Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Cabinet Minister Confronted Again

Yesterday, in a replay of an action that took place in mid-December, members of the Hunger Clinic Organizing Committee confronted MPP Rick Bartolucci as he attended a ceremony at Laurentian University.

In this case, his presence for the announcement was particularly perverse, because it involved the acceptance of a sizeable donation by Sudbury's largest employer, INCO, to the Northern Ontario School of Medicine for student bursaries -- a prime motivation for Sudbury's long pursuit of the recently-opened NOSM has been to improve access to good health in Sudbury and throughout the north, and it was Bartolucci's efforts to thwart that goal that people were protesting. Specifically, HCOC was protesting Bartolucci because of his role as a provincial cabinet minister in the decision in October to gut the Special Deitary Supplement provision of the Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support programs and thereby doom countless recipients to the ill-health that comes from inadequate and poor quality food.

Unfortunately, I can't provide a description of the action because L and I were only present for the last few minutes -- my partner's gift to L for Xmas was to sign him up for a toddler gymnastics session at the Y first thing every Monday morning, and yesterday was the first one. (I can relay my partner's report from the gymnastics that L's disinterest in taking part in group activities has not abated, and that getting him up and moving plenty early will be important for his future enjoyment of this activity, but he did warm up to it by the end of the session!)

Here is the text of the flyer that was distributed, which includes material from HCOC and from a Toronto-based group called Health Providers Against Poverty:

Bartolucci - why did you let your government slash the Special Dietary Supplement?

Last fall the Liberal government with the support of Rick Bartolucci, Sudbury MPP and Minister of Mines and Northern Development, decided to slash the Special Dietary Supplement program of Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program. This program allowed people on social assistance to get up to $250 more a month to purchase the nutritious foods they need to survive which they cannot afford on current OW and ODSP rates. The program has now been made much more restrictive (see the statement from Health Care Providers Against Poverty below). Bartolucci and the Liberal provincial government have been basically taking food out of the mouths of poor people, families, and children in this province.

When we went to Bartolucci's office on November 14th to protest this decision we were met by a wall of cops and one anti-poverty protestor was arrested and held by police overnight. We call on Bartolucci and the Liberal government to reinstate the Special Dietary Supplement as it previously existed or to raise social assistance rates by 40% (which only brings people on social assistance back to where they were before the Tory cuts in 1994). Everywhere Liberal cabinet ministers go across the province they will be followed by anti-poverty protestors until these very justified demands are met.

-- The Hunger Clinic Organizing Committee

Health Providers Against Poverty

Sandra Pupatello seemed surprised that social assistance recipients weren't more grateful for the tiny 3 per cent raise she granted them last year. Now Ontario's Community and Social Services minister, along with Minister of Mines and Northern Development, scorns the anger and dismay at her government's recent decision to drastically restrict the special diet benefit for people on Ontario Works and Ontario Disability grants.

The Harris government's devastating 21.6 per cent cut to social assistance rates 10 years ago translates into 40 per cent today, once inflation and the cost of living are factored in. Today, one in three children in the province's largest city live in poverty. We have not seen such a vast network of soup kitchens and food banks since the Depression and still people go hungry. Pupatello characterized us as "rogue advocates" who are "misusing" the special diet benefit. She knows, however, that we are nurses, doctors and dietitians who understand there is a dangerous risk to health affecting people all across the province. Its name is poverty.

As Dr. Dennis Raphael, an expert on the social determinants of health, reminds us, the number one factor determining whether people stay healthy is income. According to a 2001 British Medical Journal study, if you are a child living in poverty you will carry with you, for the rest of your life, an increased risk of heart disease, even if you manage to raise your socio-economic status.

Because we understand this, we have been participating in "hunger clinics," set up to help low-income people receive the special diet allowance. We have prescribed this as a high-impact health intervention to thousands of people, using the language of preventive medicine, and we have compelling reasons for doing so. We've learned that, without the supplement, the average amount of money social assistance recipients have to spend on food is $2.43 a person a day. The supplement changed that. Mothers are at a loss for words when they try to describe what it feels like to send their children to school with a healthy lunch every day, to surprise a child with a first-ever birthday cake, or to purchase fresh fruit and vegetables. But all that has ended. Ontario's Liberal government has decided it must stop this rampant outbreak of good nutrition and healthy living. So it has cut the special diet allowance and replaced it with a miserly version that disregards preventive health and attaches serious conditions to the most nominal of funds. It is unclear what a welfare recipient with liver failure is supposed to do with the $10 a month she will now receive, but clearly the intent is not to improve her health.

Adding insult to injury is the fact that what historically has been held in confidence between an individual and her health professional will now be revealed to her welfare worker. A mother reported that after the 20th of the month, she and her daughter are reduced to one meal a day; a tuna sandwich if they are lucky, a "mayonnaise" sandwich if they are not.

One Peterborough woman wrote to us: "Thank you for standing with low-income Ontarians. My children and I have done so much better in the last seven months. I am sad and a bit scared but I can only hope we can continue to fight."

We join with her and thousands like her in demanding that social assistance rates be raised by 40 per cent, and that the special diet allowance be restored for everyone whose health is at risk from legislated poverty.

(Nurses Kathy Hardill and Debra Phelps, and Dr. Mimi Divinsky are Toronto-based members of Health Providers Against Poverty)

1 comment:

Blue Cross of California said...

Great blog I hope we can work to build a better health care system as we are in a major crisis and health insurance is a major aspect to many.