Guelph Wellington Coalition for Social Justice

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					                   Poverty in Ontario – Our Response

             Guelph Wellington Coalition for Social Justice

Members :

Peter Cameron
Central Students Association, University of Guelph
ETFO – Upper Grand
Guelph-Wellington Health Coalition
Council of Canadians – Guelph Chapter
Guelph and District Labour Council
Ignatius Jesuit Centre
OECTA – Wellington
OPIRG - Guelph
OSSTF – District 18
RTO – District 31
George Kelly, Chair of Guelph-Wellington Coalition for Social Justice

Mission Statement :

The Guelph-Wellington Coalition for Social Justice, a member of the
Ontario Coalition for Social Justice, is a community coalition of individuals
and organizations dedicated to progressive social change and the well-being
of our community. By networking, sharing information and resources, co-
operating in research, education, and advocacy work, we hope to create and
maintain a unified voice for social justice. We promote and engage in a
variety of local, provincial, and national campaigns.

For information , call George Kelly – 519-824-1885

              Guelph Wellington Coalition for Social Justice

                  “Poverty in Ontario – Our Response”

As a Community Coalition, and as a member of the Ontario Coalition for
Social Justice, we are comprised of community groups and individuals
dedicated to progressive social change in this community of Guelph and in
Ontario. We hope to create and maintain a unified voice for social justice,
especially for those most impoverished and marginalized.

One of the premises which we consider in our deliberations is that all
citizens are equal in dignity as humans. To promote the values of human
dignity and equality requires us to look carefully into our society – its values
and attitudes. When we find evidence that people’s basic needs for
nutritious food, clothing, shelter, health care and education are not being
met, we must get involved in addressing the reasons for these situations and
help to alleviate the problems.

An example of an issue needing serious attention is too many people with
insufficient income. Despite economic growth, poverty is not decreasing.

    15, 330 of people in Cambridge in poverty
    the income gap between rich/poor is increasing in Guelph and
    1 in 8 children live in poverty
    poverty rate is stuck at 15-17% in Guelph and Cambridge
    having a job does not guarantee living out of poverty

What is the result of this situation?

    increased demand for social assistance
    most community services under stress
    poorer health – income is a strong indicator of health and causes huge
     strain on health care spending
    people cannot afford sufficient, nutritious food
    use of local food banks has increased over the last number of years

      in Guelph, the Food Bank has seen an increase in their services every
      year. In 2007, the total number of individual persons receiving
      groceries was 13,334
      7,342 of these were adults
      5,992 of these were children

      In 2007, 5,992 hampers were given out to local families.
      10.43% had no income
      33.20% were receiving Ontario Works Assistance
      22.36% were on Canada Pension
      6.64% were receiving disability
      5.72% were on Employment Insurance
      15.73% were working
      5.93% had other sources of income through spousal support, company
      (Source: Guelph Food Bank)

    people cannot afford sufficient , affordable housing
    there are long waits for subsidized housing units in Guelph
    more people seeking emergency shelter and staying longer

Reducing Poverty is Achievable

We need only look at the United Kingdom, Ireland, Quebec, Newfoundland
and Labrador to see that leadership has been taken in developing poverty
reduction strategies which are being met with success.
(Reference for above material : United Way Guelph and Wellington
Community Services and Social Planning Council of Cambridge and North
Dumfries 2008 Presentation at the Ontario pre-budget hearings)

We acknowledge and appreciate that the McGuinty government seems
committed to reducing poverty in Ontario. We welcome the fact that
Premier McGuinty has agreed to produce a detailed poverty-reduction plan
by year-end. Measurable goals and fixed deadlines are the best assurance of

We also give credit to the Liberal Government for the positive measures in
the recent budget - $100 million to repair social housing, $135 million to
provide dental care to low-income children, $32 million for school nutrition

programs and a cost of living increase in social assistance payments next

A closer look at the links and connections between poverty and
homelessness, social assistance, low income, and physical and mental
disabilities could be helpful for understanding this issue more fully.


    1 in 5 Guelph households is at risk of homelessness. (the definition of
     which is any household paying 30% or more of their monthly income
     on housing).
    There are approximately 80% more applications for affordable
     housing in Guelph and Wellington County than there are available
     units. (The County of Wellington has recently changed its policy on
     priority housing status. We need to monitor how this change will
     impact access to affordable housing).

Social Assistance:

People relying on social assistance are finding it increasingly difficult to
afford decent housing, as the real value of welfare has decreased
dramatically since the 1990’s and rents continue to rise. A single parent with
one child is entitled to $14,251 in total welfare income for the year, while
the annual average cost of a two bedroom apartment in Guelph is $9,960.00
leaving only $4,291.00 – less than $360.00 per month – to cover utilities,
food, and all other household needs. (2005 stats)

Low Income :

    A single, employable person on social assistance in Guelph receives
      an income equivalent to 45% of the Low Income Cut-Off poverty line.
      In Wellington County, the equivalent number is 58%.
    A person working full-year, full-time at the minimum wage rate
      would be living under the poverty line in Guelph.
    Social assistance has declined in value by 35% over the last decade.
(Source for above material : Guelph Information on Poverty and

According to a front page story in The Mercury, January 22 /08, Guelph’s
homeless are still out in the cold. Local poverty advocate, Ed Pickersgill,
states : “ Without an out-of-the-cold program in Guelph to address the need
for programs in place to help homeless people, once the mercury drops to
critical levels, people’s lives will be at risk. Ad hoc, band-aid solutions are
not adequate for people needing suitable shelter.”

Shelter funding from the city and the county for homeless people is still only
short-term relief. Emergency Relief is a charity response. It fits the donor-
recipient model for aid. It can never address the root causes of homelessness.
While again, we appreciate the fact that the minimum wage has been
increased to $8.75 an hour, we believe that long term affordable housing and
raising the minimum wage now to $10.00 an hour are structural changes
needed by and for the poor. The provincial government of Ontario must take
responsibility for making these changes. There is proof that delaying the
increase will cost the poorest people in Ontario a great deal. They will lose
$2.00 hourly or $80.00 weekly for a total of $4,160.00 in 2007. And up to
$12,480.00 will be lost if there are no incremental increases over three years
(2008, 2009, 2010) or $8,320.00 if the Liberals keep to their projections.
That’s money that working people could have spent on food, housing, and
other essentials.

It is worth noting that an increase in the minimum wage would be spent in
the community which does good for Ontario’s economy.

Raising the minimum wage NOW would be a good investment in the People
of Ontario and their communities. It’s an idea whose time has come – today,
not tomorrow. (Source : David Langille, former Director of the Centre for
Social Justice – Toronto). Direct quote or paraphrase?

People with Physical or Mental Disabilities

To be considered medically disabled in Ontario, it is necessary to be deemed
so by one’s own Doctor, who gives information that is reviewed by another
highly trained medical professional in the employ of the Province. In order
to qualify for the Ontario Disability Support Program (O.D.S.P.), one must
meet very stringent medical criteria and have virtually no measurable assets
of any kind. If a person receives assets through an inheritance or large gift
from another source, the person’s benefits stop or are denied until this gift is

    Persons with disabilities in Ontario currently receive about $980.00
     per month or approximately $11,600.00 annually. Also included is a
     very basic dental care, listed prescription medications (not dispensing
     fees) and a small contribution to eyewear)
    A portion of this amount (currently $444.00) is allocated for rent and
     may be paid out by Ontario directly into the bank account of the
    There is a barely sufficient one-time allowance made for first and last
     month’s rent or damage deposit, frequently a requirement for
     acceptance of a tenant. This is not repeatable, even if the
     accommodation is sub-standard.
    Limited part time employment is allowed and must be reported. The
     allowable employment income level is discouragingly low.
    In Ontario and Canada today at least 40% of our homeless are

(Source : Mark Muller : “Meeting the Modern Day ‘Means Test’.)

The 25 in 5 Network for Poverty Reduction

A day long forum was held in Toronto on Jan. 28/08, attended by 250 people
from across the province. The sponsor of this forum – the 25 in 5 Network
for Poverty Reduction – wants to see poverty cut in Ontario by 25% in 5
years. This group, also, wants to ensure low-income people and those who
help them are at the “table” for input when Ontario Minister of Children and
Youth Services ,MPP Deb Matthews , and her cabinet committee on poverty
reduction begins to flesh out the McGuinty government’s promise to put a
plan in place with goals and timetables within one year. A Poverty Plan is
crucial, according to activists at this forum. (Toronto Star, Jan 29/08)
Another follow-up forum hosted by the 25 in 5 Network was held on April
14th. The second forum was important because the network presented its
principles and intended actions for the Government consultation on poverty
reduction, and Deb Matthews attended , heard the recommendations, and
complimented the large participation at the forum that day. The group says
such a goal would lift 400,000 Ontarians out of poverty within 5 years. We
support their plan. They also want a higher minimum wage, more affordable
housing, better income support for those outside the workforce and input
into how the government will define poverty. Another opinion at this

Toronto forum was put forth by economist Armine Yalnizyan of the
Community Social Planning Council of Toronto. According to Armine,
“we should be demanding a minimum wage of $10.00 hourly now and
aiming to get up to 60% of the average industrial wage in five years…That
would bring us up to $11.70 an hour if that was happening today.”

That idea of raising the minimum wage was first recommended in federal
Liberal Senator David Croll’s groundbreaking report : Poverty in Canada
published in 1971.

We, also, want to support Fiona Nelson’s, a Toronto Health Board member,
comments at this forum. She expresses what we believe is essential to reduce
poverty in Ontario significantly in the short term i.e. 5 years. She indicated
that it is essential to advocate for fairer taxes to provide affordable housing,
child care, public transit and other services low-income families rely on. As
well, Marvyn Novick, retired Ryerson University social policy professor,
made an important point for us to consider in addressing poverty reduction
when he stated that the province of Ontario should be prepared to go into
deficit should Ontario slip into recession in order to put money in the
pockets of the poor and fund public infrastructure projects, such as
affordable housing that create jobs.

Our Coalition supports other recommendations of the 25 in 5 network to
reduce poverty provincially – beef up Ontario’s child benefit program,
medical and dental care for all workers, and policies specifically geared to
helping racialized communities, aboriginal people, women, the disabled and
newcomers whose rates of poverty are higher than the norm and have a
higher risk of poverty. Reference : Ireland’s Deprivation Index (see article
Star , Jan. 29/08)

Eradication of Poverty and a Guaranteed Annual Income : A Coalition

Taking a look at a Guaranteed Annual Income for all Canadians :
Who has been/is advocating for this program? What does it mean? Its
benefits… can we afford it?

It is rather surprising that the notion of a guaranteed annual income is being
resurrected again! In an editorial in the Toronto Star, Feb. 14/08, this idea
was put forth with the headline : A Tory Joins Poverty Debate. Thirty-five

years ago, Senator David Croll, a progressive Liberal started a social policy
debate in Canada around the issue of a basic floor income for all Canadian
adults. And in 1985, it was touted again by a royal commission headed by
Donald MacDonald, another Liberal. More recently, the Green party has
embraced the concept. In 2008, Senator Hugh Segal, a Conservative, has
also been urging the study of a guaranteed income as a replacement for the
myriad social and anti-poverty programs in Canada. According to this Feb.
14 editorial in the Toronto Star,1.3 million Canadians fall below Statistics
Canada low-income cut-off line. The positive side of suggesting a
guaranteed income is that Hugh Segal, to his credit, wants to put poverty on
the national agenda as well as in the campaign platforms of all the federal
parties in the next election.

The Senate Committee on social affairs has been asked by Hugh Segal to
look at a guaranteed annual income and how it could work. This committee
is being chaired by Art Eggleton, former Toronto mayor, and his committee
has agreed to consider the idea. It is obvious to us as a Coalition that a new
approach to fighting poverty is needed in Canada. Over the past 30 years, the
percentage of poor Canadians hasn’t changed; it remains fixed at between
10-11 per cent of the population, even though governments spend more than
$130 billion annually on social payments to individuals.

The question posed previously : how would a guaranteed annual income
work? It would replace all existing social programs like Unemployment
Insurance and welfare and be implemented through the income tax system;
with rebates for low-income Canadians, much the same as the existing GST
tax credit.

For the critics who argue that a guaranteed annual income would be far too
expensive and would in effect be paying people not to work as well as the
one-size fits all approach that would overlook the specific needs of the
disabled, seniors, and children, Hugh Segal has this response. He states
clearly that a guaranteed annual income would remove the disincentives to
work in the existing welfare system, which penalizes welfare recipients who
take part-time jobs. His note of compassion is worth quoting : “it would be
a mark of civility and humanity to affirm that we will not tolerate entire
generations with their nose pressed to the window of a society they cannot
afford to join.”

We recognize that as pragmatic realists there will most likely be practical
difficulties involved in implementing a guaranteed annual income but it
ought to be part of the debate on poverty in Guelph, Ontario, and Canada!

In an article in The Toronto Star, Feb. 17/08, Reginald Stackhouse, a former
Progressive Conservative Member of Parliament and principal emeritus and
research professor at Wycliffe College, U of T, calls for “an income for all
Canadians”. According to Stackhouse, a guaranteed annual income policy
has not been tried by decision – makers in Canada. He believes that his
proposal can really make poverty history in this country. The flexibility of
his proposal can be looked at from the perspective of the Old Age Security
Pension. Canadians aged 65 and over are entitled to this pension. In
principle, we are already providing a guaranteed annual income to such
Canadians with the age qualification – one segment of our population. This
pension is taxable so that seniors receiving it above a certain income can
find all or part of it “clawed back”. If that works with part of society, what
makes it unworkable with the rest?” he asks. He asks an important question :
“Why do it at all?” His four answers are worth our attention. He and Hugh
Segal seem to agree on this question.

One, people are dehumanized by poverty and applying for assistance (i.e.
welfare) makes people feel inferior to people not in this situation.

Second, based on what is happening now in Canada with a patchwork of
uncoordinated social programs, efficiency can be had by implementing an
annual income for all citizens in a cost-effective way. It can require far less
administration than the multitude of social work driven programs – plus their
professional fundraisers – that we now pay for.

Third, our economy will benefit because the money that people receive will
be spent on goods and services that keep Canadians working. In early
Feb/08, the U.S. Congress broke all legislative speed records to approve a
multi-billion dollar program to revive the economy and avert a recession. Is
this “voo-doo economics?” he asks rhetorically. If Americans can do this
when necessary, then a Canadian basic income policy would do this all year,
every year.

Fourth, in answer to a common perception about such income policy acting
as a disincentive to work, Stackhouse has this to offer : “The basic income
will not be so high that making more will not be an inducement not to take a

job – just as now, middle and upper income seniors prefer paying the “claw
back” to cutting their income so that they get the entire OAS.

Obviously, the present system is not working. Hugh Segal and Reginald
Stackhouse both agree on this. We need to remind ourselves that Canada is
one of the most financially sound places in the world. The irony of this
situation is that we still have enough poor people to populate one of our
largest cities. It is time we, as a society, should start looking for an

We can win the war against poverty. The political will must be generated
soon among citizens of Ontario and Canada. The signs of hope are available
for us to see. Various forms of a guaranteed annual income have already
been adopted in such countries as Australia, New Zealand, Sweden and the
Netherlands. We need to be reminded that our economy generates $1.7
trillion yearly but we still have 1.5 million people living below the poverty
line. This is unacceptable. To make matters worse, more than 700,000
children live in poverty in Canada.

A basic income policy can change that situation for the first time in our
history. It can ensure every Canadian has a decent standard of living –
regardless of age, gender, region or income level. It can mean that we live
up to our commitment to the UN Universal Declaration on Human
Rights…“everyone has a right to a standard of living adequate for the health
and well-being of oneself and one’s family.”

Thoughts on Poverty

On Saturday, April 19, 2008, The Toronto Star, asked dozens of experts :
What does it mean to be poor in Ontario today?

We thought the following 10 opinions best expressed our thoughts on the

    Poverty is a sad cycle of despair; alienation and lost dreams. It is the
      feeling of sheer desperation when there is not enough to pay the rent.
      It is the loneliness that a child feels when he moves with his mother
      from shelter to shelter and the helplessness that mother feels when she
      can’t afford her child’s prescription drugs. In a city of riches, poverty
      is the injustice we all feel when parents have to skip meals in order to
      feed their kids.
   Olivia Chow, Member of Parliament, Trinity Spadina

    Poverty is a human tragedy that robs people of opportunity and hope.
      It’s not simply a statistic, it is a child who goes to school hungry and
      not ready to learn; a student who drops out of university because they
      can’t afford tuition; a parent who can’t afford to plan for the future;
      seniors who can’t retire in simple dignity.
Stephane Dion, Federal Liberal Party Liberal

   Poverty is the single most preventable cause of illness and early death.
      Poverty is not having a voice; lining up at the food bank; needing to
      decide between paying rent, groceries, or winter boots for your
      child…Being unemployed because your front teeth are missing, living
      ashamed for always not having. Poverty is a societal failure, not the
      failure of the poor. Eliminating poverty is a must if we are to
      strengthen social cohesion – it just takes leadership and a solid plan.
Doris Grinspun, Executive Director, Registered Nurses’ Association of

   Poverty has many faces. It’s the family forced to live in sub-standard
    housing. It’s the single parent unable to afford winter coats and boots
    for her kids. It’s the young child who goes to school hungry. It’s the
    hard-working Ontarians forced to work for an inadequate minimum
    wage, it’s the seniors struggling to live with dignity. The poor,
    hungry, and invisible – this is the definition of poverty.
Howard Hampton, Ontario NDP Leader

    Poverty , for the many thousands of older women who must live on
      government pensions ($13,000 tops) means constant anxiety about
      meeting the rent, short shrift on nutritious meals and living in isolation
      when they can’t afford bus fare. They do without the small pleasures
      that make life worth living – buying a magazine, going to a movie,
      meeting a friend for a modest restaurant meal, brightening a day with
      a hobby; these are all beyond their means. This is the impoverished
      life we supply many of Ontario’s older women. And Ontarians in mid-
      life can look ahead with dread to spending one third of their life in
      similar poverty.
Margaret Hawthorn, Retired Librarian, Older Women’s Network (Ont.)
board member

    Poverty is a health threat as the single largest determinant of health is
      living in poverty. Poverty is a violation of one’s human rights to
      decent shelter, food, clothing and equal access to opportunities in a
      democracy. Poverty represents a failure of human society, a
      breakdown of civilization. Poverty is not inevitable. Ending it is
      possible. We should define poverty as “extinct” but first we have to
      take the steps to make it so.
Elizabeth May, Federal Green Party Leader

   Poverty is often defined as the state of being poor, not having enough
      money to take care of basic necessities like food and shelter – but it is
      much more. Poverty not only deprives an individual of the most basic
      needs but robs them of their spirit, condemning them to a life of
      diminished opportunities, and is a disease that infects society. We
      have a moral obligation as citizens of the world to eradicate poverty.
Hazel McCallion, Mayor of Mississauga

    No single definition or simple measure of poverty captures the
     deprivation and desperation experienced by too many Ontarians.
     Poverty means not having enough income, and not having access to
     the social, economic, educational, and cultural opportunities that
     transform people’s lives. By excluding so many, poverty limits our
     collective potential as a province. What Ontario needs now is a
     poverty reduction strategy that focuses on both income and inclusion.
Joe Mihevc, Toronto Councillor

   Poverty means going without what most take for granted – food on
     one’s plate, a secure home, decent clothes, a night out. Being poor
     means constantly worrying about money. But perhaps most tragic is
     the fact that many low-income people believe that poverty is their
     fault, perhaps because so few of our leaders acknowledge the real
     causes of poverty – low-paying jobs, insufficient income supports,
     and inadequate access to housing, education, and childcare.
Michael Polanyi, Co-Ordinator, Canadian Social Development Program,
KAIROS : Canadian Ecumenical Justice Iniatives.

   Ontario poverty is about the anger of not having enough to pay for
     rent, the grocer, heat, electricity, food on the table, clothes or transport
     to work, even if one is holding one or two jobs; it is about children
     who lie about leaving lunch at home, when there was no lunch to
     begin with; it is about being outside the mainstream, on a farm, on a
     reservation, in a north-end tenement, with your nose pressed against
     the window of a community you cannot afford to join.
Hugh Segal, Senator

    You can spot a poor person by looking at their health record: The
       burden of poverty is measured in increased illness and early death
       caused by a toxic mix of insecure housing, inadequate income, poor
       food, social and economic exclusion, and other inequities. Under
       international law, everyone has the right to an adequate standard of
       living but governments have failed in their responsibility to tackle the
       root causes of poverty.
Michael Shapcott, Director of Community Engagement, The Wellesley

    Poverty goes beyond seeing people not having their basic needs met
      for food, clean water, clothing or shelter, a concept very hard to
      comprehend in a country as rich as Canada. What I find more painful
      is the humiliation heaped on the poor by individuals who haven’t a
      clue about their circumstances, or worse, by those placed in positions
      of power to help.
Becky Thompson, Grade One Teacher, Toronto