As an affordability crisis continues to impact people all over the region, the board of the Middlesex-London Health Unit is asking for help from the provincial government.
After reading a report outlining the health impacts of the struggle to afford food, the board voted to ask the province to increase the rates of both Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP).
"The 2022 Nutritious Food Basket survey results demonstrate that incomes, particularly when dependent on social assistance, are not adequate for many Middlesex-London residents to afford basic needs," read a report that was presented to the board by Medical Officer of Health Dr. Alex Summers and CEO Emily Williams. "Food insecurity has a pervasive impact on health; and there is a need for income-based solutions."
Social assistance rates have been stagnant since Mike Harris was Premier of Ontario in the last 1990's. When compared to inflation and the poverty line, the rates in 2023 are significantly lower than they were in 1995.
"Based on the evidence based research it is clear the cost of food is leaving those in our community on social assistance and disability with little to nothing left after food costs, even before rent is factored in. This is the clearest example of how the rising cost of groceries is becoming a burden on our community and impacting low to middle income families," MLHU Board Chair Matthew Reid told London News Today. "The health unit's board has voted to ask the province to address this issue and to review the data to make an evidence informed opinion with future decisions."
The letter to the province will be sent next week, according to Reid.
"In order for individuals and families to afford healthy food options these rates must go up to avoid future pressures and stress on our healthcare system," Reid added.
As of September of 2022, a single person receiving Ontario Works benefits gets a maximum $733 per month to cover basic needs and shelter, while a couple with two children would receive $1,501.50 at the highest level.
A single person receiving ODSP benefits gets $1,228 at most, while a couple with two children receives a maximum of $2,233.50.
The report says the estimated local monthly cost to feed a family of four was $1,084 in May of 2022, according to Ontario Dietitians in Public Health.