Report calls for stronger anti-poverty measures

TheStar.com – News/Ontario – Report calls for stronger anti-poverty measures
Published On Wed Dec 02 2009.   Laurie Monsebraaten Social Justice Reporter

A year after Ontario released a landmark plan to fight poverty in the midst of a global economic meltdown, activists are calling for “visionary leadership and unwavering political commitment” from Queen’s Park to ensure everyone reaps the benefits of recovery.

“The most pressing challenge is to not repeat the mistakes of the 1990s . . (when) governments of all levels allowed prosperity to pass right by the poor,” says a report by the 25-in-5 Poverty Reduction Network released Wednesday at Queen’s Park.

“Policies and programs that tackle poverty — like better education, training, and early childhood education — lay the foundation for a smarter, better-equipped workforce that positions Ontario to meet future economic challenges,” it says.

The report, which reviews provincial action in the first year of Ontario’s five-year commitment to cut child poverty by 25 per cent by 2013, praises the government for allocating almost $2 billion in increased child benefits and social housing.

But much more is needed to ensure the province reaches its goal of lifting 90,000 children out of poverty in the next four years, says the network, a coalition of more than 100 groups and individuals that pushed for the anti-poverty plan and is now monitoring provincial progress.

“With an economic recovery that is expected to be slow and an absence of federal commitments to poverty reduction, the province runs a very real risk of falling short of its poverty reduction goal unless bolder action is taken, and soon,” says the report.

Topping the list of the network’s priorities for 2010 is the province’s promised review of Ontario’s social assistance system which activists say condemns people to lives of poverty and hopelessness. As an immediate measure, the network wants an end to rules that force the unemployed to use up all their savings — including RRSPs — before becoming eligible for welfare.

In addition, the network wants the province to make public transit more affordable and to develop anti-poverty plans for vulnerable groups such as women, immigrants, visible minorities and the disabled. It also wants action on the province’s promise of a new dental program for low-income Ontarians and a jobs strategy that includes minimum wages linked to inflation as well as training to help people find work in the new economy.

“This government has talked more and done more about poverty in the past year than any government has done in a decade,” said Pat Capponi, of Voices from the Street, a program that helps the homeless and other low-income people advocate for change.

“Going forward, the government simply has to move on transforming the welfare system,” she said in an interview. “It is such a quagmire. It’s like fly paper once you are into it — you just can’t get out.”

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