They’re calling it welfare abuse, and they’re accusing doctors of it.
Doctors can help nudge up the incomes of their welfare-dependent patients by completing a form that entitles them to some extra food money each month for health-related reasons. It’s called the Special Dietary Allowance. There are a number of qualifying health conditions, such as diabetes, Crohn’s Disease, Celiacs, HIV, vitamin deficiencies and food allergies. The more such conditions a person has, the larger their food supplement will be, up to a maximum of $250 a month.
A few years ago, the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) urged social assistance recipients to ask their doctors to complete the forms, regardless of their health status, as a strategy to address Ontario’s woefully inadequate welfare rates.
A number of doctors have completed the forms for patients who do not have the listed conditions, presumably because they see a nutritious diet as good preventive health care, and because they know it is virtually impossible for someone to eat a nutritious diet on a welfare income. You can get enough calories, but not enough nutrition. Same thing with the food banks and the soup kitchens: plenty of calories, not many fruits and vegetables.
According to the incoming president of the Canadian Medical Association, Dr. Jeffrey Turnbull, poverty is the single greatest predictor of poor health in Canada. It’s associated with higher levels of chronic illness, infant mortality, stress, depression and disability…and that’s just scratching the surface.
If you are a single employable person receiving Ontario Works (welfare) , you live in extreme poverty. Your total annual income is $7,204* (including federal and provincial tax credits), or $600 a month. That’s about one-third of the poverty line. In other words, you can have one-third of what you need and none of what you want. It’s amazing what you will consider a luxury under such circumstances.
I’ve been on welfare and I can’t even fathom how people do it. Gabriel wrote about eating on welfare very compellingly in his blog post: The More Things Stay the Same the More They Continue to Suck but in a Totally Bad Way.
Anyway, it’s a pretty sad day when doctors are being accused of welfare abuse for signing forms that might get their patients some fresh fruits and vegetables. Doctors shouldn’t be put in this position in the first place, of having to intervene to ensure their patients’ access to adequate nutrition. Welfare incomes should be sufficient to cover basic nutrition for all recipients, not just for those who are already sick. Instead of going after doctors and other so-called ‘welfare abusers,’ the government should immediately raise the rates to a livable level. Nobody should ever have to scam fresh fruit. Nobody.
Speaking of welfare abuse, one of these days I’m going to blog about my own experiences of being a welfare cheat. I hope the statute of limitations is up.
*That’s the 2007 welfare rate, according to the National Council of Welfare. I don’t know if it’s changed since then, but it likely hasn’t changed much. The only time welfare rates change dramatically is when they are slashed.