July 11, 2014
Hon Kathleen Wynne, MPP
Premier of Ontario
Hon Eric Hoskins, MPP
Minister of Health and Long Term Care
Hon Helena Jaczek, MPP
Minister of Community and Social Services
Dear Premier Wynne, Minister Hoskins, and Minister Jaczek;
We were pleased that Premier Wynne’s Speech From The Throne announced plans for a new poverty reduction strategy for Ontario.
Health Providers Against Poverty is an Ontario-based collective of doctors, nurses, and other frontline healthcare professionals. As health care providers, we see daily the devastating impacts of low income on our patients’ health. Individuals at the lower end of the income spectrum are at greater risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and mental health illness. In the health system, individuals living in poverty are treated differently than those who are wealthy, with less access to specialist health services and lower uptake of many preventive measures. Illness in turn can deepen poverty, particularly through barriers to employment. To ensure a healthy population, we need to not simply treat illness but tackle the upstream causes of illness including poverty.
Your government has taken some steps to reduce poverty, but must act further:
- Ontario now has the highest minimum wage in Canada and we applaud the intention to index annual increases to inflation. However, those making a minimum wage will continue to live below the poverty line and your current plan will make this permanent. Along with many others across the province, we call on your government to immediately raise the minimum wage to $14 per hour.
- A living wage allows an individual to maintain a basic level of dignity within a community. We call on your government to encourage municipalities to pay city workers a living wage, and to study the impact of action or inaction by municipalities, including on wages, productivity and local economic growth.
- The Ontario Child Benefit launched by “Breaking the Cycle” reduced child poverty by 11%, and this is commendable. But this falls short of the goal established in 2008 of a 25% reduction. We encourage a commitment to this original benchmark in reducing poverty in some of Ontario’s most vulnerable. We call on your government to set a timetable for the elimination of child poverty in Ontario.
- People who are unable to work are not impacted by minimum wage increases and many of these Ontarians are not impacted at all by the creation of the Ontario Child Benefit. We call on your government to raise social assistance rates immediately by 40%.
- We applaud the commitment to expanding the Community Homelessness Prevention Initiative and Investment in Affordable Housing Program. We call on your government to develop and publish a specific plan with a timeline to eliminate homelessness, through investments in proven strategies such as “Housing First”, and reduce by 50% the number of families on waiting lists for affordable housing over the next decade.
- We understand that you will face questions about how to pay for the expansion of social programs. We call on your government to raise taxes on the wealthiest members of society, including health professionals, and particularly focus on estate and capital gains taxes. As you are aware, the wealthiest have captured much of the wealth created over the past 30 years. Raising taxes can both reduce income inequality and fund essential social programs.
- We recognize your government is under significant pressure to limit your social agenda and to focus on economic growth. As health professionals, we encourage the adoption of more broad measures of societal growth such as the Canadian Index of Well-Being.
As concerned citizens and front-line healthcare workers, we know that this is a matter of life and death for thousands of people in the province. This urgency is compounded by the evidence that the health effects and vulnerabilities due to poverty are passed on to the next generation, portending massive social costs and lost potential over the longer term.
We know that you share this sense of urgency with us and we look forward to the unveiling of your new poverty reduction strategy.
Lucy Barker, MD; Mike Benusic, MD; Jim Deutsch, MD; Katie Dorman, MD; Anne Egger, NP; Andrea Perry, OT; Andrew Pinto, MD; Malika Sharma, MD; Fatima Uddin, MD
On behalf of Health Providers Against Poverty