Dear Premier Wynne, Minister Sousa and Minister Matthews,
The 25in5 Network for Poverty Reduction is a multi-sectoral network of groups and individuals working across Ontario to eliminate poverty. Your government’s Throne Speech committed to building a fairer and healthier Ontario. We are writing to urge you to move forward on that promise by investing in poverty reduction initiatives in the 2015 provincial budget.
2014 was an important year for poverty reduction in Ontario, with the second Poverty Reduction Strategy setting the agenda until 2019. In 2015, the 25in5 Network is asking you to implement that strategy by investing in the following FIVE areas to build a more prosperous Ontario.
Ensure that People can live with Financial Security and Dignity
Recent budgets have made important increases to social assistance rates, but rates are still set too low. We ask that you raise social assistance rates for all recipients, and that you increase rates by $100 per month for single people on Ontario Works.
Social assistance rates are inadequate to meet the real costs of living, so we ask that you set up an expert panel that includes people with lived experience to provide advice on levels of income support required for people to live in good health and dignity on social assistance.
Targeted benefits can make the difference between remaining on assistance and transitioning to work. The Work-Related Benefit helps people on ODSP to transition to work and must be maintained.
Currently, the treatment of child support income leaves children behind by fully clawing-back payments from social assistance entitlements, making life even harder for single parents. The budget must change these rules to treat child support payments in the same way as earned income, with claw-backs of 50 percent after the first $200. Further, no parent should be obligated to pursue child support.
For many children in low income families, the Ontario Child Benefit has made a significant difference in their lives. We encourage you to build on this success by increasing the Ontario Child Benefit by $100 per child per year and indexing future increases.
All Ontarians Deserve to be Healthy
Too many Ontarians do not have access to essential extended health benefits. The Poverty Reduction Strategy’s commitment to extend dental benefits to all low income adults by 2025 was important, but the need is urgent. We urge you to act faster and extend public dental benefits to all low income adults by 2018. We also ask you to take leadership at the provincial level toward a universal PharmaCare plan.
Invest in Community Infrastructure
The Poverty Reduction Strategy’s commitment to end homelessness is commendable. Now, it’s time to outline a timeline and budgeted plan, including expanded investments in supportive housing for people with mental health and additions issues.
As you know, housing is one of the largest costs that Ontario families face and too many Ontarians have to decide between rent and food. We are asking you to develop a plan for a monthly housing benefit for low income tenants to relieve the high costs of living.
Ontario needs more high quality affordable housing. That’s why we’re asking you to support your MPP Peter Milczyn’s inclusionary zoning bill, Bill 39. Ontario also needs to play its part in bringing existing social housing stock up to standard by investing its share for critical capital repairs.
For many Ontario families, the high cost of child care is beyond their reach. This budget is an important opportunity to improve child care affordability by establishing a $300 million annualized fund to address significant challenges in funding formulas, centre viability, municipal subsidy waiting lists, and family child care agency funding.
The second Poverty Reduction Strategy made an important commitment to invest $50 million over four years to establish Local Poverty Reduction Funds that would allow communities to create and build on local poverty reduction initiatives. We ask that this budget include the first installment for Local Poverty Reduction Funds.
Implement a Good Jobs Strategy
Too many of Ontario’s jobs are precarious, which means a lack of income, social and health security for many working Ontarians. We urge you to implement a Good Jobs Strategy to address Ontario’s increasingly precarious labour market, including:
- Raising the minimum wage to $15 in 2015 to bring a worker’s income 10 percent above the poverty line
- Ensure that low-income and precariously employed workers have access to the Ontario Retirement Pension Plan
- Promoting full time permanent jobs where workers can get enough hours to live on
- Ensuring respect at work so that workers can assert their rights and be protected from workplace harassment, bullying and unjust dismissal
- Ensuring that employment standards protect all workers and are enforced
- Employers should not download their responsibilities for minimum standards onto temp agencies, subcontractors and workers.
- Ensuring that all workers are able to access paid sick days; and
- Ensuring equal pay for equal work by expanding protections for part-time, casual, temporary, and contract workers.
It is also important to acknowledge that not all populations in Ontario face the same barriers to work. We urge you to address unfair and inequitable barriers to employment for racialized and marginalized people through employment equity programs. Further, newcomers to Ontario experience significant challenges in becoming established in the labour market. That’s why we’re asking you to expand training and internship programs for newcomers.
Finally, as promised in the 2014 budget, we urge you to legislate that provincially-funded infrastructure projects promote inclusive and equitable economic development that delivers employment and career opportunities to historically disadvantaged and marginalized communities.
Build Sufficient Public Revenues to Invest in Poverty Reduction
Eliminating poverty in Ontario means making strategic investments, as we have outlined. But these investments depend on sufficient public revenues. Recent analyses in Ontario provide guidance for how to ensure adequate public revenue, including a range of options presented by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives – Ontario (CCPA-Ontario) and opportunities to increase revenues through consumption taxes identified by the CD Howe Institute. We encourage you to review these revenue raising options and commit to a plan to build sufficient public revenues to invest in poverty reduction.
Ontario is at a turning point in poverty reduction with the second Poverty Reduction Strategy providing important opportunities to build on existing achievements. In 2008, the Ontario Association of Food Banks found that poverty cost Ontario up to $38 billion per year. Without actions to build a fairer and healthier province, poverty will continue to cost Ontario billions of dollars each year. We urge you to invest, implement and build on poverty reduction in the 2015 budget.
On behalf of the 25in5 Network for Poverty Reduction,