Press Release: Ontario Poverty Reduction Strategy

Sept 9, 2014

Health Providers Call for Immediate Targets and Action on Poverty in Ontario

TORONTO – Health Providers Against Poverty responded with disappointment to the release of the Ontario government’s second five-year Poverty Reduction strategy. Although the Strategy keeps poverty on the public agenda, and expands the focus to include homeless adults, members are concerned about the lack of specific targets and timelines. They also note a lack of appropriate new funding to reduce poverty.

“As front line health providers who treat people living in poverty daily, we see the existence of high levels of poverty in Ontario as a public health emergency. We are disappointed and very concerned that this government has used its second strategy to set out vague goals, without clear timelines, and without significant new funding,” said Dr. Jim Deutsch, a physician in Toronto. “I am particularly concerned about the long-term impact on the well-being of children and families.”

Health Providers Against Poverty has called for an immediate 55% increase in social assistance rates, an increase to the minimum wage to $14 an hour, and investments in universal child care and pharmacare programs.  “An Ontario Association of Food Banks report estimated that poverty costs Ontario almost $3 billion in additional health care expenses alone. A strong investment in poverty reduction makes both economic and health sense, ” said Dr. Lucy Barker, a resident physician in Toronto. “We look forward to a significant infusion of funds and a bold commitment to major poverty reduction initiatives in the next budget”.

Health Providers Against Poverty is a coalition of nurses, doctors, other health care providers, and front line workers that works to reduce poverty as a powerful health intervention.

Letter To Premier Wynne on Poverty Reduction

July 11, 2014

Hon Kathleen Wynne, MPP
Premier of Ontario
kwynne.mpp@liberal.ola.org

Hon Eric Hoskins, MPP
Minister of Health and Long Term Care
ehoskins.mpp@liberal.ola.org

Hon Helena Jaczek, MPP
Minister of Community and Social Services
hjaczek.mpp@liberal.ola.org

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:

  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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%.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.

Thank you,

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 

HPAP Workshop at Prevent More To Treat Less

Apr 25, 2014

The Prevent More To Treat Less joint conference between Public Health and Primary Care was held on June 4-5, 2014 in Toronto, Ontario.

Health Providers Against Poverty members Kathy Hardill, Monika Dutt, and Katie Dorman hosted a 90-minute workshop on Lessons Learned From Nine Years of Education, Engagement, and Political Advocacy. They described the origins and upstream successes of our organization, provided a frank critique on what has worked and the challenges encountered, and lead an interactive session aimed to identify priority areas for work around poverty and health in Ontario.

Thirty members of the health care sector including health professional students, front-line providers, health centre board members, and representatives from professional organizations participated in the workshop. Priorities for future efforts were identified in a small group breakout session and were finalized by consensus through e-mail following the conference.

The priorities identified were:

  1. Income Inequity
    1. Apply clinical interventions at the individual client level to optimize income
    2. Reduce income inequity through provincial and national policies such as increased social assistance and minimum wage, mandatory living wage, or a guaranteed annual income
  2. Health of People Who Are Homeless or Precariously Housed
    1. Enhance access to primary care through service models that increase equity
    2. Increase access to safe and affordable housing, as well as shelter space as long as necessary
  3. Dental Care
    1. Increase access to dental services through advocacy for expanded coverage, i.e. universal dental coverage
  4. Medications
    1. Reduce cost barriers for medications through advocacy for a national Pharmacare program

The workshop presentation can be viewed through here.