GOVERNMENT TRAMPLES ON RIGHTS OF PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES BY CANCELLING SPECIAL DIET
Information Picket: May 28, 2010
Outside Ontario Human Rights Tribunal offices, 655 Bay Street, Toronto
- Today the Human Rights Tribunal is meeting with lawyers for the Ontario government and for people with disabilities to deal with the government’s request for more time to comply with the order made in February, that people with certain medical conditions must be given more money for their special diets.
- The government is asking for a one-year extension. They are planning to cancel the current special diet within that one-year period, meaning that all those who would have received increased amounts of support will not benefit from the Tribunal’s order.
- The Tribunal decided in February that people with certain medical conditions were discriminated against by the rules of the Special Diet Allowance Program.
- The Tribunal ordered the government to make the program comply with the Human Rights Code of Ontario by increasing benefits for some people who are prescribed special diets to manage their health.
- Elimination of the program tramples on the human rights of people with disabilities. It shows the government isn’t interested in maintaining its obligation – under the law – to respect their human rights.
- Elimination of the program also denies support to over 160,000 sick people who already live in poverty. It will severely reduce benefits to these people, even though their doctors have verified that they need a special diet to manage their health problems. This kind of government mean-spiritedness hasn’t been seen since the mid-1990s.
- Public Health Authorities around the province have confirmed that the basic social assistance rates are not enough to provide a nutritious diet. By cutting the Special Diet Program, very sick people will be left to depend on food bank diets that do not provide the types of food they need.
- The relationship between poverty, inadequate nutrition, and poor health is clear. Making it even more difficult for people to purchase the food they need to manage their health will mean even worse health problems for individuals and an increased burden on the entire healthcare system.
What is the Special Diet Allowance?
The Special Diet Allowance is available to people receiving Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) and Ontario Works (OW) benefits. It is part of the basic benefit structure for both programs and provides additional financial assistance to people who have additional food costs as the result of a medical condition.
To qualify, the need for a diet must be confirmed by a qualified health care practitioner.
A Special Diet Schedule in the ODSP and OW regulations determines the medical conditions for which diet funding can be authorized, and the amount of allowance for each of those medical conditions.
Why did it go before the Tribunal?
In November 2005, the provincial government changed the Special Diet Allowance Program rules, significantly reducing access to benefits for many individuals. As a result, hundreds of complaints were filed at the Social Benefits Tribunal and the Ontario Human Rights Commission claiming discrimination.
In 2008, the Ontario Human Rights Commission referred almost 200 individual complaints against the Program to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario; of these, five lead cases went forward for adjudication.
What is the significance of the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal’s decision?
On February 17, the Tribunal released its decision in the lead complainant hearings into the Special Diet Allowance Program. The Tribunal found that, for each of the three lead complainants, the allowances violated the Ontario Human Right Code because the amounts they received discriminated on the basis of disability.
This decision addressed the claims of hundreds of ODSP and OW recipients that changes made to the Special Diet Schedule in 2005 unfairly and arbitrarily eliminated allowances for medically necessary diets.
What does the Tribunal’s decision say?
The decision deals with the claims of three lead complainants. The other two complaints were settled in early 2009 when the government conceded that multiple sclerosis and lupus should be included in the Program.
The Tribunal said that the allowance amounts for hypertension ($10), hypercholesterolemia ($22) and extreme obesity ($20) were disproportionately low relative to the actual costs of the recognized diet and relative to the proportion of actual costs that the program covered for other medical conditions. The Tribunal also found that hypoproteinemia (low blood protein) met the program objectives and should be covered.
You can read the full decision at: http://www.canlii.org/en/on/onhrt/doc/2010/2010hrto360/2010hrto360.html
What happens next?
The Ministry has been ordered to pay the three lead complainants retroactive and ongoing benefits for the conditions at a level that is not discriminatory. The Tribunal has also ordered that, within three months, the same increased amounts must be paid to everyone on the Program who has the same medical conditions.
The decision also laid out the legal and evidentiary analysis that would apply to almost 200 other complaints that had been adjourned waiting for this decision. Now that the government is cancelling the program, it is unclear what will happen to all these people who would have received more support as a result of the decision.
What changes were made in 2005?
Before 2005, the Special Diet Schedule consisted mainly of diets that gave the patient’s health care practitioner the flexibility to apply diets to a range of appropriate medical conditions. The practitioner also had the discretion to add a diet that was not included on the list.
In 2005, the Schedule was changed from a list of diets to a list of 43 medical conditions. Allowance amounts were only payable for those 43 conditions. Discretion to add a condition or diet was removed.
Many medical conditions, for which special diets had formerly been available, were arbitrarily excluded from the new Schedule. Multiple sclerosis and lupus were two examples, along with cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. In addition, many of the allowance amounts in the new Schedule were significantly less than the extra costs of the recognized diet for the condition.
As a result of these changes, many people who had been getting Special Diet Allowances saw their allowances severely reduced. Some, even those with serious illnesses, saw their allowances reduced to zero.