Ontario Budget 2016: A wintery outlook for the poor
Despite some positive steps, Ontario’s 2016 budget continues to leave Ontario’s poor playing catch up. Significant poverty reduction measures advocated by ISARC and others are missing, leading us to question the government’s commitment to genuine poverty reduction.
Our coalition is thankful for budget measures that provide some relief to low-income families and seniors, including:
* Access to free higher education for students from families with incomes under $50,000, with families with incomes below $83,000 benefiting from lower tuition costs. This is a terrific advance for which the government deserves praise.
* A $175 million commitment over the next three years to alleviate an affordable housing crisis;
* Steps to reduce prescription drug costs that will benefit 170,000 low-income seniors.
Yet on other fronts, the budget is disappointing. “We’re not going to leave anybody behind,” said Finance Minister Charles Sousa as he released the budget. However, the poorest people in Ontario, those on social assistance will continue to be left on the margins of our society, as their incomes rise by a paltry 1.5 percent in 2016, amounting to $23 per month for a single parent with one child under six years on Ontario Works or ODSP. Yet the cost of food has increased by 4 percent in 2015, with fresh fruits and vegetables going up much more. “We can expect to see more people having to turn to food banks and other survival programs. This is deeply disappointing because the government promised much more,” says ISARC’s Chair, the Rev. Dr Susan Eagle.
A $25 monthly increase for single people on Ontario Works means a bit more for them, but it’s far from the $100/month increase advocated by ISARC, to make a real difference in their lives.
Providing subsidized housing is a good move but doesn’t increase affordable housing stock, which is the real issue. From the perspective of those living in poverty, they still need to run in order to stay the same.
In its pre‐budget brief, ISARC proposed many practical interventions to make poverty reduction real such as:
• Significantly raise social assistance rates, starting with a $100 per month increase for single people on Ontario Works.
• Provide public dental benefits to all low‐income adults by 2018, not 2025 as planned.
• Increase the Ontario Child Benefit by $100 per child per year, and index future increases to the rate of inflation.
• Provide a sharp increase in funding for affordable housing, as part of a long‐term plan for ending homelessness.
• Update pay equity legislation
The government could take a number of non-budget measures to alleviate poverty. ISARC renews its request that the government act on them.
• Raise the minimum wage to $14.00 per hour by 2017, and to $15.00 by 2018, from the current $11.25 per hour, so that work provides a pathway out of poverty.
• Adopting the proposals from advocates for the contingent workers in the Changing Workplace Review
One of the reasons for the limited measures to alleviate poverty in the budget has been the government’s self-imposed restrictions on revenue generation. Interestingly, Rabbi Shalom Schachter, a member of the ISARC steering committee notes, “This Saturday Jews across the province attending synagogue will hear the weekly portion of the Torah read. Coincidentally it deals with the imposition of taxes to pay for the costs of meeting public needs. Increasing taxes on the better off can accelerate the government’s calendar for poverty reduction.”
Contact Chris Pullenayegem, ISARC Facilitator , Tel. 647-993-3871