The 25 in 5 Network‘s cross-community Leadership Tour for the Blueprint for Poverty Reduction in Hard Times was officially launched at a Leadership Forum in Toronto on November 17 when more than 100 community leaders in the poverty reduction campaign came to Toronto for a full-day event.
The Blueprint for Poverty Reduction in Hard Times is an action framework for poverty reduction in Ontario. The Blueprint:
- establishes the imperatives for action in difficult economic times;
- outlines key community expectations for the Ontario Government’s Poverty Reduction Strategy to be released in December;
- sets out a set of strategic priorities for action on poverty reduction at both the provincial and federal levels; and
- frames three milestone years for an action agenda on poverty reduction.
The Blueprint is going on the road to more than 20 communities across Ontario until mid-December to get community before feedback is consolidated into a final Blueprint document.
In advance of the official launch of the Leadership Tour, Marvyn Novick and Peter Clutterbuck of the Social Planning Network of Ontario paid early visits with the Blueprint to Sudbury, North Bay, and Port Parry and Bracebridge during the week of November 10.
About 20 community leaders in Sudbury engaged in a discussion of the Blueprint on November 12. The group included low income advocates, City of Greater Sudbury civic officials including a city councillor, representatives of the mayor’s office and the social services administration, community service leaders, public health officials, members of several local school boards, labour, academia and others.
The Blueprint presentation was very well received. Feedback and discussion covered the following areas:
- Recognition and agreement that the face of poverty is not homogeneous and that certain communities are disproportionately affected by poverty and suggestion that there be a more specific reference to the higher levels of poverty in the Aboriginal community in northern Ontario.
- Appreciation that the issue of card certification to facilitate the collective voices of workers in Ontario is part of proposed actions for system restructuring in the labour market and suggestion that the point on enhancing employment standards be strengthened to extend to many vulnerable workers not currently covered by existing employment standards protections.
- Request that the “health imperative” for action on poverty reduction be more explicitly stated as a separate imperative or within the social imperative contention, which would help to get the health sector more engaged in poverty reduction.
- Ensure that the final Blueprint document also refer to the need for investment in supportive housing as well as affordable housing units.
- Strong agreement on the need to remove punitive social assistance rules with several low income advocates offering specific examples of how current rules impede their efforts to escape poverty (e.g. OSAP rules that force single mothers to give up needed social assistance benefits when they attempt to advance their education).
- Concern that provision be made for dental care in the poverty reduction strategy, since poor teeth affect self-esteem and reinforces biases and stereotypes about people on social assistance and makes it difficult for them to get work. Questions were raised about when the $135 million announced in March by the Government will be made available to communities.
- Concern about job losses not only in manufacturing but in the mining community in the north and clarity that the Blueprint will emphasize a Good Jobs Strategy as an essential part of poverty reduction and poverty prevention. It was noted that a Good Jobs Summit will be held ion Toronto on November 22 and the plan is to build a Good Jobs Coalition province-wide.
- Participants inquired about the preparation of using the Blueprint to create a “checklist” against which to assess the Ontario Government’s Poverty Reduction Plan when it is released.
Marvyn Novick and Peter Clutterbuck presented the Blueprint to the North Bay Provincial Poverty Reduction Working Group at a lunch meeting on November 13 and again at the Annual meeting of the North Bay Social Planning Council in the evening, where local Liberal MPP Monique Smith was in attendance.
Response to the Blueprint in these two meetings included the following points:
- Participants were encouraged by how the Blueprint was addressing the issue of adequacy in social assistance, since the 21.6% cuts in 1995 was clearly a violation of human rights.
- Suggestion that one measure of success for the Government’s plan could be the elimination of food banks, which the UN suggested Canada pursue in 1993.
- Request that the Blueprint document be produced in some from that would allow local people to review and evaluate the Ontario Government’s Poverty Reduction Strategy when it is released.
- Appreciation that the Blueprint directly addresses current economic conditions in the section on imperatives and shows how poverty reduction can actually be part of the solution to economic recovery.
- Recognition that the great work of local groups such as the North Bay PGWC is just the beginning in building a ground swell of community support for poverty reduction and that coordinated and collaborative local action must continue beyond the Government’s announcement.
- Suggestion that the food supplement proposal in the Blueprint be indexed to a nutritious food basket which public health units across Ontario are producing at the local level.
- The wide gap between market rents for housing and what people get on social assistance resonates with people in the community.
- Suggestion that the “social imperative’ argument be more specific about the corrosive effects of poverty on personal and community health.
- Childcare as in Quebec is important not just for its contribution to poverty reduction but also as an essential measure for poverty prevention.
Parry Sound-Burk’s Falls
On November 14, Marvyn Novick, Peter Clutterbuck and Mike Balkwill brought the Blueprint to a meeting of social and health professionals, civic officials including town councillors, and faith leaders, and local citizens in Parry Sound with a video-conference tie-in to a small group in Burk’s Falls.
Discussion on the Blueprint covered the following areas:
- Where the money for poverty reduction could come from (e.g. the Government has the fiscal room to borrow for investment in poverty reduction at a relatively low cost).
- How to approach local MPPs in support of the Blueprint and also the local media (a local reporter was present at the meeting). The group thought that the 25 in 5 Declaration should be taken to the local town councils for endorsement.
- Suggestion that the food allowance be paid in the third week of the month so that recipients do not lose it to the rent. It was pointed out that a housing benefit would also be an important part of improving income support for low income people.
- Improved coverage of unemployed through EI is important, but it was also noted that many small business and self-employed people have not qualified for EI as well. The seasonal pattern of employment in tourist country makes EI coverage more important. Up to 65% of the employment in the area was reported to be part-time.
- Serious concern that the fact that women make up a significant part of the low income population and front-line workers see this consistently ion their practice.
At the end of the meeting, participants expressed a sense of enthusiasm and hope from the discussion and discussed the need to form community partnerships to stay on top of the poverty reduction agenda in Parry Sound. A number agreed to meet again to form a local poverty reduction working group in Parry Sound and to become part of the 25 in 5 cross-community engagement strategy.
The Blueprint road show moved on from Parry Sound to Bracebridge in the afternoon of November 14, where more than 40 people from the service, faith, civic, health and education community attended the presentation.
Questions and discussion covered the following areas:
- Concern that the Minister’s plan may put the priority on children without adequately recognizing that child poverty is situated within a family context.
- Contractual workers have no job protection – no Employment Insurance, no severance. It is important that the poverty reduction strategy take this into consideration and have a labour market component.
- Agreement that the poverty reduction strategy had to help people make better transitions from school to employment and to improve their education.
- It is important to increase the minimum wage to $11 per hour in 2011. The assurance that people not have to pay more than 30% of their income on rent and utilities is unrealistic in today’s rental market, unless there is a concentrated effort to build more affordable housing.
- Minimum wage is important but to really tackle poverty in the long run creation of jobs and decent paying jobs will be important.
- Need string advocacy for parents with children – two generation strategies – working with children and strengthening families.
- Question whether the housing benefit could apply to low income homeowners as well as tenants, since many who own or have a lot of equity in their homes are also losing jobs and income or are seniors on fixed incomes.