July 11, 2011

Changes needed to eradicate poverty in Ontario

What kind of changes are needed to end deep poverty and give people a real chance to get ahead?

Some of the answers can be found in the Waterloo Region Social Audit Report. The Waterloo Region aocial audit was conducted in February 2010 as part of an Ontario-wide Social Audit organized by the Interfaith Social Assistance Reform Coalition (ISARC). This report is a companion to Persistent Poverty: voices from the margins, which pulled together findings from the social audits conducted in twenty-six communities across the province.

The Waterloo Region Social Audit Report reflects what we heard from dozens of individuals across the region who spoke about their experience of living in poverty and the changes that would improve things.

The report focuses on the changes that need to happen if we are to eradicate poverty and give people real opportunity to get ahead.  

The need for income security was the first message that came through the hearings. The amount of income available if you rely on Ontario Works or Ontario Disability Support Payments is simply not enough to get by. And what you can earn working at minimum wage is not adequate to get ahead.

A second common theme was the need to remove barriers that the system creates for people. Creating a more flexible system, having more affordable and supportive housing available, making it possible to secure a healthy diet and better access to transportation were some of the things people named. Changing the income security system to improve family relationships and to focus on preventing people from falling into deep poverty were other important issues. The Waterloo Region social audit also heard from aboriginal people who spoke of the unique circumstances they face. Likewise, newcomers to Canada expressed some specific needs unique to them.

A common thread throughout the hearings was the desire for an income security system and people working in that system to maintain the human dignity of people in need.

We have created the Waterloo Region Social Audit Report for three reasons. First, the local report includes information that was not reflected in the broader provincial report, Persistent Poverty. For instance, Waterloo Region was the one community with substantial input from Aboriginal agencies and individuals. Second, the report provides valuable input to the Social Assistance Review Commission, led by Frances Lankin and Munir Sheikh. A copy of the report has been sent to the Commissioners. Third, as Waterloo Region develops a local, comprehensive approach to poverty over the next four years, the experience and ideas of those who participated in the social audit offer important insight.

On behalf of the social audit convening committee, I want to thank everyone who participated in the Waterloo Region social audit – those who told their story, the rapporteurs, recorders and site hosts. We hope you will find the information in this report useful in helping to build a poverty free Waterloo Region and a poverty free Ontario.

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