In 2008, the Ontario government committed to reduce child poverty by 25 percent in 5 years. 2013 marks the final year in the province’s first Poverty Reduction Strategy, and a new report by the 25 in 5 Network for Poverty Reduction shows that we have a long way to go to meet our target.
25 in 5, a multi-sectoral network of which the Wellesley Institute was a founding member, shows that child poverty fell by 6.6 percent between 2008 and 2010, owing to an increase in the Ontario Child Benefit and increases in the minimum wage. However, progress has stalled in the last two years. The minimum wage has been frozen since 2010, social assistance rates have not kept up with the cost of living, and essential supports and benefits have been eroded.
But the report shows that there are still opportunities for progress. Early investments helped to reduce child poverty even while the recession hit and we were dealing with high unemployment and slow economic growth. 25 in 5 sets out key investments that we need to make now to ensure that we meet our target, including:
1) Fully implement the Ontario Child Benefit in 2013.
The Province originally committed to raise the maximum benefit to $1,310 by July 2013 but delayed this commitment in its 2012 budget. Increasing the OCB was critical to the early success of the Ontario Poverty Reduction Strategy. Reverting to the original scheduled increase is essential to build on this progress.
2) $100 increase for single adults on Ontario Works.
The Commission for the Review of Social Assistance in Ontario recently recommended that Ontario Works rates for single adults, who currently receive only $599 per month, be increased by $100. But this should not be paid for by cutting the Special Diet Allowance, as suggested by the Commissioners, as this will result in worse health for people who need support to meet their health-related dietary needs.
3) Restore the Community Start-Up and Maintenance Benefit
In the 2012 budget, the Province announced that it was eliminating the Community Start-Up and Maintenance Benefit (CSUMB) as of January 1, 2013. The CSUMB is designed to assist people receiving social assistance who have large or unexpected housing-related costs. As of January 1, 2013, the CSUMB will end and 50 percent of its funding will be passed to municipalities as part of a consolidation of housing programs.
The Wellesley Institute partnered with a range of housing, income security, and health organizations to consider the health impacts of this decision. We found that cutting the CSUMB will adversely affect the health of women and children fleeing domestic violence, people trying to move from homeless shelters into housing, people trying to leave substandard housing, and people with disabilities.
4) Updating Ontario’s minimum wage
Ontario’s minimum wage has been frozen at $10.25 an hour since February 2010. This is not enough to ensure that having paid work is a pathway out of poverty and poor health. 25 in 5 is calling on the government to increase the minimum wage to reach 10 percent above the poverty line by 2015 and to be adjusted annually to account for increases in the cost of living.
The Province is required to develop a new Poverty Reduction Strategy to take effect in 2014. This is a critical moment to build on the current strategy’s early successes and to reflect on the decisions that caused progress to stall over the last two years. The Poverty Reduction Strategy has shown that poverty and inequality are not inevitable and can be reduced by making the right investments.