July 31, 2008
Ontarians who live in poverty and are socially excluded experience a greater burden of disease and die younger than those who have better access to economic, social, and political resources. Registered nurses are acutely aware that our clients living in poverty are struggling every day to meet their basic needs for nutritious food and affordable shelter.
The time for action is now. The 2007 Ontario Budget (with its introduction of the Ontario Child Benefit), the provincial election campaign that focused on poverty as a key issue, the 2007 Throne Speech with its introduction of a new Cabinet Committee on Poverty Reduction, and lively community consultations over the last few months are all signs of the growing political and social will to tackle poverty and social exclusion.
RNAO urges the McGuinty government to build, and build quickly, on this momentum by rapidly implementing a comprehensive poverty reduction strategy to address the hardships of Ontarians who face a daily struggle for survival and dignity. This strategy
must move beyond minor adjustment to social programs to rapid structural changes in existing living conditions and in pathways to better life outcomes.
Ontario’s poverty reduction strategy should incorporate three transformational pillars:
1. Sustaining employment so that those who work full-time are not living in poverty. Pathways to achieve this include:
Increase the minimum wage to $10.25/hour in 2008 and adjust it for inflation annually.
Enhance and enforce the Employment Standards Act to ensure that all workers, including those in casual, temporary, or contract positions are protected.
Improve access to unionization to strengthen the collective voice of workers.
Create strong employment programs to assist new immigrants and displaced workers access good jobs.
2. All Ontarians, including those not able to be in the workforce, need a standard of living that allows them in live in health, dignity, and decency. Pathways to achieve this include:
Increase social assistance income so that people in need of social assistance can live in dignity and out of poverty. Once people have a livable income, it should be indexed to inflation.
Reform benefit reduction schedules on earned income for the working poor.
Speed up implementation of the Ontario Child Benefit.
Press the federal government to increase an indexed Canada Child Tax Benefit to $5,200/child (2008$).
Press the federal government to improve access to Employment Insurance.
3. Ontario should be a province of inclusion and opportunity for all, with access to strong and supportive community services. Pathways to achieve this include:
Increase access to affordable housing by: making major investments in the construction and maintenance of affordable housing units; uploading social housing programs; providing rent supplements; and investing in supportive housing for those with physical, cognitive and/or mental health needs.
Invest in universal, regulated, affordable, non-for-profit, public systems of early learning and child care.
Invest in a public education system that focuses on equitable access by ending school fees, investing in at-risk students, and increasing needs-based grants for post-secondary education.
RNAO joins many other community groups in seeking a commitment from the McGuinty government to introduce a multi-year Poverty Reduction Plan in the 2009 provincial budget outlining specific measures to lower Ontario poverty levels by 25% before 2013, and by 50% before 2018.
RNAO Social Determinants of Health