Ontario has a poverty problem. Hamilton is an intensified example of this.
- 18% percent of the population lives in poverty, almost 50% of them children. That is 1 In 7 children.
- 6.8% unemployment rate again as of April 2013.
- An accurate number of the under-employed is unavailable at this time, but we know approximate 28,000 individuals work and still earn bellow LICO.
- The income gap in Hamilton is more serious than it is in the rest of Ontario in some cases.
- An alarming rate of poverty among specific demographics, says Tom Cooper, of the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction, with nearly 50 percent of recent immigrants living in poverty.
The list of facts about the seriousness of poverty in Hamilton can go on and on, but I think we all can see how bad situation is.
To survive people living in poverty most rely on the government for help. There has been some promising movements of late. The latest Ontario Budget includes some focus on employment, primarily that of youth, and social services reform. Despite this, there is still a long way to go and a lot more work to do before things begin to turn around.
One of the problems we need to address are the wholly inadequate rates. Take Ontario Works (OW) for example. The LICO (Low Income Cut-Off) for a single person is $18,582 after taxes. The maximum amount OW gives to a single person is $7,352. That is considerably less than half of what is needed to reach the cut-off. This has a major impact on the quality of life.
As someone who lives in poverty I can say the quality of life on OW is severely lacking. It affects everything from health and the food you can eat to the interactions you are able to carry out with others. For example, I am forced to buy, on current OW rates, poor quality food. Due to not having healthy food I have had to seek special funding to combat obesity, gained while on OW. It is a sad and ridiculous loop.
Furthermore, even meeting a friend to have a coffee can be taxing on your wallet. This adds to the mental and emotional stresses one suffers. Many people suffer from depression and therefore a general lack of motivation, due to this isolation.
I am very lucky. I share a apartment with my brother. He is kind enough to pick up the slack when my cash from OW runs out near the end of the month. If I did not have him I would be forced to rent a single room in a bigger apartment and I would be forced to purchase even unhealthier food and my quality of life would decline even further.
Ontario Works, as much as it is vitally needed to provide aid, currently provides far from sufficient aid. I am not advocating that that the government provide the needed income for someone to live a totally comfortable life. I think that would encourage some people to stay on OW as long as they could. Yet surely there are other methods and mechanisms to get people to work and off Ontario Works other than crushing poverty. Serious thinking and real reform needs to take place regarding Ontario Works and the social safety net.
Jacobb Watkins is a 26 year old who lives in Brantford, Ontario. He placed second Ontario wide, for most improved in the Arnie Stewart Independent Achievement Awards. An active community volunteer, Watkins lives with significant hearing impairment and dysgraphia. Despite all this, Jacobb is eager to continue his education in the Social Service Workers program at Mohawk next winter.