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Local poverty stats disturbing

By Valerie MacDonald, Northumberland Today

NORTHUMBERLAND - 

More than 12% of families in Northumberland County live in poverty, according to a status report from the Northumberland Poverty Reduction Action Committee.

The report, entitled Reach Out. Change Lives, looks at the county's population of just over 82,000 people for the period 2012/13.

When asked about the key findings of the report and actions needed, committee co-chair Beth Bellaire said her first reaction was putting more money in the pockets of the poor as the first step – but it's not as easy as that.

"We have just had an increase in the minimum wage announced by the provincial government, but we also need increases to social assistance rates and rates for those on Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP). However, the argument against this is that costs such as rents will just go up to negate the impact of those increases. Perhaps I would then suggest having stable, affordable, and safe shelter as the central need," she continued. "This approach of 'housing first' is gaining momentum and has been adopted by our own county council. But to maintain such shelter, a stable and sufficient income is needed - and we are back to point one.

And, she stressed, "to maintain a reasonable income, one needs a job, so now we are at another need - employment opportunities. To get to that job, there also needs to be affordable transportation and education. Of course, through all of this, people need food to merely survive."

These key times are very inter-related and not one can be teased out, saying, "Fix this, and then poverty will be reduced," Bellaire said.

The report itself contains some very disturbing information. It includes:

• that the median income levels in this county are about 10% lower than the Ontario average:

• 20% of those living in poverty in Northumberland are six years of age and younger, compared to the lower rate of 18.4% across the province;

• the unemployment rate in the county is 8.3%, higher than the provincial rate of 7.8%;

• the number of county residents receiving social insurance assistance is up 26.7% from 2008;

• the number of people receiving Ontario Works support has climbed to just under 1,650 people and the maximum a single person receives on this is $626 monthly;

• it costs $189.59 to feed a family of four in Northumberland and that has increased by $8 per week between 2012 and 2013;

• 1,000 people in the county need to visit a food bank every month;

• about 2,500 families in Northumberland "are at risk of homelessness" with over 40% spending more than 30% of income on housing;

– the need to increase education and skills training in Northumberland is linked to better paying jobs, according to the report; and

• the average wait time for social housing (rent geared to income) is four to five years.

The report suggests ways things can be improved including getting involved by contacting the Northumberland Poverty Reduction Action Committee at knair@hkpr.on.ca, contacting local members of the federal and provincial governments, volunteering in community programs assisting others and helping to fundraise for those in need.

"Reducing poverty needs to be a lens through which we view all social policies at all government levels. It is not just a municipal or provincial or federal responsibility - is a responsibility of all for all," Bellaire summarized.

valerie.macdonald@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/NT_vmacdonald


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