PWO Site Being Archived – Join us at Poverty Free Ontario

The Social Planning Network of Ontario wishes to give notice that this site Poverty Watch Ontario will now be archived and we encourage all regular and new visitors to go to our new web site – Poverty Free Ontario.

Poverty Watch Ontario was set up in 2008 to monitor and report on activity in communities across Ontario to build and express support for policy approaches for input to the Ontario Government’s poverty reduction strategy released in December 2008.

In 2008 and 2009, Poverty Watch Ontario has tracked the growing cross-community momentum on the Put Food in the Budget campaign, growing numbers of people who Do the Math survey (The Stop Community Food Centre’s excellent resource tool) and the food hamper Diet Challenge and has provided other reports and resources to fight poverty in the province.

SPNO is committed to making not just poverty reduction but poverty eradication in Ontario within this decade as an important priority the upcoming provincial election campaign.  The Poverty Free Ontario initiative has been designed and is being rolled out to achieve that goal.

For that reason, the Poverty Free Ontario web site has been set up to keep a focus on the election campaign. It will also track developments with Put Food in the Budget and Do the Math as we move Poverty watch Ontario into archive status for the 2008-2010 period.

We encourage you to continue to follow cross-community activity and policy developments on poverty eradication on this new web site.

If you currently subscribe to the Poverty Watch Ontario mailing list, consider subscribing to the Poverty Free Ontario mailing list.

News

Moving to a Poverty Free Ontario

The Social Planning Network of Ontario (SPNO) plans to launch an initiative to build cross-community support for a Poverty Free Ontario by the end of this decade.

Social planning councils have a long history since the 1930s of advocating for low income people, whether welfare recipients or working poor. In recent years, the SPNO and its organizational members have assumed a lead role in urging the Ontario Government to adopt a poverty reduction strategy for Ontario. Specifically,

2011 Provincial Election Year

The Ontario Government’s current commitment to poverty reduction focusing on a 25% reduction in child poverty ends in 2013. Since 2011 is a provincial election year, now is the time to begin a public discussion about where Government action needs to go to move from a partial and measured commitment to reducing child poverty to a full commitment to the eradication of all poverty in Ontario by the year 2020.

In May 2010, the SPNO leadership set policy development and cross-community mobilization for a poverty-free Ontario as a major provincial and community level priority for SPNO and its local and regional organizational members in 2011.

Mission

An Ontario free of poverty will be reflected in healthy, inclusive communities with a place of dignity for everyone and the essential conditions of well-being for all.

The mission of Poverty Free Ontario is to eliminate divided communities in which large numbers of adults and children live in chronic states of material hardship, poor health and social exclusion.

Securing a Legacy Commitment

2017 will be the 150th anniversary of Canada as a country and Ontario as a province. Poverty Free Ontario will ask the political leadership of all parties in the 2011 provincial election to commit publicly to a “legacy commitment” for the Sesquicentennial. That legacy commitment would be for the provincial government of whatever political stripe to have adopted and implemented a comprehensive plan by 2017 resulting in the eradication of poverty in Ontario by 2020. This plan should move beyond poverty reduction targets set by the current Government for children in 2013 to bring all children and adults out of poverty by the year 2020.

PFO Strategy for 2011

A.   A Policy Agenda for a Poverty Free Ontario

A new Policy Agenda for a Poverty Free Ontario would build on SPNO’s policy development work in 2008. Essentially, policy proposals will be developed and advanced in three key areas for the eradication of poverty in Ontario:

  1. End Deep Poverty: Upgrade Social Assistance
  2. End Working Poverty: Assure Basic Minimum Wages
  3. Protect Food Money: Phase in a Full Housing Benefit

The Policy Agenda would link the strategy for eradication of poverty with a good quality of life for all Ontarians in order to build public and political support.  It must demonstrate that the interests of the poor and the broad middle class are indivisible.

B.    Critical Milestones

Simultaneously with the framing and promotion of a Policy Agenda for a Poverty Free Ontario, there are specific actions and resource allocations that can and must be taken now and over the next year or more to kick-start a longer term commitment to eradicating poverty. These actions constitute Critical Milestones that would:

  1. address immediate hardships that people are experiencing now (i.e. the HFS);
  2. identify key decision dates for the implementation of poverty eradication measures to achieve the goal by 2020; and
  3. demonstrate serious political commitment to poverty elimination beyond the perpetual future promises that have prevailed to date.

The Put Food in the Budget Campaign advocating for a $100/month Healthy Food Supplement for all adults on social assistance is an immediately doable action. This measure could be implemented as part of the Government’s commitment to Social Assistance Review, which at the moment is focusing on long-term overhaul of the income security system rather than action possible immediately using the existing social assistance system.

Proposing specific measures for ensuring income adequacy beyond the first step of the HFS, Poverty Free Ontario would constitute an important policy development link to the immediate social assistance increase that the PFIB campaign is advocating.

For more information, go to http://www.povertyfreeontario.ca

News

Do the Math Challenge Update (December 13, 2010)

www.putfoodinthebudget.ca

Monday, December 13th, 2010

  1. Unstoppable Campaign!
  2. Comments from Challenge Team Members around Ontario
  3. November 15th Rally Highlights
  4. Action on 2nd Anniversary on Announcement of McGuinty’s Poverty Reduction Strategy
  5. List of Communities who have Accepted the Challenge
  6. Letter to the Editor – by Peter Clutterbuck
  7. Spread the Word!

________________________________________

1. Unstoppable Campaign: The second week of October I sent out daily updates of the Do the Math Challenge campaign. At that time I thought I would send a summary update the following week and that this particular campaign initiative would be over. However, it seems unstoppable – with more communities and more groups joining all the time. At the end of this update there is a list of communities who have done the Challenge and those who are planning for the New Year.

I want to tell you about the momentum that is being created. As of this writing about one thousand people have taken the Challenge. They tell me, when I attend community meetings where Challenge teams report on their experience, that on average Challenge team members talk in person with between 75 and 100 people during the week. That means between 75,000 and 100,000 people have been part of a conversation about the need to raise social assistance rates by $100 a month now.

The reports I hear from people tell me it is a compassionate conversation, as well. People they speak with are surprised to hear how low social assistance rates are – especially for single people. They understand that in their community – whether it is Parry Sound or Cornwall, Woodstock or Sudbury, Hamilton or Windsor – you cannot find housing for $585 (now $592) a month – let alone be able to buy enough food – to live well. A few quotes from their experiences are provided later in this update.

In addition to personal conversations people extended the message of their experience – and the issue – through people reading their blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, and through the extensive local media coverage. Hundreds of thousands of people in Ontario have been paying attention to the issue of chronic hunger and the need to raise social assistance rates immediately by $100 a month for every adult recipient in Ontario.

We need to convert this support into political pressure – and later in this update is an action you can join that is being led by the Health and Strength Action Group in South Riverdale.

In the New Year we will talk about the recently announced – (although promised for two years) – review of social assistance. It will be eighteen months before it reports – the spring or summer of 2012 – and who knows how much longer before its recommendations can be implemented – the review does nothing to put food in the budget now. We must continue to build a campaign strong enough to win an immediate $100 increase as a first step towards income adequacy.

The highlights from our November 15th rally (see below) and the growing list of communities and groups joining the campaign illustrate our growing strength.

We thank all of you for your contribution to this campaign, and wish everyone a safe and happy holiday season..

2. Comments from Challenge Team Members: Challenge team members mostly begin the story of their experience by focusing on their limited food choices, and their hunger – and quickly became aware that the impact of low incomes is much greater – including immediate weight loss or weight gain, headaches, inability to concentrate, immediate changes in emotional well-being, social isolation, and lack of dignity arising from having their food choices made for them. They quickly realize their privilege and recognize that this short experience is only the smallest insight into the experience of a person receiving social assistance. As one person on social assistance said to a community member who had completed the Challenge and was saying how hard he found it – ‘you have done this for one week – try it for 650 weeks’. If you wish you can go see the comments from Challenge teams from all around Ontario at http://putfoodinthebudget.ca/blogs/ . Here are a few samples:

Clergyman Tim Dobbin (Haldimand-Norfolk) reflected on his lack of concentration during those few days: “How do people focus on the big picture stuff (like how to use my time creatively and generously) when the predominant thought is, how am I going to feed myself and my family through this week on the food that is remaining on the shelves?”

Sudbury journalist Stacey LaVallie “To me, these things really emphasized how poverty is a really cruel foe. Not only do people in poverty have to make do with what they can afford to eat, they have to go to outside help for food.” She continues sadly, “But the emotional trauma that comes with it? It really hurts”.

Durham resident Kim Dowds said “Day 3 was spent with my body in total rebellion, serving up a huge migraine that lasted all after-noon, which made me grumpy, tired and unable to concentrate”

“It is somehow a sad day,” Dave McLean wrote on November 5. “I say that because we in the Challenge can move on tomorrow but I can’t stop thinking of those in this county whose tomorrow is not that close by.”

3. November 15th Rally Highlights: 150 people filled the Wychwood Barns on Christie Avenue in Toronto on the evening of Monday November 15th. The crowd was energized by the speeches of Anglican Archbishop Colin Johnson; Amarpreet Kaur of the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario; Tracy Mead of the Health and Strength Action Group in South Riverdale Toronto; Diana Stapleton, chairperson of the Weston Area Emergency Food Bank; Avvy Go of Colour of Poverty and Fred Hahn of CUPE Ontario.

Anglican Archbishop Colin Johnson said “This campaign has underscored for me the urgency of tackling the root causes of poverty. Many other Anglicans feel the same as me. Following their poverty diet, they are organizing meetings with their MPP, writing to their MPP, expressing their concern about the tragedy of widespread poverty and calling for action, starting with the $100 per month increase in social assistance.”

Amarpreet Kaur of RNAO said “As nurses we know that social inequities are directly linked to health inequities. One of the root causes of ill health is poverty. Sadly, nurses know a lot about poverty because we see it in our practice. We see the shame in the eyes of the homeless person, the child that went to school without a meal, and the elder person that can’t eat a sandwich because he doesn’t have money to repair his dentures. Nurses witness the tough choices that people are forced to make when trying to make ends meet: a parent’s decision to forego a meal so his/her child can eat or the prescription that goes unfilled because it cost too much or the decision to risk not paying the rent. You can count on us to be with you in this campaign.”

Tracy Mead, a member of the Put Food in the Budget leadership team, whose income is social assistance, said “Ask yourself if you could survive on $585.00 a month, take the Do the Math Challenge, then try to look me in the eye and honestly say everything is ok. Winning this campaign means that we can all hold our heads high. I’m proud to be a part of this fight and I demand change”.

Diana Stapleton, chair of the Weston Area Emergency Food Bank invited the crowd to join her in making raising social assistance rates a voting issue. “This is a voting matter to me. I will walk away from supporting the Liberal party if this government does not take the initiative to increase social assistance and disability benefits.”

Avvy Go of the Colour of Poverty asked what we have to do to convince politicians to deal with the situation of chronic hunger in Ontario. “The right to eat – access to enough healthy food – is as essential as the right to breathe – what do we have to do to convince them… have a ‘hold our breath campaign’?”

Fred Hahn, President of CUPE Ontario told the capacity crowd that taking the challenge had “strengthened our union’s solidarity,” with every Ontarian who lives with an inadequate diet. “The truth is there are low waged, part time or temporary workers, some of them union members, who also have to rely on food banks. When we build solidarity in our communities between those on social assistance, workers, church groups, and people concerned for fairness and social justice, politicians can no longer ignore poverty in our province.

Bill King and Stacey Bulmer raised the spirits of the crowd with their music and accompanied the “$100 Choir” in a rousing sing-along version of “If I Had A $100″ adapted from the Bare Naked Ladies “If I had a Million Dollars”.

4. Action on 2nd anniversary of Poverty Reduction Strategy Announcement: The Health and Strength Action Group in South Riverdale in Toronto used the2nd anniversary of the government’s announcement of its poverty reduction strategy to build the PFIB campaign in our community. We know, for people receiving social assistance, very little if anything has changed. There is no poverty reduction strategy without a change to how much people receive and how rates are set.

Our anniversary message for the government is to challenge them on their refusal to deal with social assistance rates and to tell them we support the PFIB demands. We are asking that people email, call or fax the ministers responsible and the premier with this message on December 8th. (Anniversary is on the weekend – December 4th). We have put together a leaflet (quickly and not expertly but it is attached for your use.)

The leaflet can be handed out wherever supporters might be – food banks, non-profit housing, and places of worship. Over the last two days, we have knocked on doors in Toronto Housing buildings and the response was powerful and supportive, people were happy that we are doing something around this issue. Many people promised to participate on December 8th.

We are hoping you can make the message louder and stronger and a true cross-provincial voice by joining us.

(Please note – if you are seeing this for the first time – it is not too late to send an email or make a call).

5. List of Communities that have Accepted the Challenge : Windsor, Woodstock, Stratford, Cambridge, Kitchener-Waterloo, Haldimand-Norfolk, Wasaga Beach, Hamilton, Halton Region, Parry Sound, Muskoka, Sudbury, York Region, Durham Region, Brockville, Cornwall, Anglican Diocese of Toronto. In Sarnia a local reporter did the Challenge and in Peterborough they held a public demonstration in October. Communities planning a Challenge for January include – Ottawa, Fort Erie, Port Colborne, Peel Region, Owen Sound, Brantford, Six Nations, Midland and Belleville. Also the provincial council of CUPE Ontario will take the challenge and will mobilize CUPE locals around the province to participate. Other groups are considering it as well – so watch this space!

6. Letter to the Editor – Peter Clutterbuck:

Dear Editor

Re: Breaking the Cycle of Poverty, December 4 – Toronto Star

In her announcement of the social assistance review [last] week, Social Services Minister Meilleur unfortunately refers to reform that will “empower low-income Ontarians, including social assistance recipients, to break out of the cycle of poverty’, which The Star picked up as the title of its lead editorial on December 4.

The notion of a “cycle of poverty” suggests poverty that is transmitted from generation to generation and implies something inherently deficient in poor people rather than placing a focus on basic living conditions, which are the root causes of inequality and poverty in our society.

It is misleading to suggest that intergenerational poverty is the primary source of poverty in Ontario and Canada. Research evidence is clear that, compared to the United Sates and even the United Kingdom, the rate of poverty passed from one generation to the next in Canada is very low.

The structural conditions that produce high rates of poverty are:

If governments would address these conditions with investments and action and not just long-term studies and plans, they could take credit for acting to end poverty rather than trying to explain it away in intergenerational terms.

Peter Clutterbuck
Social Planning Network of Ontario.

7. Spread the Word: You can help us spread the word of the Do the Math Challenge by forwarding this email through your networks. Thank you!! Please forward this email among your networks. And follow The Challenge on Posterous and on Twitter.

Do The Math, Put Food In The Budget

Root causes of inequality and poverty

Response to Toronto Star editorial

Re: Welfare Reform: Breaking the cycle of poverty, Editorial, Dec. 4

In her announcement of the social assistance review, Social Services Minister Madeleine Meilleur unfortunately refers to reform that will “empower low-income Ontarians, including social assistance recipients, to break out of the cycle of poverty,” which the Star picked up as the title of its lead editorial.

The notion of a “cycle of poverty” suggests poverty that is transmitted from generation to generation and implies something inherently deficient in poor people rather than placing a focus on basic living conditions, which are the root causes of inequality and poverty in our society.

It is misleading to suggest that intergenerational poverty is the primary source of poverty in Ontario and Canada. Research evidence is clear that, compared to the United States and even the United Kingdom, the rate of poverty passed from one generation to the next in Canada is very low.

The structural conditions that produce high rates of poverty are:

If governments would address these conditions with investments and action and not just long-term studies and plans, they could take credit for acting to end poverty rather than trying to explain it away in intergenerational terms.

Peter Clutterbuck, Social Planning Network of Ontario

Media, News

Put Food in the Budget Rally Report (Nov. 15)

Toronto, Ont. – Just hours before a report released yesterday showed food bank usage climbing to an all-time high across Canada, one hundred and fifty people attended a rally to Put Food in the Budget at the Wychwood Barns at 601 Christie St. in Toronto. Monday night’s crowd heard from some of the community leaders that completed the “Do the Math Challenge” and lived for a week on a diet similar to that of many people in Ontario receiving social assistance.

Fred Hahn, President of CUPE Ontario told the capacity crowd that taking the challenge had “strengthened our union’s solidarity,” with every Ontarian who lives with an inadequate diet. “The truth is there are low waged, part time or temporary workers, some of them union members, who also have to rely on food banks. When we build solidarity in our communities between those on social assistance, workers, church groups, and people concerned for fairness and social justice, politicians can no longer ignore poverty in our province.” Anglican Archbishop Colin Johnson said “This campaign has underscored for me the urgency of tackling the root causes of poverty. Many other Anglicans feel the same as me.  Following their poverty diet, they are organizing meetings with their MPP, writing to their MPP, expressing their concern about the tragedy of widespread poverty and calling for action, starting with the $100 per month increase in social assistance.”

One thousand people around Ontario have taken the Do the Math Challenge in eighteen communities around Ontario. They tell us that on average they speak with one hundred people during the week. That means one hundred thousand people have had a conversation in the last two months about the inadequacy of social assistance. “We thought this would be a one week campaign in the first week of October” said provincial co-ordinator Mike Balkwill. “But it has a momentum of its own.  Every week a new group calls me to become involved.”

Tracy Mead, a member of the Put Food in the Budget leadership team, whose income is social assistance, said “Ask yourself if you could survive on $585.00 a month, take the Do the Math Challenge, then try to look me in the eye and honestly say everything is OK. Winning this campaign means that we can all hold our heads high. I’m proud to be a part of this fight and I demand change”.

Diana Stapleton, chair of the Weston Area Emergency Food Bank invited the crowd to join her in making raising social assistance rates a voting issue. “This is a voting matter to me. I will walk away from supporting the Liberal party if this government does not take the initiative to increase social assistance and disability benefits.” Avvy Go of the Colour of Poverty asked what we have to do to convince politicians to deal with the situation of chronic hunger in Ontario. “The right to eat – access to enough healthy food – is as essential as the right to breathe – what do we have to do to convince them… have a ‘hold our breath campaign’?”

The Put Food in the Budget has been working with groups across Ontario to raise awareness of the inadequacy of social assistance benefits and the health impact facing people who cannot access nutritious food due to poverty. The province-wide network continues to ask the Ontario government to immediately increase social assistance by $100 a month for every adult in Ontario receiving social assistance as a first step towards inadequacy of social assistance rates. A single person in Ontario still receives only $585 per month for rent, food and everything else.

The rally encouraged ongoing mobilization across the province in the months ahead to keep the issue of poverty on the political agenda and to put food in the budget.

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For More information visit www.putfoodinthebudget.ca

Media Contact:

Mike Balkwill, Co-ordinator, Put Food in the Budget Campaign,

416 806 2401, mbalkwill@iasc.on.ca

About the Put Food in the Budget Campaign

Thirty communities across Ontario – from Windsor to Cornwall and from Toronto to Thunder Bay are part of the Put Food in the Budget campaign. The campaign is sponsored by the Social Planning Network of Ontario and The Stop Community Food Centre and is supported by ACTRA Toronto; Anglican Diocese of Toronto; Association of Ontario Health Centres; Colour of Poverty; CUPE Ontario; OPSEU; Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario; and the Schizophrenia Society of Ontario.

About The Do The Math Challenge

Do the Math is an interactive website (dothemath.thestop.org) launched by The Stop Community Food Centre to draw attention to the impossible budgeting choices faced by social assistance recipients in Ontario. The recent “Do the Math Challenge” – part of the campaign to Put Food in the Budget – asks everyday Ontarians to try to survive on a food bank hamper to draw attention to the chronic food insecurity faced by social assistance recipients in our province.

Do The Math, Event Reports, Put Food In The Budget