The Wellesley Institute has been working alongside countless inviduals and organizations over the past few months to inform budget-related decision-making at Toronto City Hall in our efforts to improve population health. On Wednesday, December 7th, Wellesley Institute CEO, Rick Blickstead, will be delivering a deputation on the 2012 Toronto Budget to the City of Toronto’s Budget Committee.
Read the full submission here.
Budget decisions that result in the elimination of secure jobs, increase unemployment, reduce access to services that Torontonians rely on, and increase social and economic inequality will harm the health of all Torontonians.
But, there are alternatives:
The budget documents released on November 28th show that the city is not facing a fiscal crisis. This means that councillors have options: they can make choices other than the service reductions in the proposed 2012 budget. If councillors use only a part of the 2011 surplus and enact a normal property tax increase, they can balance the budget without service cuts and increases to user fees and still set aside funds for other purposes.
To illustrate what’s at stake, we outline some of the health implications of proposed service cuts in three critical public service delivery areas: public transit, student nutrition, and housing:
Public transit is a cornerstone of a healthy city. Reducing the quality of transit service has a number of critical health impacts, including:
- Increased probability of obesity and related health outcomes, including respiratory ailments, coronary heart disease and diabetes through greater automobile dependency.
- Increased social exclusion through increased isolation.
- Increased stress and reduced well-being for drivers and transit users through increased traffic congestion.
- Increased respiratory problems for children and seniors, and increased heart health problems and premature death for adults through increased air pollution from congestion due to single-passenger traffic.
- Reduction in city’s economic health and lost job creation opportunities through reduced economic competitiveness.
Student nutrition programs benefit kids’ academic performance and help them develop good eating habits that benefit their health far into the future. Children in low-income families, where good nutrition is hard to afford, will be hurt the most by cuts to these programs.
Housing is one of the fundamental social determinants of health. There is already a desperate shortage of affordable housing in Toronto. Some of the health impacts of making cuts to new affordable housing development, reducing the number of bed nights available in shelters, and shutting down three homeless shelters, as proposed in the 2012 budget, are:
- Increased likelihood of infectious diseases, particularly respiratory infections, through increased crowded housing conditions.
- Increased risk of health problems or disability in childhood because of inadequate housing.
- Increased illness and premature death through increase in homeless population.
An evaluation of the health impacts of these cuts illustrates how their implementation will create more problems for the city and its residents than they will solve. In the interest of protecting the health and well-being of Toronto and its residents, councillors must consider the health implications of each proposed service cut when evaluating options to balance the budget.
There are better, healthier options for balancing the 2012 budget. We urge councillors to consider the health impacts of each of the cuts being proposed in the 2012 budget and make choices that will support a city building budget: one that builds a more equitable, more prosperous and healthier city for us all.
Click here for more on the 2012 Toronto budget and the Wellesley Institute’s efforts.