Monday, December 12, 2005

Public Health Officials Call for Significant Welfare Increase

I found the following media release on IMC Hamilton this morning:


December 1, 2005 For Immediate Release

The Association of Local Public Health Agencies (alPHa) calls on the province to raise social assistance rates.

TORONTO --The Association of Local Public Health Agencies (alPHa) has passed a Resolution sponsored by Ontario's Medical Officers of Health urging a significant increase in social assistance benefit rates to address poor health due to poverty and hunger in the province. The resolution was carried unanimously at the November 22nd alPHa Annual General Meeting and coincides with the release of a report by Campaign 2000 warning that one in six Canadian children, or 1.2 million, still lives in poverty.

"If this government is serious about making Ontarians the healthiest Canadians, then it must address the root causes of illness and premature death. There is no disputing that poverty and hunger are chief among these root causes", said Dr. Rosana Pellizzari, the Medical Officer of Health for Perth County.

Ontario's Public Health Units have calculated that the Basic Allowance of Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support Program do not provide for adequate nutrition after housing costs are taken into account.

Nutritious Food Basket measures, locally derived estimates of the weekly cost of a healthy diet, indicate that families on social assistance can not afford adequate nutrition. The situation is worse in northern and remote aboriginal communities where food costs are even higher.

In 2004, the McGuinty government announced a 3% increase to Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support Program allowances. It was the first such increase since Ontario Works recipients had their income cut by 21.6% in 1995 by the Mike Harris government.

"The 3% is woefully inadequate," added Sudbury's MOH, Dr Penny Sutcliffe. "Recipients of social assistance in this province are still living far below the poverty line."

This desperate situation led to a recent grassroots effort that saw health care providers throughout Ontario approving thousands of applications for access to a Special Diet Supplement that would increase monthly assistance by up to $250. The success of this effort has led Social Services Minister Sandra Pupatello to severely narrow the qualification criteria for this supplement, effectively cutting off the vast majority of people who were receiving it.

In Toronto, the Board of Health has responded with a resolution calling upon the provincial government to raise social assistance rates by 40% and to assume full responsibility for funding Ontario's social assistance programs.

"Being poor and living below the poverty line causes very poor health and a greatly increased likelihood of premature death. As Medical Officers of Health we have an obligation to speak to important health issues like poverty," advises Dr. Chuck Gardner, Medical Officer of Health for Simcoe-Muskoka. "We call upon the province to raise the Basic Allowance of Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support Program to ensure that the recipients and their families do not live below the poverty line."

As the provincial organization representing public heath, alPHa provides leadership and expertise on public health management issues. Its members include Medical Officers of Health, board of health members and senior managers in public health disciplines including inspection, epidemiology, nursing, dentistry, nutrition, health promotion and business administration.

I'd provide the link to the original release on the alPHa site but it doesn't seem to be Firefox-friendly and I can't get it to load properly, so you'll have to make do with the version from the IMC.

In any case, though I am dubious about whether yet another resolution passed by yet another organization will finally shame the provincial Liberal government out of its nasty habit of starving people, it is still positive to see this. After all, Medical Officers of Health are government employees themselves, so to see them take a position like this is significant.

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