Don’t forget the poor and hungry
TheStar.com – opinion/editorials – Food bank use rises in Ontario, creating an important reminder to the Ontario government that social justice issues need attention too.
Nov 06 2013.
As the Liberal government prepares to release its fall economic statement, it’s worth noting that some Ontarians are living within the ruthless trap of poverty. It’s a sad existence.
Indeed, Ontarians on social assistance are increasingly relying upon food banks to survive. A new national study on hunger by Food Banks Canadashows that reliance on free food increased by nearly 20 per cent in the five years between March 2008 and March 2013.
While the number of adults and children who visited Ontario food banks dropped slightly last year, they remain deeply worrisome. According to the study, more than 375,000 Ontarians used food banks in a 12 month-period ending last spring. Some 35 per cent are children. However Dickensian it sounds, many would suffer from serious hunger if it weren’t for food banks.
In a week when Ontario Finance Minister Charles Sousa is preparing to lay out his plans for economic growth, it’s worth remembering that many have such diminished lives that they may never benefit from his proposals. It’s unlikely that tax credits that supposedly entice corporations spend their hoarded cash will trickle down that far.
Along with Premier Kathleen Wynne, Sousa must make the poor a priority — especially when Ontario emerges from its economic doldrums. The fact that so many go hungry every day is a cause for serious concern. Children who grow up without proper nutrition struggle to thrive academically, socially and physically.
Despite some incremental improvements by Wynne, social assistance payments are falling behind, creating an unhealthy and stressed underclass. That’s a tragic loss of human potential.
In order to change this alarming trend, Sousa and Wynne must remember the needs of all Ontarians. They must take steps to help people move forward, become healthier so that one day they too can find jobs.
Improvements to the Ontario Child Benefit, paid to low-income families, would be a good start. It’s true that that the government did add an additional $110 in 2013 and has promised another $100 next summer. But those increases were originally supposed to come sooner, so the annual payments (currently $1,210) are already behind. The benefits should be increased by $100 every year as well as adjusted regularly to stay in line with inflation.
As Anita Khanna, of child poverty group Campaign 2000 says, “If the payments weren’t constantly eroding we might see less children at food banks.” That’s a statement worth noting.
Perhaps nothing is worse than the welfare payments for single adults. They live on little more than $600 a month. Considering that the cost of the average rental unit is easily around $1,000 a month, these people are likely living in cheap rooming houses, with little money left after rent. No wonder food banks are so busy.
Another important issue that needs attention is the delayed minimum-wage increase. Stuck at $10.25 since 2010, the government is clearly reneging on its promise for ongoing improvements. Activists want an immediate boost to $14 an hour, but even incremental increases would be a good start.
Wynne has said that she wants to be recognized as the “jobs premier.” It’s a welcomed ambition. But she must not forget her earlier promise to create a fairer society, as Ontario’s “social justice premier.” The pressures on her government may have increased, but that’s no reason to forget the poor.
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