On Thursday, June 9, Social Assistance Review Commissioners Frances Lankin and Dr. Munir Sheikh released the Discussion Paper and Workbook for their summer consultation on the Social Assistance Review and notice of the web site on which further information and updates will be posted www.socialassistancereview.ca.
The Commissioners will be making visits to eleven selected communities across Ontario for conversations and consultations on the Review and are encouraging community and individual input to the process until September 1, 2011. The release includes a guide to convening and conducting community conversations for the purposes of collecting ideas and suggestions for improving the social assistance system and overall income security reform and sending same to the Commissioners.
The Commissioners plan to issue an Options Paper in November for further input and consultation before formulating their recommendations over the winter and releasing their final report in June 2012.
Poverty Free Ontario will monitor the progress of the Commissioners’ Review. This Bulletin is a preliminary assessment. Poverty Free Ontario will have more to say on the social assumptions and policy directions that are guiding the Review and their prospective impacts on poverty eradication through subsequent Bulletins and its web site (www.povertyfreeontario.ca).
Since March, the Social Planning Network of Ontario has taken the Poverty Free Ontario initiative to eighteen communities across the province and has received an enthusiastic response to its analysis of the issues in social assistance reform and its proposals for ending deep poverty in Ontario by upgrading the social assistance system
Poverty Free Ontario promotes a two-track approach to social assistance reform calling for a first track of immediate implementation of the $100/month Healthy Food Supplement as the important initial step toward establishing adequate benefit levels for all adults on OW and ODSP. While this action is taken now, the second track of the longer-term review and reform process for upgrading social assistance should get underway.
Poverty Free Ontario calls on Commissioners Lankin and Sheikh to issue an interim report prior to the provincial election:
An interim report by the Commissioners in early September would help the community to make poverty eradication an issue during the provincial election campaign.
The Commissioners’ Discussion Paper and related materials are encouraging and helpful to serious social assistance reform in the following ways:
There are a number of areas covered in the Commissioners’ Discussion Paper, however, that should be approached with more caution as communities start to prepare their input to the consultation process.
With respect to expectations about employment at the low end of the labour market, Poverty Free Ontario suggests further that the Commissioners should also point to the “reasonable expectations” of:
Poverty Free Ontario has challenged the legitimacy of the “welfare wall” contentions as not being founded on any empirical evidence. The Discussion Paper carefully presents the issue as “ensuring people are better off working” and states that this challenge suggests the need for “difficult trade-offs” between the interests of social assistance recipients and low wage workers – a perpetuation of the pitting of the working poor (deserving poor) against the welfare recipient (undeserving poor).
The Discussion Paper then presents three approaches to this dilemma:
A fourth option presented by the Commissioners as “outside the mandate of our review but within the broader context of income security – looks at questions around what work should pay, and raises issues related to ‘living wages’ and access to prescription drug and other benefits from employers.” (p.4)
As stated earlier with respect to a basic minimum wage, Poverty Free Ontario agrees that the issue of what work should pay is critical to ending working poverty, and is unclear why the Commissioners put this limit on their income security review mandate, which they otherwise interpret fairly broadly.
With respect to the first three approaches in the Discussion Paper, Poverty Free Ontario contends that the existing social assistance system can be used now to improve adequacy significantly starting with the introduction of the $100/month Healthy Food Supplement. Given the intolerably low current benefit levels, allowing recipients who do find work to keep their employment earnings until their earnings reach the poverty line for their family situation is the only path of decency and dignity. There need be no conflict with the interests of low income workers if a similar path toward gradually increasing the basic minimum wage to enable the full-time, full-year worker to make earnings above the poverty line (Poverty Free Ontario recommends 10% above the LIM-AT based on a $12.50 hourly rate in 2014 achieved in three annual 75 cent increments starting in 2012).
Plus, the development and implementation of a housing benefit with satisfactory coverage of the low income population in need will take some time, while social assistance recipients continue to live in deep poverty for lack of any rate increases since 1995. The Discussion Paper continues the Ontario Government’s misrepresentation of the cost of living adjustments to benefits since 2004 as “rate increases”, when in fact they were increases for inflation and not increases in the actual real income to recipients (p. 11). The 1% cost of living adjustments in social assistance in the last two budgets have not equalled the actual 2% rate of inflation in 2010-11.
Another major caution about a housing benefit as an alternative to setting adequate benefit rates is the same kind of “restructuring” that occurred when the OCB was introduced in 2008 while the rate for parents on social assistance was cut as well as their winter clothing and back-to-school allowances. Social assistance recipients will likely be subject to loss of the shelter allowance portion of their basic benefit if the housing benefit is introduced for all low income people through similar rate “restructuring”. Will this be one of the “difficult trade-offs”?
The Social Planning Network of Ontario (SPNO) plans to launch an initiative to build cross-community support for a Poverty Free Ontario by the end of this decade.
Social planning councils have a long history since the 1930s of advocating for low income people, whether welfare recipients or working poor. In recent years, the SPNO and its organizational members have assumed a lead role in urging the Ontario Government to adopt a poverty reduction strategy for Ontario. Specifically,
The Ontario Government’s current commitment to poverty reduction focusing on a 25% reduction in child poverty ends in 2013. Since 2011 is a provincial election year, now is the time to begin a public discussion about where Government action needs to go to move from a partial and measured commitment to reducing child poverty to a full commitment to the eradication of all poverty in Ontario by the year 2020.
In May 2010, the SPNO leadership set policy development and cross-community mobilization for a poverty-free Ontario as a major provincial and community level priority for SPNO and its local and regional organizational members in 2011.
An Ontario free of poverty will be reflected in healthy, inclusive communities with a place of dignity for everyone and the essential conditions of well-being for all.
The mission of Poverty Free Ontario is to eliminate divided communities in which large numbers of adults and children live in chronic states of material hardship, poor health and social exclusion.
2017 will be the 150th anniversary of Canada as a country and Ontario as a province. Poverty Free Ontario will ask the political leadership of all parties in the 2011 provincial election to commit publicly to a “legacy commitment” for the Sesquicentennial. That legacy commitment would be for the provincial government of whatever political stripe to have adopted and implemented a comprehensive plan by 2017 resulting in the eradication of poverty in Ontario by 2020. This plan should move beyond poverty reduction targets set by the current Government for children in 2013 to bring all children and adults out of poverty by the year 2020.
A. A Policy Agenda for a Poverty Free Ontario
A new Policy Agenda for a Poverty Free Ontario would build on SPNO’s policy development work in 2008. Essentially, policy proposals will be developed and advanced in three key areas for the eradication of poverty in Ontario:
The Policy Agenda would link the strategy for eradication of poverty with a good quality of life for all Ontarians in order to build public and political support. It must demonstrate that the interests of the poor and the broad middle class are indivisible.
B. Critical Milestones
Simultaneously with the framing and promotion of a Policy Agenda for a Poverty Free Ontario, there are specific actions and resource allocations that can and must be taken now and over the next year or more to kick-start a longer term commitment to eradicating poverty. These actions constitute Critical Milestones that would:
The Put Food in the Budget Campaign advocating for a $100/month Healthy Food Supplement for all adults on social assistance is an immediately doable action. This measure could be implemented as part of the Government’s commitment to Social Assistance Review, which at the moment is focusing on long-term overhaul of the income security system rather than action possible immediately using the existing social assistance system.
Proposing specific measures for ensuring income adequacy beyond the first step of the HFS, Poverty Free Ontario would constitute an important policy development link to the immediate social assistance increase that the PFIB campaign is advocating.
GUELPH — Poverty activists turned a classroom into a war room this week, plotting their return to the fray of electoral politics after a few years in the wilderness.
About 60 people came out to the community forum on poverty policy in Rozanski Hall at the University of Guelph where three panellists highlighted concerns facing low-income Canadians.
“Change comes from the collective energy of people in a room like this,” said political science professor Byron Sheldrick, the forum’s MC. “They don’t have to listen if we don’t speak.”
The event served as an informal launch of a local effort to put poverty back on the agenda. Right-wing cost-cutters triumphed in the recent federal election as well as Toronto’s 2010 mayoral race.
“Poverty can only be reduced and eliminated when there’s a political will,” Brice Balmer, one of the panellists, said. “It’s time for that political will to show.”
The panellists were unanimous in their support of a $100 food allowance for people on welfare.
“We keep on hearing we can’t afford it. There’s not enough money,” Mark Woodnutt, a co-ordinator with the Stop Community Food Centre, said. “But we know that’s not the truth. We know there is money.”
The 2011 provincial budget includes $4 billion in corporate and capital tax cuts primarily for banks and insurance companies, Woodnutt pointed out, adding since the government of former premier Mike Harris took power in 1995, social assistance rates have been almost cut in half.
“These are conscious, political choices to keep people in poverty.”
Currently, a single adult on Ontario Works gets about $592 a month to cover rent, heating, water, clothes, personal items and food, Woodnutt said. “When it doesn’t add up, people need to make impossible choices.” Since food is a flexible budget item, it’s often the first thing to be sacrificed, he added.
Panellist Peter Clutterbuck, co-ordinator of the Social Planning Network of Ontario, outlined his organization’s campaign for a poverty-free Ontario.
He said raising the minimum wage to $12.50 from the current $10.25 and ending the clawback of Ontario Works earnings would help keep everyone in the province out of poverty. Of social assistance, he said we must “stop degrading it” and “stop demonizing the people who get it.”
Balmer, a minister with the Interfaith Social Assistance Reform Coalition, said Canada’s middle class has stagnated for decades while the wealthiest have grown wealthier. “We now have a growing gap between the rich and the average,” he said.
An underground economy exists where low-income seniors buy dentures retrieved from funeral homes, Balmer said, and a Kitchener man required ambulance service 157 times because of chronic, poverty-related health problems.
“Think what that costs,” Balmer said. “We need to change how we spend the health care dollars.”
The event was organized by the Guelph and Wellington Task Force for Poverty Elimination. Coordinator Randalin Ellery said she hopes the task force will reach more voters and politicians this time around.
“The federal election came up so quickly, there wasn’t a lot of time to prepare,” she said.
Guelph MPP Liz Sandals has been active on the task force, Ellery said, adding she hopes whoever is elected continues to meet with the group. “It is a great spot for a dialogue,” she said.
THUNDER BAY – The Social Planning Network of Ontario is calling for a poverty free Ontario.
“We’re part of a struggle,” said Marvyn Novick, community activist with the Social Planning Network of Ontario. “Aboriginal peoples have their historic dimension to that struggle that has to be honoured, but we also have a struggle about the things in common because all peoples need good wages in the labour market and need to know that the rents they pay won’t take food money.”
Speaking at the Lakehead Social Planning Council’s annual general meeting May 18 in Thunder Bay, Novick said Aboriginal peoples need institutions to end poverty.
“The government of Canada has a fiduciary responsibility to honour commitments made to Aboriginal peoples so Aboriginal peoples can develop their collective institutions and work for ending poverty,” Novick said.
He said the federal government should work with Aboriginal peoples to develop strategies to end poverty on and off reserve and where to get the powers and resources to do so.
The Social Planning Network of Ontario has been holding Moving to a Poverty Free Ontario sessions in 21 communities across Ontario.
The policy agenda for a poverty free Ontario focuses on three key areas: ending deep poverty by upgrading social assistance, ending working poverty by assuring basic living wages, and protecting food money by phasing in a full housing benefit.
The Social Planning Network of Ontario is aiming to build cross-community support for a poverty free Ontario by the end of the decade.
“Human dignity reminds us that there is a moral issue underlying local poverty,” Novick said.
“We’re now recognizing that poverty is not a condition that we have to accept.”
© 2013 Poverty Free Ontario. All Rights Reserved.
Poverty Free Ontario is an initiative of the Social Planning Network of Ontario.