October 26, 2012

The Highs and Lows of Ontario's Social Assistance Review

The long awaited review of Ontario’s Social Assistance system was released yesterday and has been received by community members, anti-poverty advocates and social assistance recipients with mixed reviews and feelings.

On the one hand, there are many positive steps that should be taken immediately to improve the lives of people receiving social assistance. 

October 17, 2012

Diary of an Advocacy Associate: A message to Ontario's Party Leaders

Today is the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty.  What better way to celebrate the goal of a poverty free society than to tell our political leaders (whether they are in session or prorogued for an extended period of time) that we are in support of a strategy to eradicate poverty and reduce inequality in Ontario?

That is just what I did today.  In collaboration with the 25 in 5 network, the advocacy team here at MCCO assisted in composing a letter to our political party leaders reminding them of the urgent need for a new and updated poverty reduction strategy to eradicate poverty and reduce inequality in Ontario. 

Some people may say that inequality is simply an inevitable by-product of a growing economy, BUT there is mounting evidence that income inequality may actually hinder economic growth.   More on that at a later date……

For now, here’s a copy of the letter we’ve endorsed via 25 in 5.  If you’re in support, why not make a copy and send it on to your MPP? (you can look up contact information here).  They don’t have nearly as much on their plates as they thought they would this week.  

October 17, 2012

Dear Premier McGuinty, Mr. Hudak, Ms. Horwath,

On this the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, we are writing to you to remind you of the urgent need to develop a new and updated strategy to eradicate poverty in Ontario.

In 2009, each of your parties voted unanimously for the Poverty Reduction Act. The Act requires Ontario’s Government to update and renew the Poverty Reduction Strategy and set new targets for progress at least every 5 years.  Ontario’s first Poverty Reduction Strategy was launched in 2008. 
We are calling on all Ontario political parties to commit to creating a new and updated strategy to eradicate poverty and reduce inequality in our province. The new strategy needs to engage Ontarians across every community to contribute to a plan that not only addresses child poverty, but adult poverty and growing inequality as well.
Serious action to eradicate poverty leads to results. The first strategy, “Breaking the Cycle” focused on children. Early initiatives – like the significant investment in the Ontario Child Benefit  and continued increases in the minimum wage – helped reduce the number of children living in poverty by over 6% between 2008 and 2010. Government policies were beginning to bear fruit.
But we are deeply concerned that current political realities in Ontario have shifted attention away from continued implementation of the current poverty reduction strategy.
The minimum wage has been frozen for two years and planned increases to the OCB have been deferred. Social Assistance incomes have stagnated, with rate adjustments that fall short of the rise in the cost of living. Significant cuts have been made to emergency supports aimed at keeping people on assistance from becoming homeless. 
Poverty among adults has actually increased. By 2010, 54,000 more adults found themselves living in poverty. And inequality continues to rise. More and more people in communities all across Ontario – many for the first time in their lives – are finding themselves without good paying jobs, unable to make the rent, and relying on food banks and emergency shelters to meet their basic needs. Poverty remains racialized, as members of racialized communities continue to face inequities in the labour market; similar inequities are faced by women and people with disabilities. This at a time when the highest income earners in Ontario continue to enjoy the largest income gains of any group.
Growing inequality and poverty affect us all.  Economic instability results in higher health care costs and more reliance on emergency supports. Income inequality erodes social cohesion and ultimately destabilizes entire communities.

A consensus has emerged across all sectors of Ontario society that eradicating poverty and reducing inequality make social and economic sense.

A new and improved poverty reduction strategy would allow all Ontarians a liveable income, promote high quality employment for all Ontario workers, and build strong and supportive communities. And it would work for all Ontarians, whether they are children or adults, low-income workers or people receiving social assistance benefits, so that we all have access to a higher quality of life.
We believe in an inclusive Ontario, where everyone can develop their talents and contribute to thriving communities. We want a province with a vibrant economy that works for everyone and shared prosperity across economic lines.
That’s why we are calling on you and your party to commit to creating a stronger strategy to eradicate poverty and reduce inequality in Ontario.

For the 25 in 5 Network for Poverty Reduction,
Mike Creek
Voices From the Street
Greg deGroot-Maggetti
Mennonite Central Committee – Ontario
Jennefer Laidley
Income Security Advocacy Centre (ISAC)

October 15, 2012

Diary of an Advocacy Associate: Talking to the people who can help get things done!

It sure has been a busy few weeks!  Like most of you, I feel like there is not enough time to get done what needs to get done in a day.  Which is why this post is coming a week and a half late…….(please don’t tell my boss).

After the 25in5 and ISARC meetings that I wrote about in earlier posts, the next kind of exciting thing to happen in my work life was the opportunity to meet with the Deputy Minister (DM) of Child and Youth Services located in Toronto. 

Now, I know what you are thinking…..SNORE! But, you are wrong. 

Opportunities to speak with the people who are in charge of actually implementing and evaluating the poverty reduction strategy (PRS) in Ontario don’t come around every day.

October 4, 2012

Thanksgiving Vigil to Eradidate Poverty

People from faith communities across Ontario gathered for Thanksgiving vigils today. We gave thanks for the abundance we have in Ontario. But we also asked why it is that so many of our neighbours do not share in that abundance.

I attended the vigil in Waterloo Region. Here is a reflection offered by Matt Cooper, the Program Coordinator for the House of Friendship's Emergency Food Hamper Program. (Matt could not actually attend the vigil. He was busy preparing and delivering thanksgiving food hampers. But he sent this reflection to be read the vigil.)

It is challenging to summarize the current situation and the last 9 months of this year.  Many words come to mind.  
The need we have seen so far has been enormous.  Each day we see an average of 140 families and individuals.  Each week and month, the people who ask us for help manage to find a way to survive and put their best face forward with a little help from our volunteers, and other community supports.  At the end of September our volunteers finished sharing the 25,731st food hamper of the year.  This is the most food hampers we have had to share so far at this point of the year in our history as a program.  When we lock up for the night on the 31st of December it is very likely that we will have broken all previous records of food distribution at House of Friendship.
When someone turns to us for help, our volunteers walk a path through our warehouse and assemble the food for them based on their diet, family composition and health concerns.  To walk this path once is approximately 20 meters.  Thanks to the generous donations of the community and the hard work of program partners like the Food Bank of Waterloo Region at each step there is fruit, vegetables, pasta and other staple items. Often questions, special requests and other issues lengthen this journey.  Our goal is to provide short term emergency support to people a few times a year.  This is the most we have resources to do. At the bare minimum, our volunteers in their journey of sharing 25,731 hampers have walked over 500km this year as they circled through our warehouse putting them together.  As a coincidence, that is approximately the distance between Kitchener and Ottawa, our nation’s capital.
While it is comforting to know that there is sufficient generosity to ensure that there is food for the 25,731 hampers we have done and the hampers that the many other organizations in our community like churches, community centre’s and community meal programs have done as well, the demand is greater than the ability to meet it.
If our volunteers and staff did decide to walk to Ottawa or Queens park (which we could have done five times there and back) we could share the story of how poverty has long term consequences for peoples health.  That poverty is often a near constant state of crisis, that hunger is in more neighborhoods that you would think and that building bigger charities or continuing to look for greater quantities of food donations is not a good long term choice.  Investing in people and ensuring they have an adequate income first and foremost is the best path to walk down as a society.