The 25 in 5 Network was encouraged to see that the 2015 Ontario Budget is not cutting back on investments in areas that directly impact vulnerable Ontarians. The government is holding the line on important commitments to affordable housing and the Ontario Child Benefit. The expanded Youth Action Plan for at-risk youth is also a welcome investment in our communities, as is the Ontario Electricity Support Program for low-income electricity consumers.
However, with close to 2 million Ontarians living in poverty, it is disappointing that the Budget gives no information about a target, timelines or new investments that would help achieve the goals of the second Poverty Reduction Strategy released last fall.
The government has set in motion reviews in areas of critical importance, such as housing and homelessness, employment standards, community hubs and workforce development, and signaled that discussions on social assistance rates will commence this year. As well, with billions of new investments in infrastructure announced in this Budget, the government has an important opportunity to address inequality by introducing community benefits provisions that close the gap in access to employment and skills training opportunities.
While these processes are important, low-income people are hungry for action now. We need much more than small increases to social assistance rates to address the poverty that the most vulnerable Ontarians struggle with every day. We need to move people off the streets and into secure, adequate housing. We need extended health and dental coverage for all Ontarians. And we need immediate support for families and individuals who are struggling to put food on the table, train for better job prospects and contribute to society and the economy.
As a way forward, the government has set aside $500m towards a contingency fund — a 900% increase from last year. We do not need to wait for a natural disaster or health crisis; we already have an emergency in this province — homelessness and poverty. We urge the Ontario government to invest some of that contingency fund to truly build Ontario up for all Ontarians.
We look forward to continuing to contribute to helping to move the yardsticks on poverty reduction in Ontario.
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