Hamilton

Poverty levels in both Hamilton and Ontario shrinking, SPRC report shows

Poverty levels both in Hamilton and across the province have been dropping for the last two decades, according to a new report from the Social Planning and Research Council.
Poverty levels in Hamilton have decreased in the last two decades, the latest statistics show. (Terry Asma/CBC)

Poverty levels both in Hamilton and across the province have been dropping for the last two decades, according to a new report from the Social Planning and Research Council (SPRC).

But, the council says — much still needs to be done to ensure issues like predatory lending and precarious work don't overcome the city's most vulnerable populations.

"Individuals accessing Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program continue to live in deep poverty, living on incomes incapable of providing both safe and secure housing and enough food to eat," the report says.

"Their lives are a constant struggle to keep body and soul together, and where any emergency can destabilize their lives and result in adverse health effects on them and their families."

According to the report's analysis of the latest available census data, 21.9 per cent of Hamiltonians lived in poverty back in 1996, compared to 17.7 per cent provincially.

That's the story of Ontario. There's a lot of wealth, but also disparities.- Sara Mayo, SPRC

In 2006, that number dropped to 18.1 per cent in Hamilton and 14.7 per cent in Ontario. Then in 2016, those numbers dropped even more, to 16.6 per cent in Hamilton and 13.7 per cent in Ontario as a whole.

"We don't want people to take it as the job is done, or everything is fine," said Sara Mayo, social planner with the SPRC. "There's a lot of deep poverty in our community and across Ontario."

The report also outlines how poverty makes it impossible to meet people's basic needs, resulting in a combination of unsafe and insecure housing, inadequate nutrition, diminished health outcomes, and a higher cost to taxpayers for a variety of social safety nets.

Toronto, Mayo said, actually has the highest poverty rate in Ontario. It's also where some of the province's wealthiest people live.

"That's the story of Ontario. There's a lot of wealth, but also disparities," she said.

Many Canadian studies put the cost of perpetuating poverty at between 150 per cent and 200 per cent the cost of eliminating it, according to the SPRC.

"While some progress has been made, there is still much to do in improving the lives of the 1.8 million people in Ontario who continue to live in poverty," the report reads.

To that end, the SPRC recommends making social assistance "adequate and fair," pushing for more social housing, and addressing discrimination and inequality in society that leads to unfair workplace environments and labour market exclusion.

A positive to take away from the analysis as a whole is Hamilton's poverty rate is starting to inch more toward the provincial average, Mayo said.

"There's a small narrowing of the gap, which is good news."

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