Yesterday, the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights released a report urging Canada to address growing income inequality and discriminatory policies that leave at least 4.6 million Canadians living in poverty and many more vulnerable Canadians struggling to get by.
ISAC made a submission to the committee that highlighted several important failings of Canada’s income security programs, many of which are administered by the provinces and territories.
The Committee made a number of recommendations, which were raised in our submission, that Canada should act on immediately:
- Increase social assistance benefits in all provinces to levels that allow a decent living for beneficiaries and their families so as to ensure an effective income safety net
The Committee expressed concern about the inadequacy of social assistance benefits in all Canadian jurisdictions and for all family types. It also expressed concern that there is no accountability mechanism in the way that the federal government provides funds to the provinces and territories for social assistance.
ISAC has long called for Ontario to increase social assistance rates and other income benefits to ensure that people who rely on Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program can live with health and dignity. ISAC supports instituting more stringent standards in the Canada Social Transfer to ensure all provinces and territories provide adequate social assistance benefits to all Canadians.
- Repeal amendments to the Canada Social Transfer that discriminate against refugee claimants
The Committee expressed concern about recent changes to the Canada Social Transfer that allow the provinces and territories to restrict access to social assistance for refugee claimants and those without permanent status in Canada.
ISAC strongly supports the Committee’s recommendation that Canada move to repeal this change, to ensure that provinces cannot impose residency requirements that prevent some of Canada’s most vulnerable populations from accessing social assistance. In order to meet its international human rights obligations, Canada’s income security programs must be equitable and non-discriminatory.
- Do not allow child benefit clawbacks from social assistance recipients
The Committee echoed its concern from its last review of Canada’s record that the federal government’s agreements with the provinces and territories still allow for child benefits to be clawed back from social assistance benefits. The Committee recommended that the federal government prevent provinces and territories from deducting child benefits from social assistance benefits.
As the federal government moves to create the new Canada Child Benefit, new agreements with the provinces and territories should not allow any deductions from social assistance benefits. ISAC is seeking commitments from the federal and Ontario governments to this effect.
- Revise the eligibility threshold for accessing Employment Insurance so that all workers can access adequate employment insurance benefits without discrimination
The Committee raised the concern that many unemployed workers cannot access Employment Insurance benefits due to changes in eligibility requirements and due to specific exclusion of certain classes of workers, like temporary foreign workers. They also expressed concern about the insufficient levels of benefits that workers can access.
ISAC supports the Committee’s recommendation and calls on the government to move quickly on EI reform to ensure workers are better protected and to meet its international human rights obligations.
Other Key Recommendations:
Among its other recommendations, the Committee also recommended that Canada should take the following actions with respect to income security:
- Increase national spending and adopt and implement an adequate and socially equitable tax policy to ensure that everyone in Canada, including Indigenous, racialized, and vulnerable groups, are guaranteed full enjoyment of their economic, social and cultural rights
- Collaborate with provinces, territories, and Indigenous peoples and consult with civil society organizations to implement a human-rights based national anti-poverty strategy that includes measureable goals and timelines as well as independent monitoring mechanisms
- Develop a national gender equality policy, in collaboration with provinces, territories, and civil society groups, in part to address issues of equal pay and access to childcare, and to ensure women with disabilities have increased access to social assistance and employment opportunities
- Protect survivors of violence by ensuring there is adequate shelter and social assistance
- Increase the minimum wage and ensure regular adjustments to match the cost of living
- Ensure that people in Canada who believe Canada has violated their economic, social or cultural rights can get an effective remedy in Canadian courts.
ISAC calls upon the new federal government to guarantee the right for all Canadians to have adequate accessible income free of discrimination.
The Committee also made a number of recommendations around the right to housing.
- See the press release from the Right to Housing Campaign here: https://righttohousing.wordpress.com/2016/03/07/new-un-report-slams-canada-for-persistent-housing-homelessness-crisis/.
Other reactions to the Committee’s report are:
- Colour of Poverty – Colour of Change and Coalition members: http://www.marketwired.com/press-release/-2103558.htm
- Canada Without Poverty: http://www.cwp-csp.ca/2016/03/canada-failing-on-economic-and-social-rights-un-reports/
- Amnesty International: https://www.amnesty.ca/news/canada-must-implement-un-recommendations-end-violations-economic-social-and-cultural-rights
The UN Committee’s Concluding Observations report can be accessed at the following link (click on the PDF link):