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Toronto Social Development Dashboard needs to measure inequality

In this deputation, CUPE Local 79 President Tim Maguire comments on the Social Development Dashboard, arguing the proposed indicators don’t tell the whole story about Toronto communities.


Dear Councillor Perruzza and Members of the Community Development and Recreation Committee:

In Divisions across the City, Local 79 members are on the front lines, taking care of Toronto, directly providing services to residents who are socially or economically marginalized. The proposed Social Development Dashboard has the potential to strengthen the policy framework guiding our members. It has the potential to promote evidence-based decision-making and provide a better picture of what is happening in our communities. Unfortunately, the Dashboard as it is currently proposed also has some major shortcomings, which I would like to address on behalf of Local 79.

To be clear, Local 79 strongly supports the spirit of the proposed Dashboard. We see it as potentially being part of a set of tools, including the job quality assessment tool City Council requested last year, that can help provide concrete evidence to guide decision-making. Measuring social development is particularly valuable as a counter-balance to the tendency to see economic measures as telling the whole story about how a city is doing. The office vacancy rates and retail sales figures that are included in the Economic Dashboard don’t tell us what life is like for Torontonians. They don’t tell us about the struggles some communities face or our sense of belonging and well-being.

Ideally, the Social Development Dashboard would help tell a more complete story.

And the most important part of that story, which the proposed Dashboard does not capture, is income inequality. Income inequality is perhaps the defining problem of our time and, as it stands, the proposed Dashboard’s failure to capture inequality as such is a major problem.

Research on inequality is making a number of facts increasingly clear. First, at the population level, inequality has negative impacts on overall health outcomes. Poverty poses considerable health risks, but inequality itself is also a social determinant of health.

There is also a growing body of evidence that inequality hurts economic growth and social mobility. Not surprisingly, inequality can contribute to feelings of frustration and resentment on the part of people who are forced out of gentrifying neighbourhoods, excluded from social and recreational opportunities, and feel disrespected by the increased social distances inequality fosters. All of this negatively impacts the sense of community and belonging that the Dashboard ought to capture.

Therefore, it is not enough to include measures that capture the incidence of poverty and socioeconomic vulnerability; we also need to capture inequality. We need to shift our thinking. The prevalence of low income, food bank usage, homelessness and other indicators of socioeconomic vulnerability are not isolated facts; they exist in relation to an increased concentration of wealth among fewer and fewer people. As J. David Hulchanski’s 2010    report, The Three Cities within Toronto warned, we are becoming an increasingly polarized city. The Toronto Social Development Dashboard should explicitly and intentionally provide indicators of inequality so the City can develop evidence-based strategies to reverse this trend.

To lend some nuance and texture to indicators about where wealth is concentrating and at whose expense, the City needs to directly measure social cohesion. This might be accomplished by reporting on the number of not-for-profit, service  e, and faith organizations active in various communities, or by surveying residents to determine how well they know and trust their neighbours. As an example, Statistics Canada’s Community Health Survey already measures residents’ sense of belonging to local community. Civic engagement would also be relevant and could be measured, for example, by levels of participation in City Divisions’ consultations. The City could also regularly report on the number of deputations at Standing Committees and Community Councils. Tracking levels of inequality in combination with levels of trust, people’s sense of belonging and their willingness to engage in policy decisions, would tell us as much or more about the direction our city is taking than would GDP or jobs data alone.

In part, this would also require moving from a high-level, broad overview of city-wide trends and toward providing disaggregated information to reflect Toronto’s multicultural diversity, the experiences of newcomers, and how gender and age affect a person’s social and economic opportunities. For example, a 2013 report from the Wellesley Institute, entitled “Shadow Economies”, reported that over half of the newcomers they interviewed experienced discrimination as a barrier in the labour force. This kind of social reality is not captured by employment statistics alone.

To conclude, I want to strongly urge the Committee to request additional indicators be included in the Dashboard. These indicators should measure inequality, social cohesion and civic engagement. Above all, we need to make sure that we create a Social Development Dashboard that helps tell the whole story about Toronto and its communities.

 

Yours Truly,

Tim Maguire
President

 

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