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Issues That Matter #2

June 7, 2014 Poverty Reduction

A provincial election is coming up on June 12th. The Clinic does not get involved in elections in a partisan way.  However, it is part of our mandate to talk about issues that matter to our community.  We try to do that all year long including during election campaigns.

So, in that spirit, leading up to next Thursday’s elections we will be posting some blog pieces on issues that matter.  Here is our second post.  It is on poverty reduction.

All three main-line parties supported the first Poverty Reduction Strategy that passed unanimously in the Ontario Legislature in 2009. The second strategy was due for release last December and is again on hold because of the election.

The first Poverty Reduction Strategy is credited with bringing about investments that lifted 40,000 Ontario children out of poverty and kept 60,000 additional kids from becoming poor. No matter who wins the election we should expect them to bring in a new strategy and soon. We believe such a strategy should do four things.

1. The new strategy must address the severe underfunding of individuals and families on social assistance.

For many years, the Clinic has called for a mechanism to develop these rates. In the current system, the rates are politically-determined. The rates bear no relation to the actual costs of rent, food and basic necessities.

We’ve called for the creation of a Board to set these rates.

These rates would be evidence-based and adjusted on an annual basis. Those rates should be based on an analysis of the actual costs of rent, a healthy food basket, and other basic necessities in communities across Ontario, and should provide a level of assistance that will allow individuals and families to live with dignity.

Many years ago, Staff Lawyer Craig Foye (pictured to the right) and others worked to put together a bill to establish an Ontario Social Assistance Rates Board. The former Bill 235 was introduced in the legislature in June of 2007 but “died” when the legislature was adjourned.

The idea was that a Board would meet at least six times a year and give an annual report to the Minister of Community and Social Services recommending appropriate social assistance rates. Recommendations for rates could include regional variations. The legislation laid out a process and timeline and requires the Minister to respond to the recommendations.

Such legislation makes as much sense now as it did in 2007.

2. The new strategy must make firm commitments to reduce poverty.

There are many ways to do this. One we recommend is the creation of a Universal Housing Benefit for all low-income Ontarians. Such a benefit would pay 75% of the difference between the actual rent paid and the recipient’s income.

3. The strategy must make investments and implement specific actions that will improve the quality of jobs in the labour market.

A Poverty Reduction Strategy needs to take into account the fact about ten percent of Ontarians are working for minimum wage. That wage comes nowhere near the cost of a living wage. Some jurisdictions are moving to a living wage but at the very least, a minimum wage should be indexed to inflation.

4. The strategy must incorporate an equity approach.

Some groups living in poverty have special challenges and needs that should be addressed. The Colour of Poverty has gathered research that demonstrates that poverty is racialized (disproportionate to people of colour who are Canadian born and newcomers.) The strategy needs to take this into account.

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