Consultant finds widespread poverty in Dufferin County

February 16, 2017   ·   0 Comments

By Mike Pickford

Dufferin County council may find themselves with a bigger job on their hands than they initially thought when it comes to dealing with poverty after county consultant Eden Grodzinski provided some shocking statistics in a specially commissioned report she presented to the municipality last Thursday,  Feb. 9.

Contracted by the county’s Poverty Task Force in 2016 to conduct a study to see what poverty looks like in Dufferin, Ms. Grodzinski pulled no punches in her revelation that poverty is a growing problem in the county. Her report, titled Reducing Poverty in Dufferin County: A Proposed Framework, focuses on a number of issues within the county’s urban and rural communities.

While asserting that there is no single or nationally accepted measure of poverty in Canada, Ms. Grodzinski included nine key indicators related to the social determinants of health to reflect on the “different dimensions of poverty”, which include low income, housing, food security, health, early childhood development, education, employment, youth inactivity and social inclusion.

According to the statistics provided in the report, roughly 10 percent of Dufferin residents currently live in poverty, while one in 12 residents are considered food-insecure – whereby they are lacking in reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable and nutritious food. One in 14 participants in the labour force is currently unemployed, while one in nine households is living in core housing need, which, by definition, means residents spend more than 30 percent of their total before-tax income to pay for rent or a mortgage.

One in three children is considered to be vulnerable on at least one of the domains of school readiness, one in nine youth is not actively involved in education, employment or training of any kind and 20 percent of residents in Dufferin lack a high school diploma.

On a positive note, Ms. Grodzinski pointed out that 70 percent of Dufferin County residents have a strong sense of community belonging.

Delving into the financials, Ms. Grodzinski noted that poverty costs Ontarians between $32 and $38 billion annually, which, when broken up, averages out to between $2,300 and $2,900 per Ontario household each and every year. That cost was between $2,800 and $2,900 for Dufferin households in 2016, with the costs attributed to the impact poverty has on our health care, social services and criminal justice systems, while also taking into account the foregone tax revenues due to lost economic opportunities. In 2016, the county spent $4.2 million on social assistance benefits alone.

Despite the statistics and numbers presented, Ms. Grodzinski noted that poverty was hidden for the most part in Dufferin County thanks to above-average income levels and housing processes.

“People are reluctant to seek out services and help, particularly as it relates to food banks,” Ms. Grodzinski said. “There’s such a stigma and still a large amount of shame associated with poverty. There is a lack of understanding and awareness of the extent of poverty in the community, and the resulting costs (both human and financial) on quality of life.”

She went on to highlight six key pressure points the County could look to counteract to make life a little easier for its residents, with a focus on reducing the cost of housing, attracting more business to offset the precarious employment rates in the area, as well as backing the need for social assistance reform. In 2015, 525 Dufferin County households relied on Ontario Works as their source of income, with Ms. Grodzinski finding those residents were likely living in “deep poverty” due to the high rents in the area.

Other areas of focus include aging in place, providing greater food security to low-income families and ensuring youth in the region are afforded the opportunities to receive the best childhood development possible.

“There is not one right approach to tackling poverty – it is a complex challenge and cannot be solved with the interventions of a single organization, or a single government,” Ms. Grodzinski said. “It needs the support of all three levels of government, as well as the support of the community to truly tackle effects of poverty.”

This report now leaves the Dufferin County Poverty Task Force with plenty to ponder, while the numbers and statistics involved should provide them with the necessary ammunition to lay out a long-term plan to truly tackle poverty in the region.

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