Jessica Bell MPP, University–Rosedale

Government of Ontario

$1227 is too little to live on

Published on September 9, 2022

On Tuesday, I began a two week welfare-diet with some of my MPP colleagues to pressure the government to double social assistance rates for the 900,000 Ontarians that rely on that money to survive.   

The media has covered the issue heavily, including News Talk 1010, CP 24, Global News, City TV, and  the Sun, The coverage has forced the government to daily defend their failure to only raise rates by 5% in this year’s budget.  

It’s now been three days since I’ve restricted my grocery budget to $47.60 a week - which is a rough approximation of what people on social assistance pay.   This is what I bought. 

  • Dried red kidney beans - $4.19
  • Dried one minute oats - $2.69
  • Dried brown lentils - $2.99
  • 2 kg of white rice - $5.49
  • 2 liters of Neilson milk - $5.17
  • Salted butter No Name - $5.98 
  • 5 pound bag of white potatoes - $4.99
  • Lavazza ground coffee - $4.99
  • Soap - $2 
  • Dish detergent - $3.99
  • No Frills toilet paper (12ct) - $4.99

That’s a total of: $47.47. 

Living on less means I have to spend far more time preparing my food, so I get up early before the kids get up to cook my meals for the day. I’m keeping my cooking simple. So far, I’m having oats and milk for breakfast, and lentils and rice for lunch and dinner.  

This diet is not sustainable or healthy.  I’m experiencing sugar and salt withdrawal. I’m often hungry, and I’m dreaming of eating lettuce and apples.  I’m very much wanting to return to the grocery store to buy 12 eggs ($3.79), frozen peas ($2.00), and dried pasta ($1.79). Monique Taylor gave me some salt that she bought, and I’m hunting for sugar.  

Thank you to the many of you who have contacted our office with feedback and commentary.   I’d like to summarize what you have shared.

  • Many people on social assistance live on less than our budget of $47.60 a month. Our figure came from research done by John Stapleton and Yvonne Yuan on the Harris government’s “welfare diet” from the 1990s.  Based on feedback we have received from residents, it’s clear that $47.60 is on the high end of the range that people on social assistance can afford to spend at the grocery store - and that's all the more reason to double social assistance rates. 

  • Housing is too expensive, and takes upwards of 60% of people’s social assistance money.   There is nowhere affordable to live. Period. Rents continues to rise beyond what even lower wage and middle income people can afford.  It speaks to the need to continue to advocate for thousands of more units of public, non-profit, and coop housing to stabilize people's lives. 

  • It is soul destroying to be a parent raising children on social assistance, and having to make tough choices about what to feed your children and what to provide for them, from diapers to pain medication. 

  • Medications are one of those many many expenses that derail a carefully prepared budget and send someone’s life into a tailspin. Medications cost upwards of hundreds of dollars a month, and not all medications are covered by the Ontario Drug Benefit Program. Other expenses that you've told me about that break your budget include a cell phone plan, a trip to hospital, transit, clothing, and so much more.  You cannot live on this amount of money.  The rates are too low. 

I always welcome your feedback, commentary and thoughts, especially from people who are living on social assistance and people who work to help people on social assistance. 

Here’s how you can take action to help people in need 

Send a message 

Tell Minister Fullerton to join our welfare diet and double social assistance rates.  You are welcome to change the standard message to make it personal, if you wish. You can download a paper petition to collect signatures for me to be read in the legislature here

Donate to a local group that helps people in need in our riding

ODSP Action Coalition
Avenue Road Food Bank
Fort York Food Bank
Spadina Fort York Community Care 
St Stephens in the Fields Breakfast Program


Jessica Bell