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Toronto’s Poverty Reduction Strategy – Local 79 gives input to the City after surveying Local 79 members

In this deputation, Local 79 President Tim Maguire calls upon the City to be to be a model employer and lead by example as it holds up quality jobs and living wages as a central pillar of a Poverty Reduction Strategy. Local 79 used the feedback from the Local 79 Members Survey on Poverty Reduction to inform the remarks and concerns about rising poverty levels in Toronto.


 

Dear Mayor Tory and Members of the Executive Committee:

RE: EX7.2 TO Prosperity – Interim Poverty Reduction Strategy

On behalf of the Members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 79 who deliver services in communities across Toronto, often to Toronto’s most vulnerable, I would like to discuss this very important undertaking by the City to reduce poverty.

The growing divide between those who have more and those who have less threatens the well-being of families and communities across the city. The statistics never fail to alarm: one in four children and one in five adults in Toronto live in poverty. Unless we tackle income inequality and the rising rates of poverty, the city and people who live here will not thrive.

By responding to this challenge with a bold effort to develop a comprehensive Poverty Reduction Strategy, City Council appears to be interested in changing direction and begin investing in positive measures to improve and stabilize income levels and ensure residents have access to needed services and supports.

I would also like to express my appreciation to those who have had the insight to know how important poverty reduction is to the health of the City, and to those who have been working so hard on a strategy to address poverty. City staff, particularly in Social Development; and City politicians, particularly Councillor and Deputy Mayor Pam McConnell — selected by the Mayor to develop and lead this Strategy — deserve our thanks.

TO PROSPERITY: INTERIM POVERTY REDUCTION STRATEGY, JUNE 2015

The vision statement in the Strategy states: “We want to be renowned as a city where everyone has access to good jobs, adequate income, stable housing, affordable transportation, nutritious food and supportive services.”

We couldn’t agree more. Good jobs, housing, transit, child care, inclusion, and supports are investments in people and in the health and well-being of Toronto communities.

The Report has many recommendations – and all of them have merit. But recommendations alone will not help one single resident – the political will, resources and commitment must be there in the fight to reduce poverty.

The Strategy must be about stability: stable jobs, stable incomes, and stable housing – something to build a future on.

Housing: The 90,000 thousand households on the wait list for social housing and the 16,000 shelter-users (in 2014) need help. A safe, healthy place to live is a basic human right.

Access to Services: There is an ever-expanding need for public services as the City grows and diversifies. Families need child care, before and after school care, recreation, health services and home care. There are 16,802 children on the waitlist for child care fee subsidies and only 19% of children aged 1 – 12 have access to licensed child care.

Transportation: Must be accessible, affordable and reliable.

Food access: Over a million visits to food banks per year in Toronto and the GTA. In the midst of so much wealth, no one should go hungry.

Quality Jobs & Living Wages: These are ways out of poverty for most people and families. The Strategy Recommendations #14 & #15 will make Toronto a true leader and poverty-fighter if it becomes a living wage employer and develops “a job quality assessment tool, and applies it to City jobs, city contractor jobs, and procurement processes.” It’s all about stability.

LOCAL 79 MEMBERS SURVEY ON POVETY REDUCTION

Local 79 has been heavily engaged on the issues of income inequality and poverty for some time with our ongoing support of United Way Toronto, work with community groups and being part of the initial Poverty Reduction consultation process. We also used this opportunity to survey our Members on income inequality and poverty in the City. We have distributed the Local 79 Members Survey on Poverty Reduction to the Executive Committee with the comments and insights of our Members who, as front-line workers, see poverty and what poverty does to people every day as they deliver services. Our Members are uniquely positioned to contribute to the City’s ongoing efforts to develop a poverty reduction strategy.

On behalf of Local 79 Members, we call on the City to be a model employer and lead by example as it holds up quality jobs and living wages as a central pillar of a Poverty Reduction Strategy. Our Member Engagement Survey brought out this point: “not only do our members deliver services to people struggling with precarious work and underemployment … many also experience precarity, scheduling problems, and the reality of falling further and further behind – even as employees of the City of Toronto.”

Some central themes emerged from the survey results.

1. Employment
Participants stressed that jobs need to be quality jobs and, as importantly, that the City has a role to play in promoting quality jobs.

2. Housing
This was the highest-rated concern related to poverty (followed by precarious employment, lower health outcomes and social isolation).

3. Access to City Services – Leadership, staffing, resources
A significant number of participants indicated that the staffing and resources they need to combat poverty are not in place.

4. Food Security
Respondents consistently included access to affordable, nutritious food (or lack of it) as part of Toronto’s growing cost-of-living problem.

5. Transportation
Transportation concerns were included with other issues like cost-of-living, gentrification and affordable housing.

6. Additional themes emerged
Many respondents identified poor mental health, racism, language barriers and immigration obstacles as key issues related to poverty.

Having a stable job with a living wage is at the top of the priority list for reducing poverty. All Toronto residents need is to be able to access affordable housing, child care, transportation, health care and other supportive services. Not having enough money to put food on the table and pay the rent is no way to live.

The TO PROSPERITY: INTERIM POVERY REDUCTION STRATEGY June 2015 provides excellent direction for priorities and budgets in the section on Institutional Change:

“It will require a City government where budget decisions take into account short, medium, and long-term impacts on poverty. Where programs and services to residents are viewed as investments. Where measurements capture what really matters: the well-being of families and communities. Where every strategy is drafted in close collaboration with the people it affects most.” (Strategy, p. 37)

“Poverty-Sensitive Budgeting: Create a mechanism that encourages a decision-making environment in which the impact of budget choices on poverty is duly considered.” (Strategy, p. 38)

Local 79 has concerns about Poverty-Sensitive Budgeting when the budget process for 2016 is asking all Divisions and Agencies to find further “savings” of 2%, or in other words a 2% cut to services.

“Dedicated Revenues: Reducing poverty will require increased investments – by the city and by other governments and sectors. The City will explore options for dedicating stable revenues to address the root causes of poverty and invest in upstream interventions that lower costly downstream expenditures.” (Strategy, p. 39)

Investment and stability are the keys to fighting poverty.

Former City Manager Joe Pennachetti recognized that “city-building is no longer a question of efficiencies; it is about finding revenues to keep core services up to date with gro
wing demand.” As he put it, “We need new tax revenues. We can’t survive any more just on property taxes” (Metro News May 13, 2014).

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives released a report in January 2015, Toronto’s Taxing Questions: Options to Improve the City’s Revenue Health, stating that Toronto is “sitting on more than $600 million in untapped potential revenue.” CUPE National has also developed a municipal toolkit for fair funding for Canadian cities and towns.
http://cupe.ca/building-better-communities-fair-funding-toolkit-canadas-cities-and-towns

The City must find a way to create financial and social space in order to both address poverty proactively on one hand, and ensure it does not make other decisions that either fail to address or indeed exacerbate poverty on the other hand.

The time has come to begin seriously looking at new revenue tools for the city. CUPE Local 79 would be glad to be part of the discussion and an ongoing part of the consultation on poverty reduction.

Yours truly,

 

Tim Maguire
President

 

 

 

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