Getting together to fight poverty

Posted on April 15, 2008 in Governance Debates, Social Security Debates – comment/editorial – Getting together to fight poverty
April 15, 2008

A disparate coalition of more than 100 individuals and anti-poverty groups has done what many thought was impossible by agreeing on the broad strokes of a poverty reduction strategy for Ontario.

And in a historic gathering at Queen’s Park yesterday, 500 anti-poverty activists, including city councillors, teachers, nurses and representatives of the poor themselves (new immigrants, the disabled and homeless advocates among them) met with Children and Youth Services Minister Deb Matthews to present their plan and describe what it is like to live in poverty in this wealthy province.

Matthews, who is chair of a cabinet committee charged with developing a poverty reduction strategy for Ontario, would not commit to the “25-in-5” coalition’s main goal of reducing poverty by 25 per cent over five years. She did, however, say the government is “very serious” about developing a comprehensive poverty strategy.

The coalition’s plan sets out three broad areas of attack: sustaining employment with a “poverty-proof” minimum wage, updated and enforced employment standards and better training and education; livable incomes that make it easier to get off welfare, as well as expanded federal employment insurance benefits and an enriched federal child benefit; and supportive communities that insure low-income families have access to child care and affordable housing.

These are all welcome ideas, but they require further consultation and debate before a final strategy is put in place.

Matthews maintains she cannot at this point promise a 25-in-5 strategy because there is no consensus on how to measure poverty itself or progress in tackling it. And she insists the federal government must step up to the plate if the problem is to be seriously addressed. Matthews also pointedly reminded the group that the government was elected on a pledge not to raise taxes or go into deficit.

While some worry those are delaying tactics, Matthews is to be commended for meeting with the coalition and for pledging to go out into the community to consult with groups on the issue. She also plans to release a consultation document and unveil a website with links to national and international research on poverty reduction so that all Ontarians can take part in this important debate.

The coalition members know these are just first steps but they have put a plan in place and intend to hold the government to its commitment to tackle this complex problem. For that they deserve praise.

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