For many, having a good job is critical to living free of poverty. It provides the income and stability that allows individuals to support themselves, their families, and their communities. Increasingly, however, residents of Toronto work in precarious jobs, such as part-time, contract, or temporary positions with irregular hours. This results in unstable employment, fewer benefits, fewer opportunities for professional advancement, and increased levels of financial uncertainty.

For others, access to social assistance, set at appropriate rates that adequately meet their needs and are delivered in a supportive manner, is essential for being able to live with dignity.

As Canada’s major economic engine, there is significant prosperity in Toronto. However there are many residents and many neighbourhoods that do not share in this prosperity, unable to access pathways to quality jobs with livable incomes, and experiencing significant difficulties in accessing adequate income supports.

There are a number of provincial and municipal initiatives that are currently being implemented that have the potential to make a significant difference in the quality of life for Torontonians on low-income and income support and help create opportunities for them to access quality jobs.

Social Assistance & Income Supports

In 2017, the Government of Ontario introduced new legislation (Bill 148, Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act) that increases the minimum wage and strengthens employment standards. Toronto City Council went further and approved the piloting of two additional standards not included in Bill 148. (See 2017 PRS report, recommendation 3).

2017 also witnessed two important developments in social assistance reform. Ontario launched a Basic Income Pilot that will test the effectiveness of no-strings-attached income support. And three Provincial Working Groups submitted the report Income Security, A Roadmap for Change, which puts forward a 10-year plan to significantly improve income security in Ontario. City Council endorsed the recommendations in this report, many of which are already being implemented at the City level through improved wrap-around services. These services provide comprehensive coaching, training, and additional individual supports for social assistance clients.

Inclusive Economic Development

In addition to improving social infrastructure and delivering more and improved social services, the City is leveraging its economic power to connect residents and communities with equitable economic opportunities.

The City of Toronto is vigorously tackling youth unemployment with targeted programs that connect low-income and marginalized youth to training, entry-level jobs and employment opportunities that lead to career pathways. Between January and October of 2017, two major programs – the Partnership to Advance Youth Employment (PAYE) and Youth Employment Partnership (YEP) – have supported more than 4,200 youth in making connections with employers at recruitment, learning and networking events across the city, helping hundreds of youth to obtain work based learning opportunities and employment.

In 2017, the City of Toronto became the first municipality in Canada to implement a Social Procurement Program that applies to all of its $1.8 billion of annual procurement. The Program helps diverse suppliers, including social enterprises, in accessing City contracts, leading to increased investment in equity-seeking communities. It also is creating meaningful training, apprenticeship and employment opportunities in many large infrastructure and service contracts to help support sustainable pathways to careers.

The City is also driving broader systems change by leveraging its own experience and knowledge, as well as knowledge gained from partners in such initiatives as the Eglinton Crosstown Community Benefits Framework, and the University of Toronto Scarborough Anchor Strategy, to encourage other public institutions to adopt inclusive economic development practices. Through an initiative called AnchorTO, the City is leading a network of 18 public sector institutions to use their operating and capital investments to generate positive social and economic outcomes for the communities they serve.

Poverty Reduction Strategy: 2018 plans

In 2018, the Poverty Reduction Strategy will be launching a pilot project to explore how the City can promote decent work standards in its contracts by ensuring fair scheduling and equitable hiring practices that are not directly addressed by Bill 148 or the City’s Fair Wage Policy.

Additionally, the City will explore how a Community Benefits Framework can best be implemented.  The City’s Community Benefits Framework will build on existing levers, such as Section 37 of the Planning Act, the Social Procurement Program, and Build Toronto projects to create mechanisms for the City to achieve social, economic and environmental benefits for local communities impacted by proposed development and infrastructure projects.

Over the next two years, the City will also be building on the momentum of its AnchorTO Network to connect anchor institutions with local community economic development hubs and collectively implement inclusive economic development initiatives.

What’s Next?

These initiatives have the potential to make a significant difference in the quality of life for Torontonians on low-income and income support. However, major gaps remain. Going forward, there is an opportunity to identify specific, concrete, achievable initiatives that will fill these gaps, and scale up practices that are already showing meaningful progress in supporting quality jobs and livable wages.