Hot! Equations of poverty

WindsorStar.com – opinion
May 31, 2013.   Kathryn Bell, The Windsor Star

The 2013 Ontario budget provides some assistance to low income citizens in receipt of Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support Program benefits.

The new budget allows for an increase in the amount of assets a recipient can have. Single persons will now be able to have assets up to $2,500, up from $606.

The limit for couples is increasing from $1,043 to $5,000. This is important because it eases the transition from social assistance to work. It also allows families to receive temporary assistance without having to strip themselves of all assets necessary to make a living. The budget also increases the amount of money that OW and ODSP recipients can keep when they work. Starting in the fall of 2013, recipients will be able to keep the first $200 of monthly earnings without reducing the benefits they receive.

This change is helpful because it aids people in making a gradual and productive contribution to the workforce.

We should take pause before celebrating, however. While these changes are certainly welcome, they simply aren’t enough. Poverty in Canada is widespread and growing. In 2012, a record 882,000 Canadians relied on food banks every month; the highest usage of food banks ever in the country.

A staggering 3.1 million households in Canada spend more than 30 per cent of their income on housing; adding to the insecurity they face every day. A 2010 study estimates that between 600,000 and 1.2 million Canadians are homeless. In Windsor-Essex alone, approximately 38,000 people live in poverty. One in six Windsor-Essex children and youth also live in poverty.

The inadequacy of this budget is best illustrated in the changes to benefit rates. Specifically, OW and ODSP rates are to increase by just one per cent starting in the fall, and single people without children on OW will receive an additional $14 per month. These marginal increases are simply not enough to keep up with the rising cost of living, and appear to be more token gesture than true reform.

OW and ODSP benefits have seen many cuts over the past 20 years. When the Liberals were elected in 2003, the benefit rates were extremely low. Even after the increases in this budget, the values of OW and ODSP benefits – when adjusted for inflation – will be less this fall than they were when the Liberals took office 10 years ago.

The budget also did not ad-dress the issues facing the working poor. Rather than increasing the minimum wage to lift workers above the poverty line, the budget proposes the establishment of an advisory committee made up of business people and workers to look at possible changes to the minimum wage.

If the government is serious about addressing poverty in Ontario, small steps will not be enough. Even significant changes to OW and ODSP ignore the fact that many Ontarians in need are unable to qualify for, or continually meet the requirements of, these programs.

We need to see action on issues like affordable housing and the minimum wage. While we can appreciate the small victories, we cannot afford to lose sight of the real reform that our neighbours and families are still waiting for.

Kathryn Bell is a law student who is working at Legal

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