Part 3 in a 5-part series
(note the introduction to each of these blog entries is the same; skip down to the sub-heading to avoid the repetition)
Given last week’s announcements of:
- the cancellation of the Ontario Basic Income Pilot (a program strongly supported by high-profile members of all political stripes, including former Conservative senator Hugh Segal, who helped to design the pilot program); and
- the slowing of increases to Ontario Works (OW) and Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) from 3% to 1.5% on rates which are already at rates far too low to provide safe, affordable housing, nutritious food, and other basic necessities,
it’s imperative that we talk more about what Niagara Regional government can do to alleviate poverty.
The alleviation of poverty is a concern for everyone to whom I’ve spoken. This has been true not only since I filed my nomination papers in May, but since I was on St. Catharines City Council (where I asked for a report about what a living wage would be in St. Catharines and how we could advocate for it, then was invited to join the Niagara Poverty Reduction Network‘s Wages and Work workgroup) and then went on to work at YWCA Niagara Region as their fundraiser.
Throughout the business community, the community of non-profit agencies, and at people’s doors, people are thinking about what we can do to alleviate poverty. In 2013, the cost of the consequences of poverty in Niagara is $1.38 billion per year. With the use of homeless shelters and food banks increasing every year, we know that this cost has only increased.
Poverty is an obviously complex problem that requires the expertise and support of numerous people, agencies, and initiatives.
Through this series of blog posts, I will share some ideas for what Niagara Regional government can do to alleviate poverty.
Increasing rates of poverty put undue stress on our public health system. When rates of poverty increase, we see increases in domestic violence, physical health complaints, addictions, and anxiety, depression, and other mental health-related issues, to name but a few concerns.
Without a comprehensive national or provincial mental health strategy that ensures all people who need access to necessary services have it, we need to ensure that our public health department maintains the programs they already offer. Additionally, we need to ensure that we are listening to our medical officers of health as to what else is needed to keep Niagarans healthy and safe.
Presently, Niagara Region Public Health offers programs/services in all of these areas:
- Clinics, Courses, Classes
- Physical Activity
- Smoking, Drugs
- Dental Health
- Mental Health
- Paramedics, Dispatch
- Health Care Professionals
- Home Health Hazards
First and foremost, just as Public Health is currently doing, we should be focusing on prevention. While it may seem that preventative initiatives are costly, they are much less costly in the long-run than treatment.
Moving forward, particularly given the announcements I mentioned at the start of this entry, as well as with the growing opioid crisis, we need to ensure that there are people on Regional Council who understand how poverty and health outcomes are interconnected and will commit to ensuring that Niagara Region, itself, is equipped to deliver these programs and services or, where that is not feasible, they will lobby the provincial and federal governments for the necessary funding. Ideally, both.
Economic security/prosperity is the single greatest indicator of Individual and community health outcomes. Until poverty is sufficiently alleviated, we will continue to have a crisis in public health.