We know that reducing poverty by 25% in five years is both necessary and achievable.
Report after report has documented that despite our record levels of economic growth poverty has persisted at the same high rates for an entire generation.
Among aboriginal populations, racialized communities, newcomers, single mothers and people with disabilities the situation is even more dire, with adult and child poverty rates that can be many times the Ontario average.
A 25 in 5 plan would lift more than 365,000 Ontarians out of poverty in just five years.
Can we afford to do this?
We can’t afford NOT to do it – the costs of poverty are too high.
Just as it is much more costly to treat a disease than prevent one, it costs more to provide emergency hostels than affordable housing. Homelessness, just one facet of poverty, costs Canada at least $4.5 billion every year in emergency services, medical treatment and more.
Reducing poverty is smart for economies, as is maintaining a strong social safety net to prevent poverty. Denmark, Sweden and Finland are three of the five most economically competitive nations in the world. They have the lowest child poverty rates and strong social safety nets.
What are other governments doing?
Other provinces and countries are showing leadership in reducing poverty.
Quebec passed anti-poverty legislation in 2002 and introduced an action plan in 2004 that pledges to reduce poverty to among the lowest in industrialized countries by 2012. Newfoundland and Labrador launched its anti-poverty strategy in 2006, with a goal of having the lowest poverty level of any Canadian province within 10 years.
In 1999, the Labour government in Britain set a goal of reducing child poverty by 25% by 2005, and made a huge difference in the lives of its citizens, reaching 23% of that goal.
What is the Ontario government doing?
The Ontario government has made a commitment to introduce a Poverty Reduction Strategy with targets and timetables within the next year.
The appointment of Deb Matthews as lead minister and the formation of a cabinet committee on poverty reduction are concrete steps in the right direction.
But we need a real plan that aims high. The time for patchwork solutions to persistent poverty has passed.
The good news is that the Liberal government has already taken a number of steps that have the potential to drive down poverty. What it needs to do now is to build on those initiatives for a longer-term vision and track progress regularly and accurately on each front.
How do we make 25 in 5 happen together?
In the next few months, government consultation to determine priorities will be critical to building wide support for a comprehensive strategy.
Community and civic leaders – including those from diverse communities and the most seriously disadvantaged groups, policy thinkers, low income people and business representatives – all need to be involved in discussions about what targets to set, what measures to use, and the kinds of policies that will make a difference.
What do we need to make 25 in 5 a reality?
We believe that a number of key principles should guide the government’s approach, and are crucial planks of a comprehensive poverty reduction strategy.
- Start with the principle that a hard day’s work should equal a fair day’s pay, through minimum wage increases, stepping up the enforcement of labour standards, and breaking down barriers based on discrimination.
- Give adults and children real income security by bolstering the newly created Ontario Child
- Benefit and providing adequate systems of support for those who cannot work full time.
- Include policies that specifically address the disproportionate impact of poverty on racialized communities, aboriginal people, women, persons with disabilities and newcomers.
- Make affordable housing and quality child care top provincial priorities.
- Ensure that everyone has real access to medical and dental care.