LIFT Ontario Budget Response, March 22 2007

Download: Lift’s Budget Response

Child poverty” budget misleading and unfair!

The 2007 budget merely gives the illusion that they are finally addressing “child poverty”, but for poor families it is way too little, and much too late! While public pressure has forced the Liberals to finally acknowledge we have a problem, the results are unacceptable. In 2006 the UN committee on Economic Social and Cultural Human Rights declared that Canada is witholding basic human rights by failing to address poverty. Even though both Federal and Provincial governments are obligated to respect Economic and Social Rights, once again, in their most recent review of Canada’s official reports, the Un called on our governments to act; by establishing a national poverty reduction strategy that includes raising minimum wages and social assistance rates and providing social housing and childcare.

For the poorest families in Ontario, a 2% increase in welfare adds up to $30 per child per month and if they’re lucky, the new Ontario child benefit will reach $50 by 2011. Welfare rates are worth 35% less than they were in 1995 while costs, rent and energy have driven the price of basic living up at least 40%. Tiny incremental steps will not close the gap. Record evictions, homelessness and food bank use, along with rising domestic abuse substance abuse and depression levels tell the story of neglectful public policy. The human right to be able afford healthy food and shelter has been denied for 12 years, this budget will not close the ever growing gap between needs and incomes.

If a little money for a few more bus rides and a few days more of food is not enough to help people keep their housing, they can try to get help from the expanded rent bank, but very few are eligible for the rent loan that also deepens their debt burden. If the McGuinty government had merely ended the child benefit claw-back, we would have been $120 a month further ahead for each child without costing the province or an extra dime in welfare.

A pittance was offered for more housing, but it was the same federal money they have been sitting on for 4 years, and nowhere near enough to make a dent in the backlog of need. The same with childcare but it’s even less than what is now available from the feds to create spaces. Many workers in temporary or precarious employment not only receive minimal wages, they are lucky to paid at all, and yet there is still almost no enforcement of labour standards. Interesting that one substantial increase was to child protection services, they’ll need it to take care of and adopt out the many children whose parents will not be able to support them anymore. The McGuinty government has had four years to reverse this lingering cycle of despair, hunger, homelessness, and family breakdown. Yet the poverty trap is as deep as ever and the supports needed to leave social assistance are still sorely lacking.

The federal government was no help either, families on welfare, even those who are also working, got nothing at all, no tax benefit, no housing, no health benefits, no guarantee of childcare, nothing. Even though 40 billion dollars of recent surpluses came from major cuts to employment insurance funded by the workers themselves, the working poor got little help; low wage families heard from the federal government that if they are working enough to pay taxes, they can keep up to $310 dollars more per child per year, those who are not working or not working enough, will get nothing. And again, there was no E.I. increase or change in rules so more workers can stay off welfare.

These so called “increases” for poor families will not even keep up with inflation, never mind compensate for the 15 or more years that fixed incomes and low wages have been losing ground while living costs continue to rise. People are so poor, especially in rural areas, they can’t even afford the costs of looking for work, or to own a phone to connect with the world, and many more are always economically insecure and cannot build healthy futures for themselves and their families. Many parents must have wept when they heard how mean and petty an amount had been set aside to help them feed their children.

In 1995, the year of the cuts, Canada made a commitment at the UN World Summit on Social Development to ensure people in poverty would participate in setting up a national poverty reduction strategy. 60 other countries have followed up to this promise, ironically neither the Federal or Ontario government has met with low income people to even discuss poverty reduction for over a decade, though we are among the wealthiest nations in the world. The cost of neglect to people’s lives and society has been very high, the resulting chaos has already cost society billions in damage control and it looks like we will be spending billions more without helping anyone escape poverty.

After all this time, the strategy of pretending to address poverty looks like a pre-election tactic to quiet public anger about the needless shame of poverty in our wealthy province of Ontario, just like the sham delivered to Canada by the federal government on Tuesday. Who can trust parties who break so many promises and would mislead the public by claiming their budgets will help child-poverty while continuing to withhold and delay easily available resources needed to secure basic human rights for the poorest of families in Ontario? What poor family can afford to wait 5 years for such minimal results? ”It’s time governments lived up to the many promises they have made to respect basic human rights and involve low-income people in creating a real plan to reduce poverty” said Josephine Grey who is a single mother and grandmother on ODSP

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Media contact: Josephine Grey, Co-founder of LIFT and Canada’s Official Observer on Domestic Issues to the UN World Summit on Social Development