Report flags poverty concerns in Ontario
The Globe and Mail – news – Report flags poverty concerns in Ontario
The Canadian Press
April 2, 2008 at 2:20 PM EDT
TORONTO â€” People on social assistance or working for minimum wage are still living below the poverty line in Ontario, anti-poverty activists said Wednesday as they called on the provincial government to drastically increase the minimum wage and social assistance rates.
Jacquie Maund of Campaign 2000 said their report released Wednesday shows one in eight children live in poverty when their family income is measured after taxes. Ontario may have relatively low unemployment but getting a job doesn’t necessarily mean workers leave poverty behind, she said.
Even with the latest minimum wage increase, bringing the hourly rate to $8.75, Ms. Maund said someone working full-time still falls short of the poverty line by $3,000.
â€œLow wages and poor working conditions mean that many parents are working, but in jobs with insufficient pay, insufficient hours and not enough benefits to lift them out of poverty,â€ said Ms. Maund, adding relying on social assistance is no better.
â€œFor parents who are not able to be in the work force and who are relying on social assistance, that is a guarantee of poverty.â€
Although the Liberal government boosted social assistance rates two per cent in their recent budget, Ms. Maund said social assistance rates were cut so drastically in the 1990s that they are now roughly the same amount they were in 1967.
Children who live on social assistance are some of the poorest in Ontario, she said. Child poverty in Ontario continues to grow and the province must take some aggressive measures to help people, including boosting minimum wage and social assistance rates, Ms. Maund said.
Andrea Duffield, a Toronto single mom of three who has lived on social assistance, said she actually earns less working a minimum-wage job after child-care costs and rent than she did on social assistance. But social assistance cheques don’t cover school trips, birthday presents or Christmas, she added.
â€œIt’s not a pleasant experience,â€ said Ms. Duffield. â€œSocial assistance levels are extremely low. You do not receive enough for even the basic necessities. You have to rely on the food bank and there is not enough for even the proper basic clothing allowance for your children.
â€œIt’s difficult to tell your children every day there is no money.â€
The Ontario government has a moral obligation to help lift people out of poverty, she said. It needs to boost the minimum wage, social assistance rates and invest more in subsidized housing and child care, Ms. Duffield said.
â€œNo one plans to be a single mother with low income,â€ she said.
But Premier Dalton McGuinty said the government has made great progress fighting poverty by increasing funding for breakfast programs, investing more in affordable housing and boosting the minimum wage.
The numbers contained in Campaign 2000’s report are from the 2005 census and things have improved since then, he said. But there is always more work to be done, Mr. McGuinty added.
â€œAsk yourselves how long has poverty been around for?â€ Mr. McGuinty said. â€œI think it’s been around for quite a while. We’re not going to get rid of it within a four-year mandate.â€
The Liberals are committed to setting targets for poverty reduction over the next four years and following through, he added.
Critics say the Mr. McGuinty government has done little beyond giving lip service to the issue. Progressive Conservative Leader John Tory said the initiatives so far are just the â€œbare minimum to look like they’re acting.â€
If the Liberals were serious about fighting poverty, Tory said they would be doing more to strengthen the province’s flagging economy. One or two per cent more economic growth would make a huge difference, he said.
â€œThat would create thousands and thousands of jobs and produce hundreds and hundreds of millions in revenue that could be applied to a whole variety of things,â€ he said. â€œThey’re doing none of that.â€
The province should immediately boost the minimum wage to $10.25 an hour, New Democrat Cheri DiNovo said.
â€œThat’s a very good first step,â€ she said. â€œIt would immediately get one million people out from under poverty . . . This is a government that speaks about poverty reduction but does nothing about it.â€