Ninety advocates from communities north, south, east and west across Ontario, about half people living on low incomes, convened in Hamilton on Friday, December 4 to mark the first anniversary of the Ontario Government’s Poverty Reduction Strategy.
While all assembled were pleased that the Government had made a commitment to reducing children’s poverty by 25% in five years, they strongly urged the development and implementation of a comprehensive plan to create a poverty-free Ontario.
The focus of the day was on the Put Food in the Budget Campaign, advocating for the introduction of a $100 a month Healthy Food Supplement for all adults on Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Supports program. Jointly sponsored by 25 in 5 Hamilton, the Social Planning Network of Ontario (SPNO) and The Stop Community Food Centre, the day-long session combined a series of public statements by anti-poverty activists with lived experience of poverty and their supporters with an afternoon of strategy discussion on the next steps in the PFIB campaign.
Three clear and compelling messages were delivered;
- Good health begins with good food. Dr. Chris Mackey, Hamilton’s Associate Medical Officer of Health (video), drew the clear links in the research between the negative health consequences and poor nutrition resulting from the inability to purchase good food. Darren Nesbit of Sarnia reviewed his struggle to live on $80 a month for groceries after paying his rent (video).
- No one in Ontario should go hungry. The Venerable Michael Patterson, Archdeacon of the Anglican Diocese of Niagara, asserted that the existence of hunger among so many Ontarians is an intolerable moral condition that the Healthy Food Supplement would begin to address (video).
- No one in Ontario should have to beg for their food. Bonnie Risser of North Bay talked of the indignity of relying on charity and food banks to get through the month when the money runs out (video).
A call to action for implementation of the Healthy Food Supplement was led by Tom Pearson, a single father who has spearheaded the development of an anti-poverty group of low income people in York Region (video). His voice was joined by Jesse Philips of Belleville, who had joined 40 other community members to Do the Math in October (video). Danielle Yaholnitsky of Windsor offered a good example of local action on the food issue led by a group of moms on low income (video). Marv Friesen and Susan Muma, co-chairs of the Hamilton Do the Math team called on the Government’s Social Assistance Review to make sure that the income adequacy in the setting of benefit rates for the long-term be a central part of the review process (video).
Jonah Schein of The Stop reported on the 3,000 respondents to the on-line Do the Math survey from across Ontario, which showed an average of $1,460 was required to meet monthly basic necessities compared to only $572 and $1,020 provided on OW and ODSP respectively (video). Deirdre Pike of the Social Planning and Research Council of Hamilton referred to SPNO’s Interim Report on MPP Do the Math Visits, noting that even MPPs that had done the survey to date came to an average $1,315 a month amount needed for basic necessities. (See Interim Report posted on this web site).