Commentary

Hamilton MPP Presents Bill 6

This proposed legislation would depoliticize the process of establishing social assistance rates in Ontario in order to reflect the actual cost of living.

By Brittany Horodecki
Published October 04, 2016

Hamiltonians are known for their grit. So it's no surprise that last week Hamilton East-Stoney Creek MPP Paul Miller presented Bill 6 for second reading in the Ontario Legislature after reviving and renaming the original bill, which was prorogued following its first reading.

Bill 6 aims to depoliticize the process of establishing social assistance rates in order to reflect the actual cost of living in different Ontario communities.

The bill would create a social assistance research commission inclusive of individuals with expertise in the economic and financial challenges faced by individuals living with disabilities and aboriginal individuals in Ontario, as well as individuals with lived experience who receive or have received basic financial assistance within the last 10 years from Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support Program.

This commission would then make recommendations on what Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support Program recipients would need to for an adequate standard of living.

Despite Hamilton's reputation and political efforts, many individuals and families continue on a downward slide living in a cycle of dire poverty as a result of insufficient social assistance.

21-Year Life Expectancy Gap

The Hamilton Spectator's Code Red series was an alarming reminder of the longstanding effects of the Ontario government's cuts to payments for recipients of social assistance in 1995.

Within the report, researchers revealed a 21-year differential in life expectancy between two Hamilton neighbourhoods five kilometers apart, and an $8.63 million difference in spending on hospital service use, emergency services, and ambulance costs between the top and bottom neighbourhoods in Hamilton.

The messages from these reports are loud and clear: the economic health of Hamilton is dependent on the well-being and prosperity of all of its community members.

Yet, there are 900,000 Ontarians and 50,000 Hamiltonians who rely on social assistance and are unable afford an adequate standard of living because the rates do not reflect the actual cost of housing, food, clothing and other essentials.

Arbitrary Social Assistance Rates

Currently, these rates are arbitrary and do not match the inflation of food and accommodation. Even with an annual increase of one percent, the rates still have not recovered to meet the 21.5 percent cut by the Ontario government in 1995.

This failure to ensure Ontarians' right to an adequate standard of living is not news either. Reports from the United Nations recognize and point out that this issue of inequity and justice is problematic across the country.

The United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights clearly stated that Canada is "not measuring up" and suggested "improvements to social assistance rates in all provinces to ensure an effective income safety net."

Commitment to Protect Basic Human Rights

Bill 6 is a reflection of a commitment to ensure and protect basic human rights. If supporting a bill that promotes social justice and equity is not enough to convince the government and its taxpayers, let's consider the future if things do not change.

According to the 2011 Census report by Statistics Canada, Hamilton is the 9th largest populated metropolitan city in Canada. Yet, it is less than a quarter in size of Edmonton, the largest city by geographical area. Taking into consideration the cost of living according to each city would enable individuals the right to choose where they live, consequently (at least partially) alleviating displacement and overpopulation.

This is especially significant considering the recent trend in the housing market, which has contributed to the increasing costs of housing in Hamilton.

Guaranteed Income Projet

Let's not forget that the provincial and federal government once funded a guaranteed income project in Manitoba, called Mincome, which had positive outcomes for individuals and the Dauphin community.

By looking at the social implications of ensuring an adequate standard of living for individuals and families in the 1970s, this project noted an increase in employment, reduction in poverty, and improvements in health and the economy.

It is often said that the greatness of a nation or a society can be measured by how it treats its most vulnerable members. If our parliament continues to give serious consideration to legislation like Bill 6, the greatness of our society will surely grow.

Brittany Horodecki is a Hamiltonian, currently studying for a Master in Social Work at Wilfrid Laurier University.

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