phone and internet (both essentials in today's digital and covid world!), medical and dental not covered by ODSP, education, transportation, clothing, pharmacy, emergencies, etc.... are we getting the idea yet?

The possibility of ever owning a home one didn't inherit, of receiving higher education, of even so much as owning a car, becomes more and more of a distant dream. And, of course, the struggles that come with a disability, never mind the accompanying poverty, are already enough to deal with in one lifetime.
So what are we doing as a society to bring disability into the conversation? What are you doing as individuals to ensure your voices don't talk over the ones of people who can never dare dream to escape poverty because they know that dream is a painful impossibility? The people who've been on the street and may only be a few dollars from ending up back there? The people still on the streets? The people isolated, physically or socially, because the world was not created to accommodate or even acknowledge their disabilities?

Please, when you have those conversations with your family, friends, or elected MPs about raising the minimum wage, remember to talk also about raising ODSP.

Remember to stand back when it's appropriate to allow us disabled folk to also have a voice. We've been talked over for too long, treated as if we don't even exist.

Working together, we can hold each other up and fight to create a world we all can thrive in. But we must work together, not above one another.

L.J., Owen Sound


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