Toronto Star

November 25, 1999

City faces unequal share of families in poverty

United Way study calls for investing in quality of life

By Nicholas Keung
Toronto Star Staff Reporter

Toronto's prized quality of life is at risk because of under-investment by all levels of governments, a United Way study has found.

``This is a worrisome trend, particularly because Toronto's competitive advantage is its social cohesion and quality of life,'' Anne Golden, president of the United Way of Greater Toronto, told a news conference yesterday.

The 47-page report, titled Toronto At A Turning Point, found that the city has a disproportionate share of households at risk of poverty and in need of social supports.

Across Canada, incomes declined for all but the top three income categories - which represent 30 per cent of families - between 1986 and 1996. The poorest families, those in the bottom 10 per cent, have seen their income fall by 61.6 per cent on average.

Despite the 1.4 million jobs created across Canada in the past decade, 55 per cent of the growth came from self-employment, which often forces families to do without important benefits such as employment insurance, employer-sponsored pensions, disability plans and medical insurance, the report found.

Although Toronto accounts for roughly 50 per cent of Greater Toronto's 4.8 million population, it is home to:

It isn't tough to understand the paradox of Toronto's flourishing economy and its growing poverty, said Steve Feher, who has been on welfare since an accident forced him to quit his job as a tradesman 15 months ago.

``The booming economy is not shared by everybody, but only those who have already been doing well,'' said the 49-year-old, who became homeless six weeks ago because he couldn't afford his apartment.

``The tax cuts only help the corporate guys and the upper middle class. The rest of us got health care cuts and welfare cuts.''

Feher was selling Outreach papers for the homeless yesterday outside the 519 Community Centre on Church St., where the findings were released.

The study attributed the growing polarization between rich and poor to government policy changes affecting employment insurance and social assistance, and provincial downloading of social housing and public transit to municipalities.

``The fund used to match the gap is no longer present, and that's why the gap is widening,'' Golden explained.

``Our agencies are stretched to the limit . . . These huge demands are the symptom of an ailing social structure that we must fix.''

The United Way has so far raised 68 per cent, or $42.5 million, of its $62.8 million goal for this year's campaign. It needs to raise $634,000 more each day to fill the gap for its 200 funded agencies by Dec. 31.

Debbie Field, executive director of FoodShare, an emergency food provider funded by United Way, said the province has reduced her agency's funding from $360,000 to $14,000 in the past five years.

``A healthy society is one (where there) shouldn't be a lot of differentials between the very bottom and the very top,'' she noted.

The report called for a renewed commitment from all levels of government, the private and the voluntary sectors to help repair Toronto's decaying quality of life.

``Our city's competitive advantage is at risk unless all levels of governments and the private sector work together and find solutions,'' said Elyse Allan, president and chief executive officer of the Toronto Board of Trade.

Golden agreed: ``Investing in Toronto's social needs and infrastructure will enable the city to achieve its true potential as a major player in the global village.''

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