A test of success for Ontario’s second five-year Poverty Reduction Strategy
The provincial government unveiled its second five-year Poverty Reduction Strategy earlier today, called ‘Realizing Our Potential’. ISAC commends government for continuing to focus on reducing and eliminating poverty in Ontario. We cannot have a fair and a just province when 1.5 million Ontarians continue to live with the effects of poverty and inequality every day.
One of the tests for this second Strategy will be how it tackles the poverty experienced by people on social assistance. We have long maintained that Ontario’s social assistance programs – Ontario Works (OW) and the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) – should be pathways to health, dignity, and opportunity. These programs continue to fall short of this goal.
We know that making sure people on OW and ODSP can afford to pay the rent and give their kids nutritious food will have direct benefits – not only on poverty rates, but also on health and educational attainment, labour market participation, and overall well-being, as well as on the strength of local economies. We’re therefore pleased to see that government has committed to taking an evidence-based approach to poverty reduction policy, and hope this includes tying the incomes people receive while on social assistance to the actual costs of necessities such as healthy food and appropriate housing. We will continue to advocate for adequate incomes and to work with government to make other positive reforms to OW and ODSP.
Social assistance policies play a role in the ability of people to access and maintain safe and affordable housing. Reforming social assistance and ensuring adequate, stable incomes will therefore also support government’s new commitment to end homelessness in Ontario. We congratulate government for setting this bold target. With the right investments, a clear policy framework, and a timeline for success, ending homelessness in Ontario is clearly achievable. Government’s next task must be putting these pieces in place.
Improving employment-related education and training for people on social assistance will also be critical to the success of the Poverty Reduction Strategy. People receiving social assistance need specialized programs that respond to their unique needs, especially for people with disabilities.
And ensuring that all jobs are good jobs with fair wages must be part of the picture. We cannot be content to let people move from poverty on assistance to poverty in work. And we cannot continue to allow the labour market to exclude a significant number of Ontarians because of the barriers it creates to their participation.
Now that Ontario’s second Poverty Reduction Strategy has been released, we look forward to seeing government’s strategic implementation plan that will lay out how these goals will be achieved.
The government’s Strategy can be accessed here: http://www.ontario.ca/home-and-community/realizing-our-potential-poverty-reduction-strategy-2014-2019.