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Do the math

Not too long ago I blogged about Ontario doctors being investigated for welfare abuse because they were completing paperwork that allowed some of their patients to “fraudulently” claim an additional dietary allowance intended for people with chronic illnesses.

There’s now a movement afoot to impress upon the Ontario government the need to increase the welfare rates across the board so ALL recipients – not just the chronically ill ones – can afford to eat.

As part of that campaign, there’s a website called Do the Math. It allows each of us to calculate, category by category, how much money we think a single person in Ontario needs, at a minimum, to live on. It then compares that number to the actual amount a single person on Ontario Works or ODSP (Ontario Disability Support Program) receives in welfare benefits.

It’s interesting because each person gets to decide what they think is a necessary or reasonable expense for someone receiving welfare. For example, do you think they should have Internet access? Pet food? Haircuts?

If you do Do the Math, I’d be curious to hear your results. (I’ll reveal my magic number in the comments tomorrow.)

(Hat tip to poverty activist Terrie Meehan for telling me about the Do the Math site.)

31 comments to Do the math

  • I added up $1285 and I was being very conservative o_O

  • Quick Lunar Cop

    Very interesting. I came up with a total of $1590, which is way below the following:
    * Monthly income for a single person on Ontario Works: $572
    * Monthly income for a single person on Ontario Disability Benefits: $1020
    * Monthly before-tax income for a person earning minimum wage (35 hrs/week): $1429

  • Melissa

    I didn’t “Do the Math” as I work with individuals who are on ODSP and know that in most cases they need more than what is given. Unfortunately, the foods that they can afford are processed, high in sugar and sodium. Fresh produce really isn’t an option unless it is in season as the prices tend to be lower. As a result there is a higher dependancy on medication and the healthcare system. It would be interesting to relate this to the monthly allowance of a prison inmate. (I am not implying that inmates should not be entitled to these basic allowances. . .just that we also need to bring those individuals at risk to at least the same level.)

  • I came up with $1725 per month, which I think is high — it would basically allow me to keep everything I have now in terms of entertainment and amenities, except that I would have to give up my car for public transit.

    I think if I were actually trying to cut back, I could live on the $1429 that someone makes at a minimum wage job. But the $572 for welfare is criminal.

  • Neat, I’ll have to check that out.

    – RG>

  • I came up with $1285 which – if I didn’t have a mountain of debt – is only about $100 less than my monthly expenses – the difference being that I run a car – and I only put public transit down as transportation expenses in the survey.
    Looking at it – I realize I live quite conservatively now (and pretty happily) obviously from my mountain of debt that wasn’t always so. There is no eating out, going to movies, etc any more. I have internet but I dont have cable – I think the internet is far more important than cable – it would allow someone who it able to seek work and get of welfare to do so, as well as upgrade their skills through online education if needed.
    But what they give for Ontario works is despicable – yes there are people who abuse the system wantonly (I’ve witnessed it) but most aren’t there by choice. I think welfare benefits should also take into account where you are living – I put $700 down for a one bedroom apartment, which is possible where I live – but in larger cities like Toronto – good luck!

  • I came up with $1545 per month. For me, the bigger issue is around a living wage for those who can work. Minimum wage needs to go up. Moreover, someone getting minimum wage, working full-time should not have to pay taxes. I once did someone’s taxes who was working for minimum wage full-time (single mom) and compared it with someone on welfare and basically told the person that they would be better off on welfare because some of their expenses would be covered by the state, and they would avoid taxes. Her pride kept her working.This was quite a few years ago so I don’t know if this would still be the case. I still believe most people that are on welfare, don’t want to be there, and would rather work, if they could find a decent job or didn’t suffer from some disability. We need to give them more support financially. But I would sure like to have a system that at least incents capable people to work. We don’t even have that with the current minimum wage and social benefit rules.

  • reb

    Interesting addition to this. Last week there was a decision made in the human rights case on Special Diet.
    Part of the finding is that special diet amounts are inadequate

    Every health unit is MANDATED to continually come up with the costs of a healthy diet in their region. ( I will send Zoom latest report )
    CMHC sends out yearly reports on the average cost of rent in each region.

    So how come the basic amounts that people survive on make them scramble to cover housing and food thus opening the potential for greater health and societal costs?

  • XUP

    Mine was $1895. I alloted quite a bit for food because I’d like them to be able to eat real food and that usually costs more than white bread and canned stuff. I also tossed in quite a bit for pet care because I think pets can so important for people who don’t have very much else in their life to give them joy or for people who are alone or seniors or have physical or mental health issues. Stupid gigantic vet bills shouldn’t deprive people of that.

  • Heather

    I came up with 1640. I think I included enough for healthy food, internet, relatively decent housing, but not a heck of a lot else.
    Thanks for posting this.

  • Chris B

    I was at 1590 and included phone, but no internet, cable or car. Modest entertainment ($25 a month – what is that, 2 movies, but then I don’t even go to two movies a month?) and eating out once a month ($25). I know what I spend on groceries, and I eat healthy, so I used that. BUT, as I have a car, I can go to different locations to get better deals. It would be much harder ifyou lived in Centretown and had no car.
    And I cut books, because, quite frankly, I think if you are unable to afford proper food, there is no way you should be buying books when we have such a first rate library system. I buy 2 books a year and I have a healthy income.

  • I totalled $2117, being quite realistic about the cost of a decent apartment. I also included cable, books, telephone, internet, bus pass, pet costs, etc.

    If I was going to take something out to lower the cost, it would likely be cable – but the other stuff? Nope. These things should be available to everyone.

  • Lana

    I came up with 1250. I am cooking from scratch, not eating out, take movie from my library.Bachelor apt. for 500. I dont have a cable, but have 3 cats. Hard, but possible. 17 years ago my family went on welfare for about 8 month. I hated every minute of it.

  • futurelandfill

    I edged in a bit under $1700 and felt pretty damn stingy about it! I get through that amount every two weeks out of a well-paying job with pension contributions and benefits on top. It’s been 30 years (well, never really) since we afforded the marginal among us anything like a decent living and that only for maybe 20 years prior.

    Gotta kick those poor to the curb! Rippin’ off us upstanding taxpayers left, right and center! While we’re at it let’s blame the parents for their no-account kids…

  • I ended up with $985. Which, minus payments to things like a student loan, is roughly what I spend on an average month in Pembroke. This keeping in mind that roughly 580 of that goes towards rent and electricity (they don’t include it up here). I like to think I’m a little on the conservative side with my projections.

    also, living in Pembroke I’m not very likely to spend quite so much money on public transit (we have none), and am more likely to put more of that money towards groceries (in a word, monopoly). Much of the money is then likely to go towards taxis, or optionally paying for other people’s gas in order to get me from A to B–blind folks don’t generally have driver’s licenses, for some unusual reason.

    Disclosure: I’m currently living on ODSP, and the equasion that lead me to the above total is as closely based on my monthly expenses as I believe the site allows me to get.

  • I got $1472, which is $50/month more than someone earning minimum wage (before tax) and $450/month more than someone on ODSP.

    I probably lowballed a bunch of things, because I just lump my own expenses into “rent,” “utilities” and “stuff that goes on the VISA bill”–the latter of which is expanded to fit my own income, so I don’t really pay attention to how much of it is spent on food, clothing, etc., much less how much of that is ‘essential’ and how much is ‘because I can afford it’.

    – RG>

  • I got 1250. I did my figures 2 ways – bachelor apartment and no internet service, and shared accomodations which would be cheaper but doesn’t suit everyone and that allowed for a communally shared internet connection.

    Cooking with whole foods from scratch, making full use of the library, public transportation pass monthly.

    I felt it was unfair to lump disability in with general welfare though because I think the disabled need a larger transportation amount than I budgetted for, and a larger food allowance and more for healthcare related expenses. For the disabled I would put that figure up to 1500 a month.

  • Mudmama,

    Speaking as one of those people with a disability, I could probably get by on your figures without too much difficulty. Then again, with me it’s just the eyes that don’t work so I imagine it’d be a different story for others. I know were I still living in Ottawa I’d be in a world of hurt, but that’s largely because a decent apartment in the city starts at about $150 more than I pay for rent now. I’ve looked for bachelor apartments in Ottawa just out of random curiosity–my room at Algonquin was bigger and cost me less overall.

  • Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by UnitedWayOttawa: How much $ u think a person in ON needs 2 live vs what a person on Ontario Works/disability gets – Gr8 blog by knitnut

  • Jen

    I got $1380 but that would be a completely meager and, in my opinion, rather miserable existence.

  • Okay, we ranged from James’s low of $985 (based on his experience living in Pembroke, which he tells us is a much cheaper place to live than Ottawa or Toronto) to Meaghan’s high of $2117.

    My total was $1360, and I was being very frugal. Stingy even. A bachelor apartment. No cable. No pets. No makeup. No alcohol. No restaurants. Libraries. Second-hand clothing only.

    Nobody came close to the $572 that Ontario Works (welfare) actually pays. I stand by my contention that the Ontario government is compelling its most economically disadvantaged citizens to commit crimes, including welfare fraud, by providing them with sub-subsistence-level incomes. (And it’s not just Ontario – the same problems exists to one extent or another across Canada. I believe New Brunswick is the worst.)

    Thanks to all of you for doing this, and for sharing your results.

  • One problem I had is that it doesn’t explain who we’re talking about. It mentions it, but doesn’t describe their situation for people like me who’ve never come anywhere near genuine poverty.

    Specifically, I’m wondering if this is for people who are out of work but employable, and therefore this income would be ‘temporary,’ or is this for people on disability pensions, who would be receiving this pretty much for their whole lives?

    It would be easier to ask an employable but unemployed person to live a very frugal life than to ask someone to live that way their entire life. (Presumably someone on disability has higher medical bills, too)

    – RG>

  • My understanding, Grouchy, is that you’re to do it based on how much money you think a single person in Ontario needs in order to live and be healthy, regardless of their circumstances.

    However, I see your point.

    My experience last year was that having serious health issues and a disability do cost money.

    Also, as you point out, it’s a whole different kettle of fish to try to live on not enough money over a long period of time. Poverty has such a cumulative effect on people. I believe the longer you’re poor, the poorer you become.

  • I came up with $1795. An old age pension (I don’t know about disability or unemployment figures but I figure they’d be roughly the same) is around $1340 per month here in Sydney.

    Health care for a pensioner is generally covered by Medicare but there is a waiting list for non essential operations. Our libraries are excellent and do a home delivery service for the housebound. Meals on Wheels will deliver a hot lunch, fruit juice and dessert for $5.00 a day Monday to Friday.

    Is this comparable to Canada?

  • I think there’s a flaw in how the Ontario Works / welfare total is calculated. From what I remember the amount anyone receives from OW is determined by rent… the maximum rent allowance would be somewhere around $400, then the “living allowance” is added to that. The living allowance is the same for every ‘single’ person, and was about $120/month when I was on OW. So the $572 maximum on the site would suggest a rent maximum of $452, so really the site should only allow $120 for the rest of the budget.

    There’s also no rent box for a rooming house…

    I have blog friends on ODSP who live in Toronto or Ottawa and I think they’re nuts. They receive the same amount I do, but I pay half to a third of their rent for twice the apartment, which leaves money for Internet, cable and phone costs.

    Personally I think it’s impossible for people to live “well” on OW / ODSP without help from family, friends or some kind of support network — including community / church groups, food banks, etc..

  • Techwood

    I came up with $1322 which included:

    Total Housing Costs $580
    Total Food Costs $300
    Total Transportation Costs: $250
    Total Health Costs: $35
    Total Personal Hygiene and Care Costs: $32
    Total Entertainment & Recreation: $60
    Total Miscellaneous: $65

    I live in a rural community and need a vehicle to get just about anywhere. I was pretty stingy on my entertainment and would likely go over budget at a cost in other areas (e.g. food).

    I sincerely believe this is a problem that requires people to think out of the box and come up with way to not only increase the amount afforded but also put into place systems to lower the cost of basic living. We’ve had a significant increase in minimum wage over the last few years. Some systems are now being established to provide services/goods at a lower cost – e.g. Dental Coalition, Good Food Box Program, etc. But we have a long, long way to go. Housing costs are especially high. In rural communities lower rent also equates to higher transportation costs, etc.

  • Nursemyra, we have medicare, our libraries are good (in the cities at least) (but I don’t think we do home delivery for shut-ins), and we have Meals on Wheels for a fee (not sure how much). I’m not sure how much our old age pension is – I believe there’s a basic amount that everybody gets (OAS), plus an additional supplement that lower-income seniors get (GIS). I don’t know how much it is though. Anyone?

    Gabriel, I believe just about everybody gets the max, since it’s virtually impossible to house yourself for less than that. Also, I think the amount designated for rent doesn’t necessarily have to be spent on rent. A person could ‘choose’ to be homeless instead, so their $572/month doesn’t get eaten up by rent. (Your other point, about rooming houses – I suppose that could go under ‘shared accommodations.’) Regarding why people might choose to live in a city despite the much higher rents – maybe they feel there’s more opportunity or services there? (Or as techwood says, maybe they feel the savings in rent will be eaten up by higher transportation costs.)

    Techwood, I agree there needs to be much more innovation in lowering the cost of living. And – also – increasing the quality of life for people with low incomes.

  • Terrie just informed me that we do have library delivery for shut-ins. And here’s a link to the Old Age Security rates, and a link to a fact sheet on social assistance. (Thanks Terrie.)

  • Arden

    I got about 1800, that includes no entertainment, since there are these magical things called libraries, “freenet” (they ask you give a small nominal fee as a donation, though if you’re on odsp, (and maybe other things) the city of ottawa covers your “fee”) but does include pets, because I can’t imagine life without pets, it’s too strange a concept for me. I probably gave more to clothes than most people, because as I haven’t seen any clothes in my size as the second hand stores when I’ve been by (oh, maybe once there was a polyester sack, but nothing wearable, let alone work appropriate, and I work in a casual environment)