Disabled People Under Attack

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A Socialist Project e-bulletin ... No. 1983 ... January 23, 2020
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Disabled People Under Attack

John Clarke

In December, Ontario’s Auditor-General, Bonnie Lysyk, issued a report that offers the province’s right wing Tory government an opportunity to attack disabled people living in poverty. Her report paints a picture of an Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) that is handing out money hand over fist to the questionably disabled, without any realistic checks and balances. With this little effort, Lysyk has produced a masterpiece of selective reasoning. She simply assumes that an increase in ODSP caseloads in excess of population growth is an indication of something improper. Competent advocates immediately responded by pointing out the flaws in her logic. The growth of caseloads can be attributed to a range of legitimate factors, such as the driving of injured workers off of their benefit system, an ageing population and the considerable efforts that have been put into ensuring ODSP is more readily available to those with a very genuine need for it.

The AG’s report emerges just as the Ontario government is looking for a way forward with... its project of right wing ‘welfare reform’ and an attack on disability benefits in particular. In 2018, the social services minister, Lisa MacLeod, seemed poised to proceed with a brutal and regressive redefinition of the concept of disability for those applying for social benefits. However, the crisis ridden and deeply unpopular Tories subsequently stalled on this initiative, unsure how to proceed. The political value of Lysyk’s ‘impartial’ hatchet job is, therefore, enormous. The attack on disabled people she is enabling, however, is very far from her personal initiative or even one confined to the present Tory regime. It has been brewing a long time in Ontario and is a key element of the international agenda of neoliberal austerity.

In 2012, the Liberal Ontario government of the day, received the Lankin Sheikh Report on social assistance. This, among other things, set out a series of ‘reform’ proposals for disability benefits that included the merging of ODSP with ‘short term’ Ontario Works (OW). The Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) argued that this was a blueprint for trying to force disabled people to join the scramble for the lowest paying and most exploitative jobs, by rendering their benefits more precarious and inadequate than they already were. Playing with the title of the report, OCAP wrote an analysis of it called “Brighter Prospects for Cheap Labour.” Faced with community and union opposition on the report’s proposals, the Liberals chose not to proceed with the attack at that time.

In Ontario, a full blown assault on ODSP has been avoided or at least delayed but injured workers who are forced to rely on the benefits provided by the Workers Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) have faced an utterly brutal attack, with many denied income and ‘deemed’ capable of taking forms employment they can’t possible secure. The model provided by this attack will doubtless help guide a broader assault on disabled people. Many other jurisdictions in Canada and beyond have moved against disability benefits as part of a more general austerity attack. In the UK, the war on disabled people has reached such extreme levels that a UN inquiry has even been conducted into this systematic cruelty that resulted in the issuing of a most damning report.

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