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Five ideas Maytree would like to see in Ontario’s next Poverty Reduction Strategy

Published on 29/01/2020

Ontario is consulting the public on a Poverty Reduction Strategy (PRS) that will, ideally, set us on a meaningful five-year course of action.

While we don’t know the government’s own ideas for its poverty reduction efforts, we do know that we need to address poverty in our province – urgently. We can’t miss this opportunity to table some important ideas that can reduce poverty and prioritize the dignity of people living in poverty.

Here are five ideas that we would like to see in Ontario’s next PRS.

1. Make dignity, opportunity, and equity the guiding principles of the province’s poverty reduction efforts

Any good public policy initiative should be grounded in a set of guiding principles—a clear articulation of the underlying ethos guiding the government’s decision-making on policy.

We believe that the government’s next PRS should be rooted in the principles of dignity, opportunity, and equity.

Dignity, so that people living in poverty are at the centre of the government’s poverty reduction efforts, and are afforded the basics of what is needed to live a healthy, safe, and secure life.

Opportunity, so that everyone living in poverty, regardless of where they live or the economic status of their family, has the equal opportunity to thrive in Ontario.

Equity, so that the strategy is not one-size-fits-all, but rather creates action to address the different and intersecting structural barriers that people face.

2. Ensure active inclusion of people and communities with living/lived experience of poverty in the consultation and policy development process

To follow through on the principle of dignity, the government must actively include people and communities with living/lived experience of poverty in the consultation and policy development process.

Too often, governments develop public policies without prioritizing the perspectives of people who are most impacted by those very policies. This further disenfranchises those already distant from the policy development process, and creates circumstances in which—despite the best of intentions—the implementation of policy is more harmful than helpful.

If the government wants to be successful in its commitment to “lift Ontarians out of poverty,” it must go beyond simply asking people for their stories or experiences with poverty. It must also actively include people in its policy development processes and in meaningful discussions about solutions.

3. Focus on working-age single adults in all poverty reduction efforts

Over the past three decades, the rates of poverty among seniors, sole-support parents, and children have fallen significantly, in no small part because we have made concerted public policy efforts to address these groups.

However, similar success has not been seen among working-age single adults. Amongst working-age singles (that is, people not living in households where they are related to someone), almost 30 per cent live in poverty. This is where we need to turn our attention.

Ontario needs a focused approach to addressing the persistence of working-age singles poverty, in the same way that it has focused on seniors, single parents, and children. And it can begin by adapting existing policy measures.

For example, the government’s Low-Income Individuals and Families Tax Credit (LIFT) is a great first step in providing support to minimum wage earners, especially working-age adults, as there are few other tax supports available to them. To help address the needs of working-age singles living in poverty, the Ontario government should consider further enhancing the LIFT so that all working-age singles living in poverty can benefit from it.

As Ontario implements policies to address poverty among working-age singles, it will also need targets to keep it on track.

4. Commit to investing in social assistance

Ontario’s social assistance system is in desperate need of reform. The conceptualization and implementation of social assistance income support and service delivery are antiquated, and reflective of a labour market and economy that do not exist today.

Instead of pursuing deep cuts to the social assistance budget, the government should support people receiving social assistance by increasing the rates available on the program. The maximum Ontario Works rate for a single adult is not enough to pay rent in most communities across Ontario, let alone to subsist. Without meaningfully addressing the inadequacies of the rates available on social assistance, the government’s efforts to reduce poverty in Ontario will be ineffective.

5. Support workers who are precariously employed

The government must develop policies that are grounded in the realities of today’s labour market and our fraying social fabric, not in rhetoric from decades past. That means addressing the concerns of low-income workers in today’s economy.

For example, the government could borrow  lessons learned from the Ontario Child Benefit, and separate out some benefits available in social assistance, like health benefits, so that they are available not only to social assistance recipients but to the broader low-income population. A new low-income health benefit would provide some of the workplace benefits that are less common in non-standard or precarious work, and so respond directly to the changes in the labour market. This would not only help people who are precariously employed, but also help those receiving social assistance gain a foothold in the labour market.

Ontario’s new PRS  is an opportunity for the government to articulate the principles that guide its poverty reduction efforts, ensure that people and their experiences are at the centre of policy development, and modernize many of its existing approaches to better respond to the realities of today’s labour market and economy.

A provincial poverty reduction strategy will undoubtedly be wide-ranging and complex. In such a complex task, it can be easy to lose sight of the principles and priorities that will guide us towards effective action.

But for nearly two million people in Ontario, the experience of poverty is an everyday reality. We can’t afford to lose sight of that.

Learn more about the consultation:

Summary

With the Ontario government's public consultations on a new Poverty Reduction Strategy (PRS), non-profits have an opportunity to shape a meaningful five-year course of action to address poverty. Here are five ideas we'd like to see in the new PRS.

Topic(s)

Evidence-based policy, Poverty