There’s some very encouraging news on the child poverty and housing fronts in Ontario’s recently released 2017 Poverty Reduction Strategy Annual Report.
Between 2012 and 2015 (the most recent year for which data is available), 24.4% or 19,000 fewer children were living in poverty, and 37.3% or 22,000 fewer children were living in deep poverty. The government attributes much of this progress to the Ontario Child Benefit (OCB). The OCB, which is indexed to inflation, provides low- to moderate-income families with up to $1,378 per child per year. It is anticipated that we will continue to see progress on child poverty in Ontario, as next year’s annual report will reflect the impact of the federal Canada Child Benefit.
The 2017 Annual Report also revealed progress on housing affordability. Based on the Ontario Housing Measure, 15,000 or 16% fewer families living on low-income were spending more than 40% of their income on housing in 2015 than in 2014. Following the release of A Place to Call Home: Report of the Expert Advisory Panel on Homelessness, the government committed to end chronic homelessness in Ontario by 2025. The Annual Report highlights several measures that have been introduced to meet this ambitious goal, and the initial data on the homelessness target will be available in the 2018 Annual Report.
Despite these signs of progress, the 2017 Annual Report acknowledges that much work remains to be done. Overall poverty rates in the province are still high, with 13.9% of Ontarians experiencing poverty as of 2015 (compared with 13.2% in 2014). While poverty rates among vulnerable populations (recent immigrants, persons with disabilities, persons in female lone parent families, unattached individuals aged 45 to 64, and Indigenous people living off-reserve) decreased on an overall basis by 4.2% (from 32.6% to 28.4%) between 2014 and 2015, rates have increased in recent years for some of these groups.
Transforming income security could go a long way toward addressing these high poverty rates. While the 2018 Ontario Budget announced rate increases of 3% per year over 3 years for Ontario Works (OW) and Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) recipients, the Income Security: A Roadmap for Change report recommended rate increases of 22% for OW and 15% for ODSP over 3 years. The 2018 Budget did include several other commitments – e.g., allowing recipients to keep more of their employment earnings, and eliminating limits on savings in Tax-Free Savings Accounts (TFSAs) or Registered Retirement Savings Plans (RRSPs) – that would benefit those in receipt of social assistance. (For a brief overview of the need for income security reform, see Noah Zon’s recent Transition Briefing on the issue.)
Overall, the 2017 Annual Report underscores how critical it is for governments to develop and implement poverty reduction strategies with clear targets and timelines. Such strategies help us understand which policies are resulting in positive outcomes, and which areas need more attention. The OCB is an example of a policy that has had a major impact in reducing child poverty in Ontario: a clear reminder that good policies can make a real difference in the lives of people who are experiencing poverty.
Take Your Learning Further
- Download Ontario's 2017 Poverty Reduction Strategy Report
- Access Ontario's 2015 A Place to Call Home: Report of the Expert Advisory Panel on Homelessness
- Read the 2018 Ontario Budget
- Find Ontario's 2017 Income Security Roadmap for Change
- Explore the 2018 Brief detailing need for income security reform in Ontario