Archbishop Colin Johnson and the diocese’s Poverty Reduction Subcommittee submitted a written brief to the Ontario government’s pre-budget consultations, outlining key social investments they hope to see in the upcoming provincial budget. A condensed version of the brief, titled “Addressing the Dignity Deficit: Investing in Poverty Reduction” is printed below. Anglicans across the diocese are encouraged to reflect on how they might support the requests outlined in the brief.
Over the course of less than three weeks in early January, four men experiencing homelessness died in the City of Toronto as they tried to survive harsh weather conditions and a lack of effective, available services. The names of these men have been added to the Toronto Homeless Memorial outside the Church of the Holy Trinity, Trinity Square. Unfortunately, they join 2,581 other names of men and women who have died since 1985 while living without a home.
The Government of Ontario, through the development of two poverty reduction strategies, has been clear that it sees improving the ability of Ontarians to live in dignity in their communities as a priority for public policy. Be assured that the Diocese of Toronto shares this priority as we seek to live out our commitment to ensure human dignity for all of our neighbours across the province.
As Anglicans, we are doing our best to support many of our most vulnerable neighbours when they need it most, through drop-ins, food pantries and shelter programs. We know, however, that addressing the root causes of these situations goes beyond the charity we are able to provide through our parishes. Instead, it requires concerted action from government.
This budget can enhance human dignity in our province through four key investments:
Increase social assistance rates and benefits for low-income Ontarians. For many of those experiencing poverty in Ontario, social assistance programs such as Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program are vital to their ability to survive, yet we know that for too many these programs provide insufficient support for rising living costs, leaving thousands of people struggling to meet their basic needs. We ask that the government substantially raise social assistance rates for all recipients, including an immediate $100 per month increase for single adults receiving Ontario Works, and that rates be indexed to inflation. In an effort to fulfill the government’s commitment to reduce child poverty rates by 25 per cent, we ask that the Ontario Child Benefit be increased by $100 per child per year for the lowest income category, and that the benefit be indexed to future inflation rates.
Invest in good jobs. In 2014, Anglican parishes throughout the Diocese of Toronto voted at their annual vestry meetings to call on the Government of Ontario to legislate a significant increase to the provincial minimum wage. The current minimum wage, however, still leaves many Ontarians working full-time hours living below the poverty line. We join with our partners in the 25in5 Network for Poverty Reduction in calling for an increase in the minimum wage to $15 per hour in 2015, indexed to subsequent inflation. This increase will make the minimum wage a living wage.
Implement a strong housing and homelessness plan. The government’s commitment to end homelessness in Ontario is certainly the boldest element of the latest phase of the province’s poverty reduction strategy. Achieving this goal requires a strong plan and firm timeline, both to address the needs of those currently experiencing homelessness and to prevent those in precarious or unaffordable housing situations from falling into homelessness. We ask that this budget include a sizable investment in the building of affordable housing stock across the province, including safe and supportive housing for those living with mental illness or addiction. In the near term, as we wait for housing infrastructure to be built, we ask the government to implement a monthly housing benefit for Ontarians living on a low income that will allow many of them to maintain their current housing situation.
Improve health services for low-income Ontarians. Ontarians living on low incomes are often forced to choose between significant ongoing financial demands and important healthcare needs. We are calling on the government to use this budget to fast-track the implementation of the low-income dental care program by 2018. We also ask the government to take significant steps towards the creation of a universal PharmaCare plan.
While the implementation of these requests in the 2015 budget will result in increased spending in these key social infrastructure areas, making these investments in the dignity of Ontarians is an affordable undertaking. In fact, failing to allocate resources to poverty reduction will actually cost Ontario disproportionately more in public spending due to the role poverty plays in increased healthcare costs as well as expensive crisis and emergency support programs. Inaction on poverty reduction, then, is both fiscally irresponsible and ethically unacceptable.
While the government’s modest income tax increase on those Ontarians earning more than $150,000 in the 2014 budget was a welcome step in building revenues, further small increases to income taxes for high income earners are a necessary and fair tool to meet our obligation to take care of the most vulnerable members of our society. Increasing corporate taxation rates to 2009 levels would similarly provide crucial, reliable revenues that could be invested in key poverty reduction strategies.
Anglicans will continue to work to improve our communities and alleviate the struggles of our parishioners and neighbours living in poverty. However, we know that comprehensive, effective change can only come about through government investment in the dignity of all Ontarians. This government has been bold in stating its desire to address poverty in our communities. We hope to see such boldness carried forward into the decisions made for this budget.