While the provincial government's new Poverty Reduction Strategy is a step in the right direction, it lacks firm financial plans and timelines to properly pull pull people out of poverty, a Hamilton anti-poverty advocate says.
The government of Ontario pledged to end homelessness in the province Wednesday as part of its new iteration of the strategy. New money – some 42 million dollars – will be directed at local homelessness initiatives starting this year, the Liberals say. Those funds were paired with a promise to create 1,000 new supportive housing spaces.
Tom Cooper, director of the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction, says the strategy includes many positive steps, but the provincial government still needs to address several issues plaguing people in Hamilton.
'I think there are some good moves here. But what’s lacking in the plan is firm financial plans to back things up.' - Tom Cooper, director of the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction
“I think there are some good moves here,” Cooper told CBC Hamilton. “But what’s lacking in the plan is firm financial plans to back things up.”
Some have criticized the government’s follow through from its last iteration of the strategy. Lowering child poverty rates by 25 per cent was the cornerstone of the government’s last Poverty Reduction Strategy from back in 2008, and that’s something it still hasn’t achieved. Minister Deb Matthews says the province did its part to meet that target, but the federal government didn’t.
The provincial Liberals renewed their commitment to that 25 per cent number Wednesday, but without any firm time frames for when it would be achieved. The government did manage to pull about 47,000 people out of poverty since 2008, Cooper says, which is a “fine achievement,” but still leaves hundreds of thousands of children in poverty. According to the Hamilton Community Foundation, 17,000 Hamiltonians – including over 6,000 children – still regularly use foodbanks in the city.
Hamilton’s foodbank usage in 2013 was 10 per cent higher than pre-recession levels, the foundation says.
NDP MPP Cheri DiNovo called the child poverty aspect of the plan an "empty announcement" and urged "real action."
“The need to address poverty and support vulnerable families remains urgent,” DiNovo said. “Instead of taking real action to lift families out of poverty, this Liberal government is announcing a new target with no timeline and no accountability.”
Cooper also says a firm commitment to fixing social assistance was a glaring omission from the new strategy. The province has bolstered social assistance support, Cooper says, but it hasn’t kept up with the cost of living. There are roughly 50,000 people in Hamilton who rely on social assistance as their primary source of income, he said.
“People on social assistance are going hungry,” he said. “In a very real sense, the provincial government is legislating hunger with their inability to fix the system.”
But Cooper doesn’t want to be “all negative,” he says, because there are signs the government will be able to affect positive change through this plan. “They just formed a majority government, the economy is better than it was in 2008, and I feel like they’ve understood their past mistakes.”
“I think this time around they’ve learned some lessons.”