NOTE: We have split our UN report on Human Rights for Autistics in Ontario into sections and are blogging them. This section deals with housing and the impact of poverty.
Housing –the impact of poverty
While Sections 6 and 15 of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantee the rights of persons with disabilities to liberty of movement and freedom to choose their residence on an equal basis with others, the impact of poverty prohibits many autistic, IDD and disabled Ontarians from achieving the dream of independent living.
One potential path to housing independence is social assistance. The Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) was created in 1997, as was the welfare-to-work program known as Ontario Works (OW). However, the amount of support the program allow guarantees that many recipients remain in a cycle of poverty. The monthly amounts for food, shelter and other basic needs for recipients of ODSP were frozen from 1993 until 2003, and the subsequent increases do not correspond with inflation and the cost of living, especially in cities. In fact, the current ODSP rates do not cover average basic needs. A recent report by the Daily Bread Food Bank indicated that people with disabilities on ODSP represent a growing proportion of those who require emergency food supports from food banks.
Some disabled recipients who work part time or are starting back in the job market also feel they are penalized for working while on ODSP. Currently an ODSP recipient can earn only $200 in any month without penalty. Anything over $200 gets “clawed-back” at a rate of 50 per cent. While the maximum allowable earnings were scheduled to be doubled, this change was “paused” by the former government and the new government shows no sign of enacting that change.
Poverty is a reality for many autistic, IDD and/or disabled Canadians. It is a health and human rights issue impacting every aspect of life. As psychology professor Ajit K. Dalal states: “Disability and poverty tend to go hand in hand, forming a cycle of cumulative causation.”
We do not have statistics on how many autistic Canadians live in poverty because no one is keeping track. As well, autistic adults are not mentioned in Ontario government benefits legislation. Some benefits require an IQ test, which some autistics can “pass” while still needing assistance and thus end up without needed benefits, left in bureaucratic limbo.
Overall, our adult population is invisible in government and policy. The portfolio for “autism services” is held by the Ministry of Children and Youth Services. The image of “autistic” in our province’s autism-related documents are young children, the “pay nows”. Have autistic youth and adults been dismissed as “pay laters” and thus rendered invisible in programs and services? What is the larger impact of this on our communities?