Sanctuary and Serenity

Who Pays for the Crisis?

Posted on: May 11, 2010


Who Pays for the Crisis?
The ‘Special Diet’ Cut – An Injury to One…
John Clarke

The Liberal Government of Ontario’s decision in the spring Budget to eliminate the ‘Special Diet’ will remove the one means by which a major section of people on social assistance had been able to compensate partly for the huge loss of real income that has taken place over the last decade and a half. It is important to understand how this attack is linked to the overall drive to solve the current financial crisis of capitalism at the expense of the working class. The scandalous poverty that people on social assistance experience is frequently viewed, even on the Left, as simply a matter for humanitarian concern. The issue that is often missed, however, is the degree to which an assault on income support systems strengthens the hand of those seeking to weaken unions and increase the employer’s ability of exploit workers.

Before taking up this question, it is necessary to make clear the scale of the cut that Premier Dalton McGuinty and his ‘poverty reduction’ regime have imposed on poor people. In 2005, the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) became aware of the Special Diet. It was a program under which, recipients of social assistance could obtain, on the recommendation of a medical provider, up to an additional $250 for food costs. At that time, it was relatively obscure and provided only some $6-million of benefits in Ontario. Based on the efforts of many organizations, the support of progressive health professionals and the incredible determination of poor communities to demand and defend this benefit, the Special Diet became a $200-million program that made a difference in peoples’ lives. At the time of the cut, one person in five on welfare and disability was receiving the food allowance and, thereby, having some prospect of paying the rent while enjoying a reasonably healthy diet.

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