It is not a unique modern problem that those within our communities who are less fortunate encounter more barriers and challenges in daily life than those who are fortunate. Wealth, and indeed the lack of it, affects almost all aspects of our lives—whether we are conscious of its influence or not. For those of us who struggle with low income, we are all too conscious of the absence of wealth in our lives. It affects, among many other things, whether we can live in safe and clean housing, eat nutritious food, use certain medical services, and access education. The recent legislation passed in Ontario by Doug Ford’s government has revealed a blatant disregard for low income youth like me.
The Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) is a fundamental program for Ontario youth. Without it, hundreds of thousands of students within Ontario would be left without hope of affording an education within our province. But OSAP is far from a perfect system. It leaves students saddled with tens of thousands of dollars in debt, entering a job market that is shrinking in career opportunities. And for many of us, the assistance provided by OSAP simply is not enough.
In the beginning of my fourth year of study at the University of Toronto, I was, to my absolute dismay, financially cancelled. Meaning, I was removed as a student due to outstanding tuition fees from the previous semester. I had not yet received my OSAP funding, since it often does not enter a students account until well into October (the second month of study in the fall semester); once I had access to my OSAP loan, and had paid back the outstanding tuition fees and re-enrolled, I was left with barely enough to cover rent for the remaining months of the semester.
In a job market where opportunities are hard to come by, this places students in a position of choosing between pursuing a career they desire, and a career that pays the bills in the meantime.
That year, my OSAP funding was lowered due to a combination of my parents higher income, and being ineligible for certain portions of the funding. OSAP failed to consider that my parents, despite their higher income, would be unable to financially assist me in my schooling, due to bills, a mortgage, and OSAP debt of their own. I was left unable to afford basic living expenses such as groceries. And I was most definitely unable to afford to pay off my tuition that year. I was forced to leave my studies unfinished at the end of my fourth year and return home to my parents house, with tens of thousands of dollars in debt following me.
For the last 2 years, I have been struggling in a job market that does not provide many opportunities to those without postsecondary education. I have been burdened with over $33,000 in loans, left with no way of securing a stable income to pay them back, and no way to save the funds necessary to finish my education.
The new OSAP legislation does not benefit students in a position like mine. The funding’s increase in loan to grant ratio means low income students end up paying more for their education in the long run. The eradication of the 6 month waiting period before OSAP loans accrue interest post-graduation mean students have no breathing room to find a job before their debt begins to increase. In a job market where opportunities are hard to come by, this places students in a position of choosing between pursuing a career they desire, and a career that pays the bills in the meantime.
This legislation serves only to deepen the divide between the wealthy and the poor.
It is now incredibly difficult to secure a job without, at minimum, an undergraduate degree, or a college certificate or diploma. Especially outside of large city centers, such as Toronto. Trade jobs, many of which are in demand in Ontario, also require post secondary education at a college. The reality is that education is critical in gaining decent employment. In failing to support low income students in pursuing education, we are failing to provide them equal opportunities in our workforce.
Students in difficult financial positions already encounter a whole wealth of barriers in their education that those who enjoy financial security are often unaware of. Many low income students are forced to juggle multiple part-time jobs, which limits their ability to take advantage of career advancing opportunities such as internships (most of which are unpaid). Not to mention the sheer mental and emotional strain being constantly anxious about affording next month’s rent or next week’s groceries places on these individuals. And now, alongside financial assistance being cut for these students, the very on campus services that assist in supporting and representing these students are at risk of being eradicated also, due to the new opt-out option for unions and campus groups.
Low income students gain no benefits from this new legislation. The wealthiest in our province, who previously did not qualify for OSAP funding, will now enjoy a 10% cut to their tuition fees, whilst low income students will be saddled with even greater debt. This is a short-sighted policy, aimed at creating a fiscally responsible government without acknowledging that a well equipped and educated workforce will, in the long run, spur greater industrial and economic growth.
I am tired of having my worth valued by the money I have in my pocket. I am tired of watching my government and peers so easily dismiss the experiences of people like me. I am tired of being pushed further and further behind in order for individuals who already have so much, to gain more. This legislation serves only to deepen the divide between the wealthy and the poor. The Ontario PC government boldly claims it is “For The People.” I fail to see how this government is for anyone except the wealthiest in our communities.