This Note is part of a series of Notes on key City issues to update City Council at the start of its 2018 – 2022 term.

Issue description

One in four children and one in five adults live in poverty in Toronto.

Despite growing prosperity in some parts of the city, many communities continue to experience significant poverty, at higher rates than the rest of the City. Poverty is increasingly racialized and gendered. Residents face numerous systemic barriers that prevent immediate needs from being addressed and prevent people from exiting poverty.


The City is completing the implementation of its 2015-2018 Poverty Reduction Strategy Action Plan. The 2018 work plan included 54 initiatives implemented through a combination of existing City resources and external funding.

The City is currently developing the 2019-2022 Action Plan in consultation with residents with lived experience, community partners, City staff, and other stakeholders. This action plan will include a framework for annual work plans and budget submissions to City Council.


In Toronto, three worrying trends characterize the nature of poverty in the city.

Rising Unaffordability

It is increasingly difficult for low-income residents to make ends meet. The cost of basic needs in Toronto, such as housing, food, utilities and transportation have increased substantially and are some of the highest in the country. Between 2009 and 2015, the cost of child care rose by 30 percent, and public transit by 36 percent. Between 2010 and 2017, average market rents in Toronto increased 30 percent. Greater Toronto Area food banks have consistently had over one million visits per year, with an increase of nearly 40 percent in Toronto’s inner suburbs since 2008.

Broken Pathways out of Poverty

Toronto workers have experienced a shift from full-time continuous employment to precarious employment with low-wages and fewer, if any, benefits. Over the last 30 years, the proportion of jobs in Toronto that are part-time has doubled. Increasingly, the labour market is polarized, meaning that upward economic mobility for many Torontonians is no longer possible.

Poverty is Systemic

Poverty in Toronto is gendered and racialized. Census data show that recent immigrants, Indigenous people, female lone-parent families, members of racialized groups, people with disabilities, and immigrants have higher rates of poverty than the general Toronto population.

Collective Impact

The City of Toronto plays a vital role in addressing poverty with many of its divisions, agencies and corporations participating in the Poverty Reduction Strategy. However, effective poverty reduction requires the coordination and alignment of a greater range of government, community, and private sector organizations working collectively towards a shared impact.

All three levels of government have strategies to address poverty, and each strategy acknowledges the need for intergovernmental dialogue. The City is working in close collaboration with the not-for-profit sector and community-based initiatives to advance inclusive economic development, build stronger relationships and create a foundation for collaboration.

Actions or Plans

In 2015, City Council unanimously approved the Toronto Poverty Reduction Strategy, a concrete, 20-year plan with 17 recommendations across six key themes:

  • Housing Stability
  • Service Access
  • Transportation Equity
  • Food Access
  • Quality Jobs and Liveable Incomes, and
  • Systemic Change

There will be four subsequent term action plans coinciding with City Council terms. In 2019, City staff will submit for Councils consideration a four-year action plan to coincide with the 2018 -2022 term of Council, containing concrete actions required to address the specific issues related to poverty.

To achieve the outcomes identified in the strategy, the City is:

  • Identifying and aligning with existing programs, services and initiatives (e.g. incentives to develop new affordable housing, housing allowance programs, youth employment programs).
  • Investing in the expansion of programs and services (e.g. expanding Sunday opening hours in public libraries; expansion of Student Nutrition Programs).
  • Developing and piloting new approaches (e.g. Fair Pass low-income transit discount, developing a Community Benefits Framework).
  • Collaborating with the Public Benefit Sector (not-for-profit) to support poverty reduction initiatives (e.g. AnchorTO partnership with Atkinson Foundation to embed social procurement practices across anchor institutions).

The Poverty Reduction Strategy Office works in collaboration with other City strategies recognizing the need to closely align with existing initiatives, other levels of government, and work being undertaken by community partners. Key aligned City strategies include, but are not limited to:

The Poverty Reduction Strategy benefits from the guidance of the Lived Experience Advisory Group (LEAG). Since February 2017, seventeen Torontonians have applied their experience with the realities, conditions and impacts of living with poverty to inform the development, implementation, and monitoring of the City’s Poverty Reduction Strategy. Over the four-year period (2017-2020), LEAG members will work with City divisions and community partners to address the actions in the Poverty Reduction Strategy. The mandate of the LEAG focuses on advocacy, education and awareness, and monitoring and evaluation.

The City is also closely monitoring and will need to adapt to reforms at the Province of Ontario that will have a significant impact on those living in poverty. As the systems manager and primary service delivery agent for a number of provincially mandated programs, the City may be required to alter how supportive services are delivered while continuing to ensure positive outcomes. This includes the delivery of social assistance benefits and employment supports.

In November 2018, the Government of Ontario announced reforms to the social assistance system. The reforms announced include:

  • earnings exemptions will start after 1 month on assistance, not 3 months
  • increasing the threshold Ontario Works clients will be able to earn before benefits are reduced (to $300 per month up from $200 per month);
  • increasing the “clawback” on monthly earnings above $300 from 50 to 75 percent, and
  • a commitment to simplify rates and benefits and establish a new, flexible local discretionary fund so Ontario Works delivery partners can tailor benefits to improve clients’ employment outcomes.

Key details of many of the reforms are still to be determined – City staff will continue to monitor, including any draft regulations.

Date Action
November 2018 The Government of Ontario announced social assistance reforms
August 2018 Government of Canada releases the Canada Poverty Reduction Strategy
July 2018 The Province of Ontario announced development of a new plan to reform social assistance, which is expected in November 2018
January 2018 Council adopted TO Prosperity: Toronto Poverty Reduction Strategy 2017 Report and 2018 Work Plan
December 2017 Council adopted Support for Proposed Welfare Reform 
December 2016 Council adopted the TO Prosperity – Toronto Poverty Reduction Strategy – 2016 Progress Report and 2017 Work Plan
November 2015 Council adopted the Toronto Poverty Reduction Strategy