The issue of the impact of 0% for the third year first caught my eye because I try to keep track of what is going on with municipal politics. I had a strong sense that the citizens of London were unaware of what service cuts were being proposed, so wanted to simply start the discussion. However, in terms of the work that I do around poverty, health, and homelessness, the most important part of this debate to me is who the service cuts will hurt the most: people experiencing poverty.
Have a look at the following items from the proposed list of cuts:
- Reducing library hours and collections
- Reduced swimming pool hours and closure of low use pools and splash pads
- Reduction in maintenance and repair in social housing
- “A reduction in the City’s homelessness programs such as MAPAG, London CAReS and emergency shelters would have to be identified.”
- Reduction of 22,900 LTC service hours
An example of the proposed library hour cuts is Sunday afternoons, which you can imagine would be a relatively quiet time. However, if you go to the Central Library on a Sunday afternoon in the fall, and go to the second floor computer area, you will notice that the patrons are predominantly those experiencing poverty and/or homelessness. This is because people have few other places to go on a weekend. Secondly, on a hot summer such as this, it is clear that many families use splash pads and pools as a way to cool off if they can’t afford an apartment with air conditioning. Other public services such as transit are also most accessed by people with limited means.
So, in the same way that in year 2 the plan was to cut money from affordable housing, putting the burden of the tax freeze on the backs of the poor, the same picture is emerging for this year. This is most obvious in terms of considering cutting London CAReS, our rapid re-housing and housing support program, the primary means by which we intervene to move people out of homelessness in London. There could be nothing that reflected as poorly on our City as saving a few dollars but cutting into the services that alleviate the impact of poverty on our vulnerable neighbours.
It has been argued that because property tax is semi-regressive (it increases at an equal rate on all properties, though is not equal on all properties) that we must freeze to spare those who are struggling. However, cutting programs that serve those in poverty to save those dropping into poverty is a backwards way to deal with this issue. We already have federal programs, and the banks have their own programs, to help families who are struggling with a mortgage and property taxes. As well, the United Way is currently looking at the impact of unemployment and the ability of families to make ends meet. If poverty is the issue, we may actually look to increase, rather than decrease, public services.