Budget Offers Little for Poor
April 27, 2015
More than a million Ontarians struggle every day for food, decent housing and other basic needs—yet the 2015 provincial budget only offers modest measures to improve their lives, says Ontario’s faith-based anti-poverty coalition, the Interfaith Social Assistance Reform Coalition (ISARC).
“Following last September’s release of a renewed Poverty Reduction Strategy, we were hopeful that this budget would include major steps towards eliminating the terrible problems faced by people living in poverty,” says the Rev. Susan Eagle, a United Church minister from Barrie and the coalition’s Chair. “This would mean such measures as meaningful increases in social assistance rates, increased funding for affordable housing, and dental care for low-income adults. We didn’t see that.”
ISARC commends the government for such positive measures as:
- An extra top-up for single adults on the Ontario Works social assistance program, giving them an extra $25 per month, an increase of 2.6%;
- A small cost of living increase in the Ontario Child Benefit from $1310 to $1336 per child in July. This program benefits about one million children in over 500,000 low to moderate-income families;
- The previously announced Local Poverty Reduction Fund, providing $50 million over six years for local community efforts to tackle root causes of poverty.
- The $587 million grant announced March 30 to help municipalities assist families and individuals at risk of homelessness.
Nonetheless, these measures pale in comparison to what’s needed, and as noted above, some were announced earlier. The budget provides a meagre one percent increase, less than the rate of inflation, to people on Ontario’s social assistance programs, Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program. A single person receiving ODSP benefits will see their income rise by about $11 per month. ISARC and other groups, including the Commission on Social Assistance in Ontario, have urged the government for several years to raise social assistance rates by $100 per month, to help some of the poorest people in our midst. Yet even with the budget’s $25 increase, this target still hasn’t been reached. ISARC has also called for monthly housing benefits and increased funding for affordable housing to help low-income tenants hard hit by soaring housing costs. We’ve also called for public dental care for all low-income Ontarians, not just children. More than 2.5 million Ontario citizens, many of them seniors, cannot afford to visit a dentist.
The budget did not provide information about targets and timelines to achieve the goals of the Poverty Reduction Strategy, including the professed goal of ending homelessness. Reviews are planned for important areas such as housing and homelessness, and employment standards. But low-income people need action now.
Given Ontario’s deficit, the key to forceful action against poverty is the willingness to raise taxes to provide the revenue needed. In our pre-budget brief to the government, Building An Ontario For Everyone, ISARC noted that the government has a range of tax options to do this, including tax increases for the wealthiest Ontarians and increased corporate tax rates, which have been reduced sharply over the past decade. Restoring corporate income tax rates to their 2009 level would raise $2.5 billion annually in government revenues.
Instead of raising the funds needed for a pro-active anti-poverty program, this is basically an austerity budget. Program spending will rise by only 1.4 percent, less than inflation. Aside from a tiny tax increase on beer, there are no new taxes in this budget. As The Globe and Mail noted, “The Liberals are clearly terrified of being seen raising taxes to pay for transit, or anything else…. Ontario is already a low-tax, low-revenue, low-spending province.”
“All of need to accept our responsibility for the society we live in,” says ISARC Program Coordinator Murray MacAdam. “ ISARC’s faith communities work with people struggling for survival and know that we need to tackle poverty at its roots. We need to keep pushing for the policies needed to make this happen. It’s up to all of us – our faith communities, our community organizations, and Ontario’s politicians of all parties.”