The Right to an Adequate Standard of Living in Hamilton
February 12, 2016 Poverty Reduction
Ten years ago, Craig Foye a lawyer here at the Clinic presented to the United Nations in Geneva Switzerland on the growing levels of poverty in Hamilton. That presentation also talked about the failure of senior levels of government to provide an adequate standard of living for those experiencing poverty.
Foye’s report started an important conversation about the adequacy of social assistance rates.
Recently, Foye updated that report and forwarded it to the the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social & Cultural Rights.* This week, Foye spoke to the City of Hamilton’s Emergency and Community Services Committee about the update.
Request of City Council
On behalf of the Clinic, the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction and the Social Planning and Research Council, Foye made two requests.
First, he asked that Hamilton City Council endorse “The Right to an Adequate Standard of Living: An Update to the 2006 Report”, and write to the United Nations Committee on Economic Social and Cultural Rights to confirm that endorsement to the UN Committee.
Secondly, he requested that Council direct staff to research the possibility of Hamilton becoming a Human Rights City. **
An edited version of Craig Foye’s presentation follows.
I propose to speak briefly regarding the follow-up report to the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social & Cultural Rights regarding the Government of Canada's non-compliance with Article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights.
Article 11 of the Covenant guarantees the right to an adequate standard of living. Paragraph 1 of Article 11 reads:
The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions. The States Parties will take appropriate steps to ensure the realization of this right, recognizing to this effect the essential importance of international co-operation based on free consent.
Unfortunately, as both reports show, the right to an adequate standard of living is not being acknowledged or protected by either the Provincial or Federal Governments.
We continue to have social assistance rates that fall far below subsistence levels of income, and those rates remain arbitrary numbers with no relation to the actual cost of basic necessities; although efforts have been made in this area by the Provincial government, the situation continues to gets worse as rates fail to keep pace with the increase in the costs of basic necessities such as rent and food.
While efforts have been made to respond locally to the homelessness crisis, we are nowhere close to providing the numbers of housing subsidies required, and the Landlord and Tenant Board of Ontario (like the Ontario Rental Housing Tribunal before it) continues to evict many thousands of tenants for arrears of rent. The number of unemployed workers who qualify for employment insurance benefits locally remains at alarming levels, particularly for women. The minimum wage remains below poverty levels, meaning that even those workers working full-time or more may not be able to pull their family out of poverty. Not surprisingly, we continue to see local individuals and families who cannot afford to feed themselves turning to food-banks and meal programs in unprecedented numbers.
Unfortunately, this poverty is being experienced disproportionately by many already vulnerable groups, including, but not limited to: women, seniors, newcomers, Aboriginal persons, persons with disabilities, and visible minorities.
After hearing the presentation, the Committee has agreed to recommend that City Council endorse the UN report. Councillor Merulla added an amendment that the letter refer to the unfairness of the tax system in Canada as it applies to municipalities.
The Committee also recommended that Council direct staff to research and report back regarding Hamilton becoming a Human Rights City.
*The Right to An Adequate Standard of Living in Hamilton http://1drv.ms/1KcW7lu
**Learn more about Human Rights Cities at http://www.pdhre.org/projects/hrcommun.html