Monday, April 03, 2006

Hunger Strike For Higher Welfare

Today in Sudbury -- the city in which I live -- Sara Anderson, an Ojibwa woman who depends on welfare for her income, has taken the drastic step of beginning a hunger strike to demand higher social assistance rates in Ontario.

I've been out of town for a few days so I'm not clear on the details, but from what I understand she announced her intent to begin this action as an individual acting on her own. Late last week there was a report in a local newspaper about this, which prompted a number of people in the anti-poverty group that I am a part of to get in touch with her. As a result of that connection, the Hunger Clinic Organizing Committee will be supporting her action however we can.

It should be noted that this support does not mean that the group or me as an individual are necessarily encouraging people to adopt the hunger strike, a potentially very dangerous tactic, as a general approach for seeking an increase in social assistance rates. However, Anderson has decided that this is the path she wishes to take, and I think it is important that she be supported in the action she has chosen.

Here is a media release put out earlier today:

Starting Monday morning, April 3rd, Sara Anderson, a 45 year old Sudbury woman on Ontario Works (OW), will begin a hunger strike to demand a substantial raise in social assistance rates. She has announced that "I will stop eating food and taking any medication and will survive only on water." Referring to the recent Ontario budget announcement she states that "Welfare rates went up by two percent, but our rent went up by more than that." She also points out that "My life is not about living, it's about survival." She describes her life as "having become a prisoner of welfare." She is the mother of a 15-year old daughter, who supports her decision to go on hunger strike. Anderson promises to "fight this struggle to the end."

After she pays her rent, Anderson has less than $300 a month to live on and she can't afford any quality of life for herself or her daughter.

After she pays her daughters school bus pass, cable and phone bill and food for their three cats there is barely enough to pay for food. Just to bring people on social assistance back to where they were before the massive Tory cuts to social assistance in 1995 there needs to be an immediate 40% increase in the rates. While Ontario is a wealthy province people on social assistance are forced to live "on bread crumbs." As Anderson puts it "people on welfare no longer have any dignity and are forced to live like animals. That shouldn't happen in this country. That's why I'm going on this hunger strike."

Anderson is also protesting the recent Liberal government slashing of the Special Dietary Supplement which has made it much more difficult for people on social assistance to get the nutrition they need. Anderson has seen her supplement plummet from $75 a month under the old policy to only $20 with the new form and policy. This means that she lost $55 of her and her daughter's monthly income. This cut was the "last straw" that convinced her to go on a hunger strike. To get this new form filled out by a medical professional she had to pay $40 out of her own pocket. These expenses should be covered by OW.

Sara Anderson came to Sudbury in the early 1990s from Grassy Narrows First Nations near Kenora. She has not been able to work for wages since she came to Sudbury because of a series of injuries and disabilities. (For more information on Sara Anderson see Keith Lacey, "Woman Prepares for a Hunger Strike to Protest Welfare System," Northern Life, April 2, 2006, pp. 1 and 7). Anderson is demanding that the government substantially increase social assistance rates and re-instate the previous Special Dietary Supplement.

She is calling on people to sign the on-line petition at (at the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty website) to Premier McGuinty calling for a major raise in social assistance rates and for re-instatement of the previous Special Diet policy.

This petition has already been signed by more than 1,400 people.

Last year Anderson applied for and so far has been refused her application for the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP). This would have given her and her daughter access to more funds for food and living. She has been turned down with the argument that she does not have a "substantial" physical or mental impairment (reported in a letter from Denise Ryckman for the director of ODSP, Nov. 8, 2005). This is despite her physical condition which prevents her from being able to work for wages because of major hip (when she was a truant officer she was shot in the right hip area), knee (she has arthritis in one knee), ankle (her ankle was broken 20 years ago and she has two plates and a pin holding it together and now also has arthritis in her ankle), foot and back problems. She also has history of bad migraine headaches and has been diagnosed with 'depression' and with 'severe post-traumatic stress disorder.' She challenged this rejection of her ODSP application and asked for an internal review which upheld the initial rejection and now has an appeal scheduled in May. Anderson is demanding that it be made easier for people living with disabilities to be accepted onto ODSP.

Anderson moved into her current residence last September. At this time she was given a total of $90 for moving expenses. She was given no offer of a community start-up grant which is her right as an OW recipient. This denied her access to funds that would have allowed her to establish a new home for herself and her daughter. Anderson is also demanding that each person on social assistance be informed of their right to access community-start-up funds when they move. Since she did not receive these funds every month she has to hock much of her furniture simply to pay for the necessities of life.

Anderson hopes that her hunger strike will help people recognize the desperate conditions in which tens of thousands of people on social assistance are forced to live across Ontario. She is asking for people to write letters to, or to call, Premier McGuinty (fax 416-325-3745 or write Dalton McGuinty, Premier, Legislative Building, Queen's Park, Toronto, Ontario, M7A 1A1) and Sudbury MPP and Cabinet Minister Rick Bartolucci (at 705-675-1914) supporting her demands. She is also looking for the donation of a computer so she can access the internet to help to organize support for her demands.

The Hunger Clinic Organizing Committee, a Sudbury group supporting a 40% raise in social assistance rates and the reinstatement of the previous Special Diet policy, is providing support for Sara Anderson in her struggle. While we do not advocate hunger strikes for people living in poverty who are already in difficult nutritional and health situations we certainly well understand the reasons that led Sarah Anderson to decide to go on a hunger strike.

If you require more information or wish to contact Sara Anderson contact XXXX YYYY at 000-0000.


Please contact the provincial government and demand that social assistance rates be raised and that the special dietary supplement be reinstated, and get involved in anti-poverty activities in your local community.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you, for your effort and support - Sara Andersonter