The Honourable Todd Smith
Minister of Children, Community and Social Services
7th Floor, 438 University Ave
Toronto, ON M5G 2K8
Dear Minister Smith:
Re: Ontario’s poverty reduction strategy, Building a Strong Foundation for Success: Reducing Poverty in Ontario (2020 – 2025)
I hope this letter finds you well, especially during this challenging time. I am writing on behalf of the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) in response to the government’s Poverty Reduction Strategy, Building a Strong Foundation for Success: Reducing Poverty in Ontario (2020 – 2025) (Strategy).
The OHRC welcomes the release of a new strategy and commits to working with the government to provide human rights guidance and expertise towards implementing it. While we are committed to supporting your office’s efforts to decrease poverty in Ontario, we are concerned that this Strategy does not take an explicit human rights-based approach to poverty reduction and does not recognize the right to an adequate standard of living.
The OHRC maintains the position that to be free from poverty is a human right. The COVID-19 pandemic has added to our understanding of how generational poverty has deepened because of entrenched inequitable social conditions. This reinforces the relevance and urgency of our position.
In our April 2020 submission, the OHRC called on the government to implement permanent solutions to poverty, like a guaranteed universal basic income that would help protect the health, housing and food security of all Ontarians, not just vulnerable groups, during and after any crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic.
The OHRC supports the government’s efforts to help people find stable and long-term employment. However, we are concerned that the stated target to “get more social assistance recipients to move into meaningful employment and financial stability” is too narrow and is not a direct and sufficient measure of poverty reduction. By focusing on this target alone, the Strategy does not address some of the more complex and intersecting reasons that lead people to need social assistance. In other words, moving people off social assistance does not guarantee they will be free from poverty, or from the systemic barriers to employment, housing and health Code-protected groups face.
Many people, particularly women, racialized groups and people living with disabilities, experience poverty because they work low-income and precarious jobs. The Strategy could benefit from greater acknowledgement of this reality and by including measures to help Code-protected groups overcome the systemic barriers to employment they often face and gain meaningful jobs despite current labour market conditions.
Practical measures that could be taken to support the Strategy
Section 3 of the Poverty Reduction Act (Act) provides the government with the opportunity to set a poverty reduction target outside of the target established in the Strategy. COVID-19 presents a justifiable and compelling reason to set additional targets. The OHRC strongly recommends that the government:
- Set a specific target for poverty reduction that aligns with or exceeds the federal poverty reduction target (a 20% reduction in poverty by 2020 and a 50% reduction by 2030, relative to 2015 levels) using the Market Basket Measure (MBM, Canada’s Official Poverty Line) already identified as an indicator in Ontario’s new Strategy.
- Set an additional target to eliminate deep poverty within five years using the deep poverty rate MBM indicator already identified in Ontario’s new Strategy. Steps to support this target could include:
- Ensure access to permanent housing in wraparound support and service plans for people experiencing homelessness
- Work with municipal partners on housing first and rapid rehousing programs
- Collect and report on homelessness data from municipalities.
- Include additional indicators in the statutory annual reports on the Strategy that measure the proportion of the population that experiences chronic homelessness, unmet health needs, food insecurity, lack of literacy, minimum-wage and low-paid work, and where possible, break down the data by the historically disadvantaged groups identified in the Act.
- In light of the devastating impact of COVID-19 on people with low incomes, commit to measures that support workers who are precariously employed. Such measures should include:
- Health benefits and portable housing supports for low-income working people, similar to those provided by social assistance
- Paid sick days.
- In accordance with the requirement to consult regularly with certain individuals and groups under section 5 of the Act, convene a lived experience table of constituents to inform and guide implementation of the Strategy:
- Include people with living with or with lived experience of poverty in ongoing assessment of the Strategy. People with lived experience are uniquely positioned to identity and draw attention to the indirect and out-of-sight barriers that hinder their access to employment and services
- Also include representatives of people at heightened risk of poverty, such as newcomers and immigrants, youth transitioning from state care, women, single mothers, people living with disabilities, Indigenous peoples and racialized groups
The OHRC continues to call on government to recognize the right to an adequate standard of living in Ontario’s Poverty Reduction Act and Strategy. Doing so would help make this province a leading jurisdiction with a transformative vision for reducing poverty.
As always, the OHRC would welcome an opportunity to meet and discuss how best to take a human rights-based approach to reducing and eliminating poverty and related discrimination in Ontario.
Ena Chadha, LL.B., LL.M.
cc: Hon. Doug Downey, Attorney General