Regardless of place, cuts to community and social services tend to disproportionately impact those who are already the most disadvantaged. For individuals with lower incomes, the combination of rising costs of living and cuts or reductions to programs and services are increasingly difficult to deal with. These programs may be the difference between staying housed or becoming homeless, and, choosing to provide food or a bed for their children. Unfortunately, these difficult decisions are being made by many individuals and families in Ontario, particularly due to the cuts to the Community Start-Up and Maintenance Benefit (CSUMB).
Over the past few years, budget cuts and restrictions have altered the size and scope of many government programs and services. The Young Foundation, a British think tank aimed at making positive changes through social innovation, is undertaking a three- year study to document the impact of national and local changes to benefits and services on some of the most vulnerable residents in Camden, a district of Inner London. The report offers insights into the everyday experiences of some of Camden’s most adversely affected – young people, families on low incomes, and people with disabilities or those with low to moderate needs – and point to the seriousness impact on their quality of life.
Some highlights from the report include:
- The pressure on families was palpable; Parents feared the impact of cuts on their children, leading to increased stress levels and manifesting in fewer work opportunities and reports of domestic violence
- Panic and helplessness; living conditions were poor and people face the possibility of eviction due to financial strain
- Fears of isolation and loneliness; as sources of support shrank, carers and those with special needs became more isolated and vulnerable
Although Britain and Ontario are not under identical circumstances, the report’s findings provide some insights into the real and negative impacts that many Ontarians may be facing due to the cuts to the CSUMB in January 2013. The CSUMB helped people receiving social assistance to pay for large or unexpected housing-related costs, supporting them to become and remain housed.
In our Health Equity Impact Assessment of the real cost of cutting CSUMB, we outlined how the elimination of the CSUMB will have inequitable effects on those who are homeless, have disabilities, receiving social assistance, women, and children. The Wellesley Institute and the Income Security Advocacy Centre have partnered together and are currently tracking the impacts of the loss of the CSUMB across Ontario by asking municipal, community, and other staff working with clients who would have been eligible for the CSUMB to describe their situations.
The Young Foundation’s study on Camden and the Wellesley Institute/Income Security Advocacy Centre’s current tracking of the loss of the CSUMB are valuable attempts to make concrete the impact of budget cuts within our communities. This work offers insights into the lives of some of our most vulnerable residents, illustrates the real impacts of cutting essential public services, and identifies a lever to pull when advocating for policy change. Help us in spreading the word.