Monday, December 13th, 2010

  1. Unstoppable Campaign!
  2. Comments from Challenge Team Members around Ontario
  3. November 15th Rally Highlights
  4. Action on 2nd Anniversary on Announcement of McGuinty’s Poverty Reduction Strategy
  5. List of Communities who have Accepted the Challenge
  6. Letter to the Editor – by Peter Clutterbuck
  7. Spread the Word!


1. Unstoppable Campaign: The second week of October I sent out daily updates of the Do the Math Challenge campaign. At that time I thought I would send a summary update the following week and that this particular campaign initiative would be over. However, it seems unstoppable – with more communities and more groups joining all the time. At the end of this update there is a list of communities who have done the Challenge and those who are planning for the New Year.

I want to tell you about the momentum that is being created. As of this writing about one thousand people have taken the Challenge. They tell me, when I attend community meetings where Challenge teams report on their experience, that on average Challenge team members talk in person with between 75 and 100 people during the week. That means between 75,000 and 100,000 people have been part of a conversation about the need to raise social assistance rates by $100 a month now.

The reports I hear from people tell me it is a compassionate conversation, as well. People they speak with are surprised to hear how low social assistance rates are – especially for single people. They understand that in their community – whether it is Parry Sound or Cornwall, Woodstock or Sudbury, Hamilton or Windsor – you cannot find housing for $585 (now $592) a month – let alone be able to buy enough food – to live well. A few quotes from their experiences are provided later in this update.

In addition to personal conversations people extended the message of their experience – and the issue – through people reading their blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, and through the extensive local media coverage. Hundreds of thousands of people in Ontario have been paying attention to the issue of chronic hunger and the need to raise social assistance rates immediately by $100 a month for every adult recipient in Ontario.

We need to convert this support into political pressure – and later in this update is an action you can join that is being led by the Health and Strength Action Group in South Riverdale.

In the New Year we will talk about the recently announced – (although promised for two years) – review of social assistance. It will be eighteen months before it reports – the spring or summer of 2012 – and who knows how much longer before its recommendations can be implemented – the review does nothing to put food in the budget now. We must continue to build a campaign strong enough to win an immediate $100 increase as a first step towards income adequacy.

The highlights from our November 15th rally (see below) and the growing list of communities and groups joining the campaign illustrate our growing strength.

We thank all of you for your contribution to this campaign, and wish everyone a safe and happy holiday season..

2. Comments from Challenge Team Members: Challenge team members mostly begin the story of their experience by focusing on their limited food choices, and their hunger – and quickly became aware that the impact of low incomes is much greater – including immediate weight loss or weight gain, headaches, inability to concentrate, immediate changes in emotional well-being, social isolation, and lack of dignity arising from having their food choices made for them. They quickly realize their privilege and recognize that this short experience is only the smallest insight into the experience of a person receiving social assistance. As one person on social assistance said to a community member who had completed the Challenge and was saying how hard he found it – ‘you have done this for one week – try it for 650 weeks’. If you wish you can go see the comments from Challenge teams from all around Ontario at http://putfoodinthebudget.ca/blogs/ . Here are a few samples:

Clergyman Tim Dobbin (Haldimand-Norfolk) reflected on his lack of concentration during those few days: “How do people focus on the big picture stuff (like how to use my time creatively and generously) when the predominant thought is, how am I going to feed myself and my family through this week on the food that is remaining on the shelves?”

Sudbury journalist Stacey LaVallie “To me, these things really emphasized how poverty is a really cruel foe. Not only do people in poverty have to make do with what they can afford to eat, they have to go to outside help for food.” She continues sadly, “But the emotional trauma that comes with it? It really hurts”.

Durham resident Kim Dowds said “Day 3 was spent with my body in total rebellion, serving up a huge migraine that lasted all after-noon, which made me grumpy, tired and unable to concentrate”

“It is somehow a sad day,” Dave McLean wrote on November 5. “I say that because we in the Challenge can move on tomorrow but I can’t stop thinking of those in this county whose tomorrow is not that close by.”

3. November 15th Rally Highlights: 150 people filled the Wychwood Barns on Christie Avenue in Toronto on the evening of Monday November 15th. The crowd was energized by the speeches of Anglican Archbishop Colin Johnson; Amarpreet Kaur of the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario; Tracy Mead of the Health and Strength Action Group in South Riverdale Toronto; Diana Stapleton, chairperson of the Weston Area Emergency Food Bank; Avvy Go of Colour of Poverty and Fred Hahn of CUPE Ontario.

Anglican Archbishop Colin Johnson said “This campaign has underscored for me the urgency of tackling the root causes of poverty. Many other Anglicans feel the same as me. Following their poverty diet, they are organizing meetings with their MPP, writing to their MPP, expressing their concern about the tragedy of widespread poverty and calling for action, starting with the $100 per month increase in social assistance.”

Amarpreet Kaur of RNAO said “As nurses we know that social inequities are directly linked to health inequities. One of the root causes of ill health is poverty. Sadly, nurses know a lot about poverty because we see it in our practice. We see the shame in the eyes of the homeless person, the child that went to school without a meal, and the elder person that can’t eat a sandwich because he doesn’t have money to repair his dentures. Nurses witness the tough choices that people are forced to make when trying to make ends meet: a parent’s decision to forego a meal so his/her child can eat or the prescription that goes unfilled because it cost too much or the decision to risk not paying the rent. You can count on us to be with you in this campaign.”

Tracy Mead, a member of the Put Food in the Budget leadership team, whose income is social assistance, said “Ask yourself if you could survive on $585.00 a month, take the Do the Math Challenge, then try to look me in the eye and honestly say everything is ok. Winning this campaign means that we can all hold our heads high. I’m proud to be a part of this fight and I demand change”.

Diana Stapleton, chair of the Weston Area Emergency Food Bank invited the crowd to join her in making raising social assistance rates a voting issue. “This is a voting matter to me. I will walk away from supporting the Liberal party if this government does not take the initiative to increase social assistance and disability benefits.”

Avvy Go of the Colour of Poverty asked what we have to do to convince politicians to deal with the situation of chronic hunger in Ontario. “The right to eat – access to enough healthy food – is as essential as the right to breathe – what do we have to do to convince them… have a ‘hold our breath campaign’?”

Fred Hahn, President of CUPE Ontario told the capacity crowd that taking the challenge had “strengthened our union’s solidarity,” with every Ontarian who lives with an inadequate diet. “The truth is there are low waged, part time or temporary workers, some of them union members, who also have to rely on food banks. When we build solidarity in our communities between those on social assistance, workers, church groups, and people concerned for fairness and social justice, politicians can no longer ignore poverty in our province.

Bill King and Stacey Bulmer raised the spirits of the crowd with their music and accompanied the “$100 Choir” in a rousing sing-along version of “If I Had A $100” adapted from the Bare Naked Ladies “If I had a Million Dollars”.

4. Action on 2nd anniversary of Poverty Reduction Strategy Announcement: The Health and Strength Action Group in South Riverdale in Toronto used the2nd anniversary of the government’s announcement of its poverty reduction strategy to build the PFIB campaign in our community. We know, for people receiving social assistance, very little if anything has changed. There is no poverty reduction strategy without a change to how much people receive and how rates are set.

Our anniversary message for the government is to challenge them on their refusal to deal with social assistance rates and to tell them we support the PFIB demands. We are asking that people email, call or fax the ministers responsible and the premier with this message on December 8th. (Anniversary is on the weekend – December 4th). We have put together a leaflet (quickly and not expertly but it is attached for your use.)

The leaflet can be handed out wherever supporters might be – food banks, non-profit housing, and places of worship. Over the last two days, we have knocked on doors in Toronto Housing buildings and the response was powerful and supportive, people were happy that we are doing something around this issue. Many people promised to participate on December 8th.

We are hoping you can make the message louder and stronger and a true cross-provincial voice by joining us.

(Please note – if you are seeing this for the first time – it is not too late to send an email or make a call).

5. List of Communities that have Accepted the Challenge : Windsor, Woodstock, Stratford, Cambridge, Kitchener-Waterloo, Haldimand-Norfolk, Wasaga Beach, Hamilton, Halton Region, Parry Sound, Muskoka, Sudbury, York Region, Durham Region, Brockville, Cornwall, Anglican Diocese of Toronto. In Sarnia a local reporter did the Challenge and in Peterborough they held a public demonstration in October. Communities planning a Challenge for January include – Ottawa, Fort Erie, Port Colborne, Peel Region, Owen Sound, Brantford, Six Nations, Midland and Belleville. Also the provincial council of CUPE Ontario will take the challenge and will mobilize CUPE locals around the province to participate. Other groups are considering it as well – so watch this space!

6. Letter to the Editor – Peter Clutterbuck:

Dear Editor

Re: Breaking the Cycle of Poverty, December 4 – Toronto Star

In her announcement of the social assistance review [last] week, Social Services Minister Meilleur unfortunately refers to reform that will “empower low-income Ontarians, including social assistance recipients, to break out of the cycle of poverty’, which The Star picked up as the title of its lead editorial on December 4.

The notion of a “cycle of poverty” suggests poverty that is transmitted from generation to generation and implies something inherently deficient in poor people rather than placing a focus on basic living conditions, which are the root causes of inequality and poverty in our society.

It is misleading to suggest that intergenerational poverty is the primary source of poverty in Ontario and Canada. Research evidence is clear that, compared to the United Sates and even the United Kingdom, the rate of poverty passed from one generation to the next in Canada is very low.

The structural conditions that produce high rates of poverty are:

  • income support programs that provide woefully inadequate benefits for those unable to work;
  • wage levels that keep people in poverty and the lack of good jobs;
  • the lack of affordable housing and other social supports such as childcare.

If governments would address these conditions with investments and action and not just long-term studies and plans, they could take credit for acting to end poverty rather than trying to explain it away in intergenerational terms.

Peter Clutterbuck
Social Planning Network of Ontario.

7. Spread the Word: You can help us spread the word of the Do the Math Challenge by forwarding this email through your networks. Thank you!! Please forward this email among your networks. And follow The Challenge on Posterous and on Twitter.