My remarks to London City Council: Good evening, my name is Abe Oudshoorn and I am a professor in the School of Nursing at Western, and have the privilege of serving as the Chair of the London Homeless Coalition. This evening I am coming to you to request your endorsement of our campaign to increase Ontario Works for single adults by $100 per month.
We come to this campaign recognizing that although employment is the only real means to elevate oneself out of poverty, some will find themselves in a position where they require social assistance. We also acknowledge the ground we have made on poverty in Ontario, particularly around families in poverty and new funds and new initiatives allowing people to maintain more of their earned income. We also acknowledge the slow and steady increase to Ontario Works rates over time, but at an average of 1 to 1.5% annually, we recognize that in real dollars the rates have declined due to inflation of 2-3% annually. In fact, we haven’t seen an increase to rates over inflation for about 20 years until this past year, where there was a modest 3% increase for single adults.
Concern around social assistance rates has been a long standing concern in our community, and one that this Council has itself expressed a number of times in the past. As the London Homeless Coalition, we have seen how insufficient social assistance rates lead to people being stuck in shelters and on the streets, people want to move into housing but simply don’t have the financial means. The Social Assistance Review Commission, led by the provincial Government, has finally offered some hope of relief on this front. Among their 108 recommendations was one suggesting an immediate $100 increase to rates for single adults.
The Social Assistance Review Commission final report contains many recommendations, some quite complex and requiring much further work to iron out. However, this recommendation of an immediate increase does not hinge on any other changes, such as setting a standard to index increases in the future. It is simple, straight-forward, and practical. However, as you know, there is no requirement of the government to follow the recommendations of these reports, so lobbying is required to make sure they appear in provincial budgets.
Our hope is that City Council would be willing to add the City of London to the list of those who are endorsing this campaign. Communication across levels of government is an important role of Council, as we seek to influence provincial and federal priorities that impact our citizens. Our target for this campaign is that the change would appear in the 2014 Ontario provincial budget. The London Homeless Coalition has a great working relationship with the City, aided in no small part by the incredible work of Jan Richardson and her team with the homelessness portfolio. We continue to work together to implement the Community Plan on Homelessness, and recently celebrated and mourned together the unveiling of the London Homeless Memorial. This collaboration is as strong and as effective as ever. We hope that you will choose to partner with us on this.