Bold Action Needed to Deliver a Fair and Prosperous Ontario
This summer, the Ontario government will begin developing Ontario’s second Poverty Reduction Strategy, for 2014‐2018. The 2008 Poverty Reduction Strategy opened the door for substantive action on poverty reduction. It showcased a provincial commitment to begin making significant progress towards the elimination of poverty.
It’s now time to take bolder steps that can make a real difference toward eradicating poverty for all Ontarians.
Ontario’s next poverty reduction strategy should be based on five key priorities:
1) bold poverty reduction targets, for adults as well as children and for those living in the deepest poverty;
2) a comprehensive action agenda of strong policy measures;
3) a plan to ensure sufficient public revenues to make the required investments;
4) instruments to ensure a high standard of accountability on progress; and,
5) strategic, dedicated investments in every budget.
Under the Poverty Reduction Act of 2009, which received unanimous all‐party support in the Ontario legislature, the province’s Poverty Reduction Strategy must be updated every five years. Community consultation is required by law. Members of Provincial Parliament (MPPs) should be hosting meetings in their ridings over the summer and into the fall to consult the public and gather input, recommendations and insight on
strategies for addressing poverty in Ontario. A government website will also enable Ontarians to provide input.
By working together to organize community events and encourage public input, we all helped put poverty reduction on the political agenda in 2008. Let’s keep up this momentum and continue to speak out with strong voices. Together, our vision of an Ontario without poverty and inequality – an Ontario that actively promotes equity and social inclusion – can be made a reality.
Five Priorities for Ontario’s next Poverty Reduction Strategy
1. Bold Poverty Reduction Targets
In 2008, the 25 in 5 Network for Poverty Reduction called on the government of Ontario to reduce poverty by 25% in five years and 50% in ten years. Cut poverty in half by 2018 To reduce poverty by 50% by 2018, Ontario’s next Poverty Reduction Strategy should aim to reduce the overall poverty rate in Ontario to below 6% and the child poverty rate to below 7.5%.
Eradicate deep poverty by 2018
In a province as wealthy as Ontario, no one should live in poverty, especially in deep poverty. Yet Ontario’s basic income security system relegates thousands of households to just that. The next Poverty Reduction Strategy must make sure no Ontarian lives on less than 40% of median adjusted household income—Ontario’s indicator of deep poverty.
2. A Comprehensive Action Agenda
Secure and Livable Incomes
All Ontarians deserve secure and adequate incomes that enable them to live with dignity and health. Everyone is entitled to an adequate income, regardless of whether you are working or receiving government funded assistance. Ontario needs to:
- Increase income supports for people relying on social assistance
- Enrich the Ontario Child Benefit and index it to inflation
- Reform social assistance so that it provides adequacy and dignity, and supports inclusion in the community and the workplace
Recognize the needs of Ontario’s Diverse Communities
Government programs should be tailored to meet the needs of Ontario’s diverse communities and tackle the inequities they face. To align with the Poverty Reduction Act, programs must be able to address the reality that people in racialized groups, whether immigrants or Canadian‐born, women, single mothers, aboriginal peoples as well as people with disabilities experience disproportionately higher rates of poverty. To support these efforts, the next Poverty Reduction Strategy should:
- Create strong employment equity programs
- Develop more effective training and employment programs, with a particular focus on supporting people on social assistance and people in groups that experience higher rates of poverty
Five Priorities for Poverty Reduction
Lifting working Ontarians out of poverty means ensuring access to stable and sustaining jobs. The shift towards part‐time, contract and work with limited or no benefits puts our communities at risk. And Ontarians require training and upgrading programs which enable them to acquire the
skills necessary to pursue employment opportunities and support a thriving economy. To ensure that work is a path out of poverty, Ontario must:
- Increase the minimum wage
- Address the rise in precarious employment and ensure fairness in every workplace through measures that include updating and rigorously enforcing Employment Standards for all workers.
- Provide more accessible and effective pathways to training, workforce development and job placement
Strong Public Programs and Services
Effective public programs and services that appropriately address the needs of Ontario’s vulnerable populations are critical to improving our quality of life. Through the taxes we pay, Ontarians invest in public services – including education, health care, child care, public pensions, employment
insurance and family benefits. Improving living standards and creating more equitable communities are keys to moving forward. Ontario needs to invest in programs and services that build strong communities where everyone thrives.
- Building more affordable housing
- Establishing a new Housing Benefit for low‐income households
- Ensuring access to affordable, high‐quality, non‐profit childcare
- Extending dental care to low‐income adults and creating a prescription drug benefit program
- Offering affordable public transit options for low income people
- Sustained investments in community services, including expanded mental health and addictions programs, and services for marginalized youth
3. Sufficient Public Revenue to Invest in Poverty Reduction
As a result of the economic downturn, Ontario’s commitment to poverty reduction waned – but the personal and societal costs of failing to reduce poverty did not. If we do not make the necessary investments to reduce poverty, inequality will continue to grow, health care costs will
continue to rise, and many Ontarians will continue to suffer and be left behind. It’s time to move beyond austerity and rebuild our fiscal capacity. The provincial government appointed the Drummond Commission to identify ways to cut spending to reach deficit reduction targets by cutting spending – but not raising revenue. Now, the provincial government should
identify the revenue tools necessary, within the context of a progressive tax system, to ensure the resources required to invest effectively in poverty reduction and eradication.
4. A High Standard of Accountability
In addition to public reporting, ongoing engagement with communities and responsibility across ministries for implementation of the strategy, Ontario should take an extra step. The government of Ontario should create an officer of the legislature, like the Environment Commissioner and
Auditor General, to report on the effectiveness of poverty reduction efforts. This position would ensure an independent assessment of the success of government’s strategies to reduce poverty. Reporting must be based on disaggregated data, to recognize the heightened risk of poverty
among groups such as immigrants, women, single mothers, people with disabilities, Aboriginal peoples and racialized groups – those groups mentioned in the Poverty Reduction Act 2009.
5. Prioritize Poverty Reduction in Every Budget
Ontario’s next Poverty Reduction Strategy must include a multi‐year investment strategy. Policies that build secure and liveable incomes, create good jobs, and deliver strong public programs and services must be matched with commitments to make specific investments in each year of the five year strategy. Funding must be dedicated and allocated from the start to achieve our twin targets of reducing overall poverty by an additional 25 per cent and eradicating deep poverty by 2018.
Acting for Fairness: Make Your Voice Heard
Ontario’s Poverty Reduction Strategy in 2008 marked a bold and historic move in our province. A commitment to reduce child poverty, along with substantial investments in effective policies – the new Ontario Child Benefit, targeted tax credits, and increases in the minimum wage – resulted in a three year decline in child poverty rates. This progress came even during a time of economic recession. But poverty rates for working age adults in Ontario – who were left out of the last poverty reduction
strategy – have remained stubbornly high.
Now is the time to build on success. Now is the time to make a concerted effort to address all poverty in Ontario. Now is the time to be bold in meeting the commitment to tackle poverty and to make a real
difference in the lives of all Ontarians.
Here’s how you can get involved:
- Challenge your MPP to host a consultation in your community
- Share your views on the next Poverty Reduction Strategy with your community, elected representatives, social media and journalists
- Distribute this document among your networks
- And visit 25in5 for updates about the development of the next strategy