By Kevin Werner, News Staff
Hamilton resident Isabella Daley struggles in her job as a personal chef to put food on the table for her two daughters.
Working for Ontario’s minimum wage of $10.25 per hour Daley, who has living in the city for 27 years, gets by feeding them Kraft Dinner and hot dogs, even as the hydro rates and other expenses skyrocket. Daley can’t even afford vital inhalers for her medical issues, or a proper brace for a knee that will eventually need surgery.
“It means you have no job security, you have no dental benefits, you have no drug benefits, you have no eye glass allowance. You just have your paycheck and you work your ass off for it,” said Daley. “Minimum wage is never going to raise me out of poverty.”
The single mother, who also lost a child and couldn’t afford a burial, is one of about 100,000 Hamilton individuals who struggle to survive in jobs with low incomes.
“There are about 30,000 who go to work every single day in this city and are not earning enough to pull themselves and their families out of poverty,” said Tom Cooper, director of the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction.
Hamilton and Ontario’s poverty environment is stark, he said. About 376,000 people use food banks in Ontario each month, while in Hamilton there are enough children lining up for food to fill 270 classrooms. There are more than 50,000 people living on social assistance in Hamilton. And it’s estimated that the capital repairs deficit for Hamilton’s 70,000 social housing units is about $1.3 billion.
“It’s unacceptable,” said Cooper. “And candidates need to be talking about it.”
Cooper, along with other poverty organizations, including the Campaign for Adequate Welfare and Disability Benefits, Hamilton Community Legal Clinic, and the Hamilton Organizing for Poverty Elimination, are demanding all parties and candidates put poverty on their election agendas.
“We are one-third into this election (and) it hasn’t been talked about,” said Cooper, during a media conference May 16 at Mission Services. “We need to put poverty on the agenda for this election.”
As part of the groups’ campaign, they are offering about 500 campaign-style white signs that have poverty written on them for people to place on their lawns, and a new get-out-the-vote strategy encouraging people on social assistance to get to a voting booth. The signs are available through the group’s website www.hamiltonpoverty.ca
Elizabeth McGuire, chair for the Campaign for Adequate Welfare and Disability Benefits, said the group’s election strategy will be a pilot program to convince people who don’t normally vote to get to the polls.
“Poverty grinds you down that people don’t care to vote,” she said. “We are saying this issue is so large we will be going door-to-door to ask people to exercise their rights.”
McGuire acknowledged that all political parties need to take action on their failure to properly address poverty issues, including local NDP MPP and party leader Andrea Horwath.
“If all the people in poverty — estimated to be upwards of 60,000 in the city — we could make a difference. We could get politicians to listen to us,” she said.
Rev. Bill Mous, of the Interfaith Social Assistance Reform Coalition, and a member of the Anglican Diocese of Niagara, said they introduced the poverty campaign strategy and signs in the 2011 provincial election, and said it was “great” success. He said during the Niagara Falls byelection a few candidates took up the poverty cause, but it was the Green Party candidate who trumpeted a guaranteed wage for people
“We want to make the issue of poverty visible,” he said.
ISARC remained disappointed that the NDP and Tories voted against what it said was a “progressive” Liberal budget, triggering this election.
“We are perplexed that the Opposition parties were able to support an austerity budget in 2012, yet were unwilling to support a progressive budget in 2014 that raised social assistant rates, indexed the minimum wage, increased the Ontario Child Benefit, providing affordable housing funds, and raised wages for many low income workers,” said Rev. Susan Eagle, the coalition’s chair.
Daley, who operates as a personal chef out of her home, said a living wage, estimated to be about $15 per hour, would allow her to properly feed her 15 and 19-year-old children, and buy them winter boots rather than using a plastic bag to plug the holes in their shoes.
“I’m just talking about basic needs,” she said. “The kind of life that will prevent them from living in poverty. It would be a better life.”
Ontario’s minimum wage is schedule to increase to $11 per hour June 1, the first increase since 2010.
“I’m anxiously waiting for that,” said Daley.
Cooper cautions that all the political parties are culpable in failing to address poverty issues, including more social housing, providing a guaranteed wage, raising the minimum wage, increasing the Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support Programs rates, and providing adequate health benefits.
He said in 2007 all parties passed unanimously a bill establishing an Ontario Poverty Strategy, including the Progressive Conservatives. It is now six months passed the deadline that it needs to be renewed, he said, a “point of concern for us.”
Cooper pointed out that people on social assistance are “far worse off now” than they were 15 years ago when the Mike Harris Tories were in power.
“We are not advocating for any political party,” said Cooper. “We want all political parties to put poverty on the agenda. Things are bad.”