WELLAND – As we sat in a room in the MacBain Centre in Niagara Falls, a dramatic analogy of poverty played out around us. Marvyn Novick and Peter Clutterbuck from the Social Planning Network of Ontario spoke to us on behalf of Poverty Free Ontario, and a strange thing happened.
The lights, set up with environmental conservation in mind, were to go out at set intervals after detecting no movement in the room. This happened several times, and as a result the listeners of the presentation had to perform wild gesticulations so that the light would return.
Watching this frantic communication to the great motion sensor in the sky, left me with a profound feeling.
This is what poverty felt like. The lights of the world had gone out, and one is left frantically flailing their arms in the darkness hoping someone will notice.
The only problem with this analogy is that poverty isn’t something that just happens. It’s caused by you and I: those that can afford to pay our rising bills, including HST, without complaint, who can afford niceties that we don’t really need, who struggle to come up with one or two cans when it comes to the annual food drive.
In order to ensure our own comfort, we have deliberately put those in poverty in the dark. It saves energy, money, resources if we just pretend that they’re no longer in the room, and we shut out the lights.
We sing a hymn by Shirley Erena Murray in our church, entitled Touch the Earth Lightly. In it, we are reminded at the dramatic impact we have upon this planet.
We who endanger, who create hunger, agents of death for all creatures that live
Whenever we sing those lines, I’m left with an unmovable lump in my throat. The problem with poverty is not just a religious matter.
Athiests, agnostics, whatever flavour of religion satisfies your palate; each of us need to work together, if there is any hope of eliminating poverty. It doesn’t belong to any particular political party either. Poverty requires us to acknowledge the inherent worth of our neighbours. Especially the one you don’t get along with.
The presentation at the MacBain Centre laid the foundation for this discussion of poverty with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, issued by the UN shortly after the Second World War. It was written and adopted to ensure one group of people do not mistreat, subjugate, or demean another group.
Yet that is exactly what is happening between those that exist both above and below the poverty line. We use language that refers to laziness and the pulling of bootstraps. We assume addiction and abuse. We claim squandered cheques and too much help and they won’t help themselves. Any words that can be used to lessen our collective guilt, we employ it. It lets us off the hook.
We feel better about ourselves. We sleep soundly at night, and what little we do about poverty, if any, seems grandiose.
According to recent statistics, we have seen an increase from 11% to 13% of Ontarians existing in poverty, or in other terms, 1.7 million Ontarians are below the poverty line, 400,000 of whom are children. Myths of poverty aside, one-third of those 400,000 children actually come from families where parents had full-time work.
Gone are the beliefs that having a “good job” met all your needs. Gone is the belief that only the uneducated cash cheques from Ontario Works or ODSP. (In fact 80% of those below the poverty line graduated high school, and 40% have some post secondary education). Families are now required to have two incomes at a minimum, leaving many to split time between multiple places of employment, just to break even. When we hear poverty, it often comes with the more heartstring- pulling adjective of child poverty.
While it is admirable to seek to improve the lives of children in need, we cannot forget that there are still more than one million adults and seniors that face each and every day without the basic needs for life.
At Central United, as well as other locations around our city, meals are served, by local organizations and churches. The visible poor aren’t often in front of our eyes, like the larger centres of Toronto, or Ottawa, but Welland struggles just the same. While there are familiar faces that come each and every meal, a certain percent of the group is always new.
We’re never sure what led them to our table that month, as the pain of poverty prevents many from sharing the difficult journey they’ve endured. We only know that for one brief moment, judgment is checked at the door, people are fed, and hope is shared.
If you’re like me, you wonder what you can do at all when it comes to the great chasm of poverty. In that moment, please realize that doing something is better than doing nothing at all. Know that there is a provincial election and ensure each of the candidates offer their party’s plan on how to combat poverty. Contribute to a food bank more than once a year.
Get the figures on how much on average those in poverty have for food per month and try surviving (and then imagine what a $100 a month healthy food supplement might do to your diet). Speak to those at the Hope Centre or other institutions around Welland that work to fight not just the symptoms of poverty, but the root causes. And if you’re still unsure where to start, may these words strengthen your resolve.
They were written by Bishop Ken Untener of Saginaw and attributed to Bishop Oscar Romero who ministered to the people of El Salvador, and offered hope during hopeless times.
We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted,
knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation
in realizing that. This enables us to do something,
and to do it very well.
Editorial by Rev. Chris Fickling in the Welland Tribune
As the public debate starts to warm up in Ontario for the October election, Statistics Canada’s release of the 2009 poverty rates yesterday point to the importance of firmly placing poverty on the provincial political agenda. Using the official poverty indicator adopted by Ontario as part of its poverty reduction strategy in 2008 (Low Income Measure After Tax – LIM-AT), Ontario’s poverty rate increased to 13.1% in 2009, a growth rate of 17% since the 2007 provincial election year (See Table following).
While Ontario’s poverty rate is slightly below the LIM-AT for Canada at 13.1%, the rate of Ontario’s poverty growth has increased the highest of all other regions of Canada and reached a total of 1,689,00 Ontarians in 2009, which is 277,000 more people living in poverty than in 2007.
While the rate of poverty growth by age group is lowest among children at 3.5%, Poverty Free Ontario notes that the proportion of working age adults (18 to 64 years old) living in poverty increased from 11.2% to 13.4%, a growth rate of 19.6%. Ontarians 65 years and older also show an extremely high poverty growth rate of 41.9% since 2007, although the overall proportion of seniors in poverty still remains below 9%.
The figures illustrate that the poverty levels in Ontario among unattached males (24.1%) and unattached females (25.0%) remain exceptionally high. The poverty growth rate among unattached men under 65 years old was 6.9%, off-setting the almost equivalent 7.2% rate of poverty decrease for unattached women under 65 over the two-year period.
Among the population living alone, however, unattached elderly women have fallen into poverty at the highest rate since 2007 (20.1%).
This first review of Statistics Canada’s poverty figures for 2009 indicates that, although measures to end child and family poverty need to be maintained and strengthened, the rate of poverty among working age adults, seniors and adults living alone is entrenched and growing rapidly. A comprehensive strategy to end poverty among all parts of the population is sorely needed to stem and reverse this direction.
It is critical that poverty eradication become a major issue in the Ontario provincial election.
YORK REGION – Poverty is finally coming out of the closet, York Region Food Network program co-ordinator Yvonne Kelly told social service activists and advocates attending the Human Dignity For All: Working For a Poverty-Free Ontario symposium yesterday.
Creating awareness, igniting political will and advancing a policy agenda will support the goal of reducing and eventually eliminating destitution in our communities by 2020, she said.
The gathering at the Aurora Public Library, presented by the Social Planning Network of Ontario and sponsored by its regional council, the Food Network and other stakeholders, is a prime example of how discussion leads to action, Ms Kelly said.
“We want to bring everyone to an understanding of what a poverty-free Ontario could look like,” she said.
“It’s about galvanizing and bringing people together. There’s more impact and momentum by working collaboratively.”
Planning network co-ordinator Peter Clutterbuck lauded York Region’s anti-poverty efforts, citing the region as having one of the strongest social planning councils.
His colleague and keynote speaker Marvyn Novick, a social science professor at Ryerson University, agreed, suggesting the region’s work on poverty reduction is encouraging.
Still, social strata inequities, locally and globally, remain.
Poverty levels in Ontario haven’t changed in 30 years, he said. Social assistance incomes remain unacceptably low.
The poverty line for one adult is $18,582. A single adult on Ontario Works receives $7,352 per year, a gap of more than $11,000. A single parent with one child hits the poverty line at $26,279, but receives $16,683 in Ontario Works support — a deficit of just under $10,000.
Living in deep poverty means tens of thousands of Ontario adults and children experience chronic cycles of hunger and hardship each month when money runs out for basic necessities, he said.
Having a job doesn’t necessarily help, he said. Low pay keeps many trapped in poverty. One third of all Ontario children living in poverty in 2008 came from families where parents worked full time.
The eradication of poverty is premised on policies focusing on three key areas, Mr. Novick said.
To end deep poverty, social assistance needs to be upgraded. To stem working poverty, basic living wages must be enhanced. To ensure food security a full housing benefit must be phased in.
He advocates for an immediate $100 per month healthy food supplement for all adults on social assistance.
Poverty is political, he said. Industrialized countries with high levels of wealth also have the highest levels of poverty and disparities. The Ontario government’s commitment to reducing child poverty ends in 2013, he said. Accordingly, it’s imperative to have poverty front and centre on the provincial election agenda this October.
Ms Kelly agreed.
“We can’t afford not to address poverty,” she said.
York Region Social Planning Council co-chairperson Pat Taylor said efforts to ease the plight of the marginalized need to speed up.
“We’re just not cutting it for people living in poverty,” she said. “This event underlines the urgency of this message. By increasing peoples’ understanding, we hope to create action and strategies that will work.”
In timely tandem with the symposium was the Food Network’s release of Hunger in the Midst of Prosperity: The Need for Food Banks in York Region: 2011.
Last year, regional food banks provided sustenance for more than 52,000 clients, a 20-per-cent spike from 2008, the report notes. More than four in 10 adults said they go hungry at least once a week. Among children surveyed, 17 per cent go hungry once per week.
Food network executive director Joan Stonehocker expressed frustration about the continued need for food banks.
“The pace of change around poverty reduction seems painfully slow,” she said. “As Canadians, we should no longer be speaking with pride about our social safety net. Too many people in our communities are forced to use food banks to get enough to eat.”
The report identifies the struggles of living on low income. With a high proportion of income going to housing, people juggle funds to try to stay afloat and food becomes a discretionary expense, she said.
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.”
CORNWALL – Social development councils throughout Ontario are taking a stand against poverty and are trying to encourage governments to take steps to eradicate it.
The Social Development Council of Cornwall and Area in partnership with the Social Planning Network of Ontario and other social councils throughout the province are joining forces to fight against poverty.
Marvyn Novick, consultant with the Social Planning Network of Ontario and Peter Clutterbuck, Research & Community Planning Coordinator with the Social Planning Network of Ontario presented their statistics and plans for the eradication of poverty at St. Paul’s United Church on Monday.
” We believe that there are real policy approaches that could be taken that would move beyond just poverty reduction strategies for children and families, which is a start, to actually eliminate poverty in general, especially those in deep poverty and the working poor,” said Clutterbuck.
The evening began with Michelle Gratton, executive director of the Social Development Council of Cornwall and Area who explained some stories of local people who are living on the streets in what’s called, “deep poverty”.
She told the room of a man who was kicked out of his home and was living in the Sears parking lot and a women who finally got her electricity back after not having it for two months.
“Our poverty rates are high right now,” said Gratton.
“We’ll probably be looking at a very serious situation when the census comes out this summer.”
The night proceeded with an explanation of what the Social Planning Network of Ontario is and who it’s made up of.
The presentation included information about poverty, covering what it is to be poor and the steps that are (not) being made to reduce or eradicate poverty.
“Our agenda is to come into communities present with them an analysis to what the situation is like here in Ontario and make some proposals for priorities for the next (provincial) election to engage their electoral candidates around,” said Clutterbuck.
Novick explained that many people in Canada are living under the poverty line when it comes to having an annual income.
According to his presentation, the poverty line for an average single adult per year is $18,582 a year (after taxes) while the average person on Ontario Works(OW) makes about $7,352 a year.
He suggested that the Government should raise the income that people on OW makes but they won’t because of a dogma or stigma that those who need the system are “begging for handouts” and/or don’t wish to work.
“We have to stop using demeaning language and stop referring to Social Assistance as a social and economical ghetto or broken system,” said Novick.
“It’s not a broken system, it’s a degraded system.”
The evening concluded with a poem, written by someone from Sudbury who was experiencing poverty for themselves and then a question and suggestion period was held.
“It’s important for people to come out to meetings like this in the spring of 2011 to start to think about what they expect of their election candidates in the Provincial election for October and to recognize that poverty is an issue for all Ontarians whether you’re low income or not,” said Clutterbuck.
© 2013 Poverty Free Ontario. All Rights Reserved.
Poverty Free Ontario is an initiative of the Social Planning Network of Ontario.