Revised ODSP Guidelines Could Pose a Threat to Cancer Patients

In November 2018, the Ontario government announced its intention to change the definition of disability in the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) to “align more closely with federal government guidelines.” If it goes through, this change will threaten the health and well-being of the most vulnerable populations.

To qualify for ODSP now, a person must have a physical or mental impairment that is continuous or recurrent and expected to last one year or more; and that impairment must impact one or more areas of function (personal care, community function, or workplace function).

In contrast to this, to qualify for the federal Canada Pension Plan-Disability (CPP-D) program, a person must have a “severe and prolonged” mental or physical disability due to a medical condition. This means the person can’t work at all or on a regular basis, and the disability is likely to last a long time, or is likely to result in death. All other federal disability-related income benefit programs are as or more restrictive.

Changing the ODSP definition will force many low-income people with disabilities – those with episodic disabilities like depression, or time-limited disabilities like most cancers, and people who experience the cumulative impacts of several health conditions – to rely on Ontario Works instead of ODSP. This means they will qualify for 37% less income, which will push very low-income people with disabilities into even deeper poverty, and likely homelessness. They may also be unable to access to important disability-related health benefits available through ODSP. A significant drop in income is a major threat to health. The evidence is clear that lower incomes are associated with higher rates of morbidity and mortality from most health conditions, increased toxic stress, and decreased well-being.

An increase in poverty and stress levels will result in higher demands to address the health and social needs of patients who have disabilities. Apparent savings in the income security system will take a heavy toll on the healthcare system.

Take action to prevent this change.  Let’s preserve the dignity of, and support system for, people with disabilities in Ontario.

What you can do

  1. If you are eligible (i.e. have a disability and live on low income), apply for ODSP under the current system. The government has promised to grandparent most current ODSP recipients when the system is changed.
  2. Contact your local MPP and Minister Lisa MacLeod to share your concerns. Your voice is important, as you are able to offer a patient’s real-life story and expertise


Find more information and resources here.