“A Tale of Two Reports” [Poverty in Ontario]

isarc.ca – What’s New
March 12, 2012

Ontario’s Interfaith Social Assistance Reform Coalition has been watching for some 25 years as poverty in Ontario has become ever more entrenched. The stain of inequality has spread in our province just as we have created the richest society we have ever known. And for too many years now, ISARC has been insisting that there are limits to charity; that faith communities can only do so much philanthropy in food banks and shelters. Ontario and Canada need a holistic, cross-government approach to addressing poverty and social inequality. Such a new approach would focus on poverty and inequality as both ethical and financial challenges.

That is why we were somewhat heartened by our first glance at the recent Drummond Report’s emphasis on planning and integrating the way government manages the public treasury. Much of this Commission on the Reform of Ontario’s Public Services concentrates on long-term thinking and value for money. The Commission comes across with clanging alarm bells. ISARC agrees with all of this. But the Commission’s approach falls flat. It diagnoses central challenges in health – “the ideal health system would emphasize the prevention of poor health.”[1] It recognizes the need for “evidence-based policy.”

The Commission’s prescription proceeds to emphasize technical approaches that may be necessary in some cases but are far from sufficient: family health teams, expanded roles for nurses, efficiency. The list is long and familiar.  But equally familiar is massive evidence in the field of social epidemiology that shows clearly that the prevention of poor health is best achieved by addressing poverty as a root cause of illness.[2]  Having nurses administer more drugs, certainly a worthy goal will do little to address the epidemic levels of diabetes, obesity and cardio-vascular disease that disproportionately afflict low-income populations, thereby driving up health care costs. It is only bypreventing poverty that Ontario can get at crucially important factors driving up health care costs.

In February, a second report was released by the Commission on the Review of Social Assistance in Ontario, who had the daunting task of summarizing the issues of the current income support systems and presenting a range of options for policy reforms within a political climate that is increasingly focused on austerity over human dignity.  Many of the statements, ideas and opinions in the second Discussion Paper show the Commission heard the voices of people consulted on the first Discussion Paper.

The paper acknowledges that the stigma of living on low-income is reinforced at many places in the social assistance system.  It recognizes the policies that plummet people into deep poverty by depleting their assets, thereby reducing people’s financial resilience, making it hard to get back on their feet, and undermining their future financial stability.  The paper agrees that adequacy and poverty reduction are important principles in how to determine rates, recognizing the need to move away from a culture of surveillance that assumes people on social assistance abuse the system.  It identifies that employment services have to be significantly improved and are currently failing to meet people’s needs; but also notes that employment is “a” route out of poverty, acknowledging that there are currently many barriers for people in the system to find work despite high motivation.

At the same time, ISARC is disappointed in the lack of a message for urgent action to our political representatives, policy makers, and the general public to immediately address the reality of deep poverty for many Ontarians living on low-income.  Too many adults and children in Ontario continue to experience monthly cycles of chronic hunger and hardship that must be addressed now and cannot wait grand plans for reform in the distant future.  With manufacturing plants closing and more employment becoming part time, contract, and temporary; urgency for reform increases.

We urge members of Ontario’s faith sector to download:

ISARC’s response to the Commission on the Review of Social Assistance and use the document as a resource to write a response from your faith community or faith-based organization and submit it to the Commission by the deadline of March 16, 2012.

ISARC’s Prebudget Submission to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario addressing concerns with the recent Drummond report and its implications on public policies and recommendations for funding cuts to community programs and services. Use the Letter and the Prebudget Submission Backgrounder as a resource for your faith community to submit its own response to the Ontario government to inform the 2012 budget.

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Faith Community Response to the Release of Ontario’s 2012 Budget
Thursday, 29 March 2012.   Queen’s Park

We, faith leaders gathered at Queen’s Park, assert that it is fundamentally unjust to balance the provincial budget on the backs of our most vulnerable neighbours.

Two days after the tabling of the 2012 Provincial Budget, religious leaders from across Ontario met at Queen’s Park for the Interfaith Social Assistance Reform Coalition’s Religious Leaders Forum. The focus of the forum was Health and Poverty.

Dr. Rosanna Pellizzari, Peterborough’s Medical Officer of Health, insisted on the need to prevent and reduce poverty in order to achieve better health, and emphasized that poverty and inequality hurt all of us, not just the poor.

Budget 2012 proposes to freeze social assistance rates and postpone the full implementation of the Ontario Child Benefit. This will increase poverty and inequality in Ontario.

In his opening theological reflection, Rafael Vallejo, Presbyterian Lay Minister challenged religious leaders, legislators and all Ontarians to ask “Who pays for austerity? Who says there is no choice?”

Ontario does have choices about how to balance the budget.

Poverty does not just happen. There are things that we do in society that create poverty and inequality. And there are things we can do to reduce poverty and inequality.

Therefore, to respect the letter and the spirit of Ontario’s landmark poverty reduction act, passed with unanimous support from all parties in the legislature, we call for these changes to the 2012 Ontario Budget:

– raise social assistance rates to at least cover the rise in the cost of living,

– immediately implement the full Ontario Child Benefit;

– do not make structural changes to social assistance programs before hearing the recommendations from the Social Assistance Review Commissioners.

We support the call of Doctors and Lawyers for Tax Fairness to increase taxes for high-income individuals and corporations. Because taxes are the price we pay for living in a civilized society and being neighbour to each other.

As ISARC has so often insisted in the past, we live in a rich society. We certainly have the resources to end poverty in Ontario. We simply require the will to do so. We will all be richer for it.

 

For more information contact: Rev. Susan Eagle, ISARC Chair, Phone: 705-817-3402

< http://qtconnect.ca/connect/admin/temp/newsletters/1807/ISARC%20-%20RLF%202012%20-%20BUDGET%20REPSPONSE.pdf >

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